"Whatever we may say that we feel or think or believe about our families, almost inevitably--deep down--we yearn for connection to them." Sichel
We got the invitation several weeks ago. My eldest sister contacted me inviting my husband and me to celebrate my biological father's 95th birthday at her home. I knew in the back of my mind it was coming, but I wasn't sure we'd be able to attend. We did attend his 90th birthday party at her home 5 years before, but it is always fraught with some angst and hesitation.
Don't get me wrong. There is never a family argument, raucous partying, or belligerent conversations. It's just that we have so little in common. My parents divorced when I was five, my eldest sister left to live with my dad when she was 14 and I really never saw her again until I was an adult. My middle sister and I stayed with my mom, who was a single parent until I was eight and then she remarried. My middle sister left home when she was eighteen due to a what appeared to be a rift over having to give my little half-brother a bath one evening. It was years before I knew there was more to the story. But, I'll have to tell you about that later. I had more contact with my middle sister as an adult, but we were never a "whole" family ever again.
Really the only time we would gather would be at an occasional funeral or a wedding. It's odd getting together for such extreme events, isn't it? Especially, if your lives are so disconnected. You're related by blood, but you have no context for having relationship other than your bloodline. It's a little awkward and strange.
Back to the story. The celebration was a little different than it was five years ago. For the first time in twenty some years, we sisters were all there. My eldest sister could hardly contain her joy that we all came. My middle sister and her husband drove 6 hours and we drove 3 hours to the gathering. It was a simple buffet with light-hearted conversation, token gifts (what really do you get for a 95 year old man?), a birthday cake, and family photos.
When we made sure that the husbands took every possible combination of photos, the celebration was over, but not before something occurred that registered deeply in my heart. I'm not sure how it happened, but two of my sisters started singing a song together. Then the question came up about the live-in housekeeper we had whose name was "Dowie." She died when I was I was about five, and my sister asked if I remembered her. I said absolutely. I vividly remember walking by her open casket as a little girl. This memory vividly sticks in my mind. Why? You might be thinking it was traumatic for me to see this and experience such loss at that tender age. Instead, it was a sweet moment. I remember as a child, noticing that "Dowie" had a smile on her face as she lie so still in her soft pink lined casket. After the services, my sisters pulled me aside and told me that the reason "Dowie" was smiling was because she was thinking of me before she died. I don't know why that meant so much to me, but it did. It was as if I somehow brought delight to someone who was important in my life. I never forgot that.
I also never forgot that "Dowie's" favorite song was a song sung by Patti Page entitled "The Tennessee Waltz." I memorized the words to that song years ago and would always play it whenever there was a jukebox with old songs of yesteryear.
Out of the blue, my sisters started asking each other and my dad what "that" song was that "Dowie" used to love to sing. I piped up, "it's The Tennessee Waltz!" They shouted, "that's it!" and before I knew what was happening, the three of us bunched together and broke out in song.
"I was dancin' with my darlin' to the Tennessee Waltz, when an old friend I happened to see..."
We fumbled around with words and I, who am not a singer, fumbled around trying to find any key that I could sing it in. It was a disastrous rendition, but when it was over, we laughed, hugged heartily, knowing one thing-- in spite of all the twists and turns of life, we are family. And that's enough of a reason to gather.