By Patrick F. Cannon
My brother Pete will be 80-years-old on January 4. Because he will be in Florida by then, one of his grand daughters arranged an early celebration in Pittsburgh for December 10. Jeanette and I flew in on the 9th, so we could spend a bit more time with Pete and his wife Mary Beth. I mention his grand daughter because her arranging the event is indicative of how much his family appreciates all that he has done and keeps doing for them.
He is 14 months older than me, so do the math. Because both of our parents died in their 40s, I have known him longer than I have known anyone. We are now separated by 500 miles; once, it was a few feet from crib to crib or a few more feet from bed to bed. I won’t go into our life stories, except to say it was often a story of riches to rags, and then happily back to riches again.
People say we resemble each other physically. I don’t know. We do resemble each other in some other respects. We both served in the military and used the G.I. Bill to get our university degrees. We have children of roughly the same ages and raised them while going to school part time. We have 14 surviving first cousins, and spent much of our childhood with them and the others who died too young. Only one of them (himself a fine man) is from my father’s family, of whom generally the less said the better.
Three of the four who live in the Pittsburgh area came to Pete’s party (the fourth would have loved to have been there, but had an unavoidable conflict). We saw most of the rest of them in July at the semi-annual Donnelly family reunion, held for many years at a resort in the Laurel Highlands, about an hour east of Pittsburgh. It was the 50th anniversary of the first one, which was more modestly held at a picnic pavilion at Renziehausen Park in McKeesport, PA. I didn’t attend the first one, but have been to most of them since.
I mention all of this, not because you might be fascinated, but because it occurred to me when I was at Pete’s party that I am the member of a family that works at being a family. I don’t know how many were at this year’s reunion, but it must have been at least 75, spanning four generations. At my age, I find it comforting that I am still close to my cousins, even though many live far away. I’m also fortunate to have my late sister’s three daughters and their families and friends.
My wife Jeanette has an even larger family. She has no fewer than 50 first cousins, most of whom live in Wisconsin, where her father was born and where most of the family remains. They also have a reunion, on even a larger scale than my family’s. We have attended some, but also sometimes drive up from Chicago just to visit her elderly aunts and uncles. In addition, Jeanette’s two sisters have seven daughters (and seven sons-in-law) and they all live in the Chicago area with their many children. During the course of a year, we’ll usually see them all at some family event or another.
I realize that not everyone is as fortunate as we are. When you get older, you’re inclined to read the obituaries in the paper most days. Often, the featured and bylined obit will end with the phrase “no immediate survivors.” In most cases, though, the deceased left behind many friends, who become a kind of substitute family for people who have outlived their own. Anyway, when we begin to think we’re overburdened by family commitments during these holidays, we should spare a thought for those who wish they were. And maybe, if you have a few bucks in your pocket, give one or two to that homeless person you might normally pass by.
Copyright 2016, Patrick F. Cannon