Leaving home is always hard. Mostly because I fear how things will have changed by the time I return. Still, I sallied out last Thursday for a four-day weekend with my father’s family on Sanibel Island in Florida.
Our family reunions have a photoshopped quality about them: people from Tucson, Boston, Chicago, New Jersey, New York and Florida, that are not usually found together, flock together each year on the second weekend of December, on the same sandy beachfront on the Gulf of Mexico. It is too perfectly unreal. Sisters, favorite aunts and uncles, cousins with their partners and children, their children’s children and various other members of the extended family gather to celebrate Chanukah, to feast together, give gifts to the youngest and appreciate the oldest. We bond over the barbeque pit, cavort in the pool, roam along the beach and stake out quiet corners for confidential conversation. We divide to play golf or go shopping. We converge to light candles and share the year’s news. 27 to 37 of us revel like this once a year, escaping from winter weather and work, to bask gratefully among our tribe in the warm, welcoming sun. sandcastle on beach at Sanibel Island, Forida. Annual family reunion
On the beach, where the foam-laced water’s edge creeps close and teases the shoreline, I find a carefully crafted sandcastle. It captures my imagination and the fleeting magic of our event. As I admire it, my son phones me from over a thousand miles away. He could not be here this year but he’s kept in touch with his cousins. Next year, maybe.
“The old folks’ table gets smaller and smaller,” someone remarks at the dinner party on the last night. And I remember white-haired grandparents and my father.
“Yeah, and look at the kids’ table,” I say, as I think back to when my baby children were plucked from my arms to be seated with their cousins, where they ate more and laughed more, without me hovering over them. The cousins that fed them then, feed and keep watch over their own young ones now.
Suddenly the absence of my daughter slams me like a rogue wave. Tears collect in my eyes. But I’m okay because I know that her memory is held dear by all of us here.
When dinner is over, we fuss and mull around with our goodbyes like agitated sea gulls about to take flight. I move from one to another, hugging and holding. Leaving is so hard. Mostly because I do not know how things will have changed by the time we return.