After the church hymns. After memories of light-as-a-feather yeast rolls and family dinners are shared at the microphone. After the grave site visit under a parched summer sky that makes me want to melt.
After all that, we go back for the luncheon. And I talk to my cousins for the first time since 1997. When my grandfather died. Now it is my grandmother who has died and nineteen years have passed.
A lot has happened.
Families are complicated, aren’t they? Maybe yours is too? Sometimes it is easiest to shed the influence of our family of origin altogether. Sometimes, there are negative influences we should shed. Perhaps abuse issues we have to stand up against? Perhaps there are controlling people we must confront? Perhaps we need time away to heal?
In my extended family, dysfunction, hurt and bitterness run wild, like an overgrown weed. I come from generations of alcohol abuse, backstabbers, and broken promises. There is no need to recount the specifics, but needless to say, there was much that was damaged. Much that has been lost.
It is an ancient cycle as old as Cain’s envy of Able. As old as the rivalry between Jacob and Esau. As old as the jealousy of Jacob’s sons over his love for Joseph. It is a tired story.
People grew up in hard times back then and sometimes hard times makes for hard people. But despite that, there was sweet alongside the bitter. Much of my own personal memories are shaped by the sweet.
As I sit on the hard wooden pew of the Baptist church, I remember summer weeks spent at my grandparents’ house when I stayed up too late watching Nick at Nite. Spoonfuls of my grandmother’s cool and creamy banana pudding, luscious to the last lick. The cookie jar always full. Countless sweaty summers “doing corn” and “doing beans” which meant a week of shucking, snapping, blanching, and freezing. Strawberry freezer jam smeared over toast. Just one taste of jam pulled from the freezer—still icy and I think of her. Food was the way she showed us her love. And I was loved with plates heaped with mashed potatoes and gravy.
And so we celebrate my grandmother’s life over plates of food and that seems appropriate. With Styrofoam cups of coffee and plastic utensils. I see my cousins’ children for the first time and meet their spouses. The quarrel was never between us and none of us want to keep it going. We seek to drop the burden of carrying it.
Perhaps it’s never too late to bind up old wounds. To start the work of healing them. To not let past generations of bitterness become our own. There will still be scars, but maybe that’s okay too.
My cousins send “friend” requests to me through Facebook.
It’s a small start in the right direction.
And I’ll make strawberry jam.