Things usually get pretty silly around here, but permit me a bit of a detour this week.
This coming weekend, my extended family is going to gather at another funeral to say goodbye to one of our own, Aunt Cornelia. There have been a lot of these funerals over the past few years, as my Grandmother’s generation is leaving this world behind. It seems like we’re averaging about two a year here lately. It’s a big family, what can you do?
Aunt Cornelia (who’s first name is actually Wilma, but she mostly went by Cornelia, except when she didn’t, which is not quite as confusing as it sounds but there you go) was one who was always in the kitchen fixing something to eat, or opening up her house to visiting family. She loved her big extended family more than anything, whether you were a cousin, great grandchild, niece, nephew, brother or sister in law, whatever, it didn’t matter to her. Once you’re in you’re in, and she made sure to make you feel welcome.
She loved a good story or joke, and I remember hearing multiple stories of family trips that she, Uncle Bob, and her siblings made. I believe Cornelia was the one who, upon getting ready to leave their campsite once to go to another location, came up with the “Speak now or forever hold your pee” line. As a kid I thought that was hysterical, and it still makes me giggle. If any of my cousins are reading this, don’t correct me if I’m wrong about it, because that line coming from her is a riot.
Cornelia was also the one who was always the most vocal about calling me out when I didn’t see my family as much as I should, especially after my mother passed. She was right of course, but I really didn’t want to hear it. I was young and bull headed, and just kind of took it for granted that my family would always be there. I mean, I knew that wasn’t really true, but during those years I was a little too focused on myself and I didn’t take extended family seriously. I’ve tried to make up for that a little bit over the past ten years or so, though it’s hard with everyone living so far apart. Social media helps, but not enough. I really wish I would have listened at the time.
Don’t think for a minute that I’m complaining here, or trying to make my Aunt the bad guy. Far from it. I was the one who was a bit resentful about hearing her speak those words, and my attitude wasn’t the greatest. What I didn’t realize at the time was that family was so important to her that she wanted it to be important to all of us kids too. She wanted me to have the joy in the family that she had.
Honestly, I think she may have known that I was in need of a deeper connection with the family, and she knew that deep down I loved them all to pieces. I had convinced myself that I, as a city kid, had very little in common with my Southern relatives. Talk about getting the wrong end of the stick. Years later I realized how much we did have in common, how alike we really were, and how much I actually did love each of my Uncles, Aunts, and my cousins. I wasted a lot of time, and for that I am profoundly sorry. Aunt Cornelia was right. She always was.
As stated, most of my memories of her come form my childhood, but also from the family Thanksgiving. It was basically a family reunion in a day. Cornelia was the one who always took charge of the kitchen, no matter where the event was held that particular year. Apart from her own family, she had twelve siblings, many of whom had kids and grandkids of their own and we all converged on Cape Girardeau for the day. She made sure everyone was well fed and well loved, grinning ear to ear the whole time. Our big family Thanksgiving has faded away over the past few years, but the warm memories live on, and it remains one of my favorite holidays because of the efforts Cornelia and others went through to make it so special.
One more thing. When we had Tessa, our first born, Cornelia sent gifts to the house. A few were some baby books, but she also sent a hand made dress for the girl. It was very pretty and Tessa looked adorable in it. This got my wife, already someone who loved to sew, interested in making clothing. Since then she has made multiple dresses for the girls, and helped with costuming for school plays, all thanks to that gift box so lovingly sent to us fourteen years ago. This just proves that you never know what a little kindness can accomplish, and Cornelia had kindness both to spare and to share.
So we will gather this weekend. We will cry, we will laugh, we will eat, and we will hug. We will mourn our loss, but we will cherish the time we have together, even under the circumstances.
I hope everyone reading this has a family they love like I do mine. Even if you’re not always great at showing it (been there), next time you get the chance, let them know. Give ’em a hug, and maybe some home cooking. It will do wonders for them, and for you too.
Until next time, take care of yourselves and those around you. See you next week.