This year, I will turn 60 years old. It’s a ways off, not until September. But there is something authentic about seeing the number 2010 on calendars, letter head and other places where dates are regularly indicated.
I remember thinking how far back 1900 was when I was 10 in 1960. It was before both wars, when movies ran fast, cars mixed with horses and people wore their best clothes to baseball games – including hats. My, didn’t we all look like a bunch of immigrants back then. In truth, we were.
Some time later, I saw the picture taken of Charles and Irene McNulty on their wedding day. Grandpa was in the one suite he likely owned or borrowed. Grandma looking so much older than the groovy chicks I knew in the late 60’s that were getting married. How tired and worked they looked and at such a young age. They took the photo in the back yard of a house in Chicago. Nothing fancy. And Grandpa’s brother Jim looked like my uncle Jim. For a time I thought it was the Jim I knew, my dad's brother - until I figured out the impossibility of that.
Delia Dupuis was well into Ben Gay by the time I was a “tween” staying at grandma’s house during the summer. My mother was having another baby or one of her back surgeries to ease her lifetime ailment. Goodness surrounded Grandma Dupuis. Large numbers of aunt and uncles sat around her. Her children all gave me small clues about what living was like, mostly in the 30’s and some in the 40’s. I was young when Grandpa George was living though I have a very fuzzy memory of sitting on his lap.
We all felt so modern in 1965. So removed from all those old days “on the farm” and “in Chicago” that were part of every conversation that occurred as we sat around and listened to aunts and uncles talk about their time at home. Both Grandma’s sat listening nearby. Grandma Mac participated. Grandma “Dupe” just listened and made sure us young kids had water and a banana to snack on while we listened.
The McNulty’s conversations around the kitchen table demanded everyone’s attention. What with Betty’s bellicose laugh, Babe’s clamorous giggle and all three (adding Grandma) roaring at the expense of some poor Wop, Mic or Pollock. Dad laughed too but not in soaring tones. More like Grandpa Mac. Equally at the women as the brunt of the joke.
The Dupuis’s conversations were more subtle. More between small groups - within the large Dupuis clan but intense never the less. They were more versatile. Each one could demand the stage and did a mighty job of it including Billy who was probably best at it - because he stood with one foot in each generation of the Dupuis Clan. Rita could tell a great story and Joanne was convincing. Mom’s stories were less on content and more on delivery which magnetized as much as the others. Theresa’s ending line would soar into that high pitch swoop to the upper registered followed by a hearty exhaled plosive laugh. Chink punched though as the only male sound in the group – particularly since Lee had launched much of it and was reveling with a grin while the others laughed. Frank observed, being the oldest, and Irma and Margarette where not here enough for me to remember but Irma was surely a good time when I stayed at her house.
All these people formed a bedrock that took over 40 years to grasp. Their words take a lifetime to “hear.” It is all just happening around you for so many years until those voices go away and you “hear” them for the first time when they’re absent.
Never was there a time when a conversation or point made by my dad didn’t demand one’s full attention. It’s hard to recall a “throw away” statement even in later years when his questions were more frequent than answers. His conversations with us and within his family pulled us down “eye to eye” level with someone that was “paying attention” and gave you the sense that there was a lot of wisdom, little need of forethought and plenty of conviction behind anything that he said.
We all rushed out, rushed away. We turned in on our world, our kids, our spouse, our home, our time. None of us are quite old enough yet to fully feel as though we are like Delia, Chuck, George or Irene – but we are. We are in that age that matches theirs but there are differences. Our times were not theirs and they did not have themselves to influence their thoughts as we had them. It’s really quite simple and redundant. It's a web of overlapping tendons that connect and, due to purpose, disconnect from generation to generation.
We are not them – they were not us. There is a “we” part that connects to all those inside the same kitchens, the same picnic tables, the same weddings, the same funerals or horseshoe pits - when we all arrive and take inventory of the ties that bind. When we check to see that the tied strings still connected? What are those that have become undone? What still connects to everyone?
Is there more sameness than difference? Or is their more difference than sameness.
Is each one of us a variation on the collective we?
Or are we a composite of each one of us?
This is my 60th year
When I reach that age in late September,
I will mark a life longer than my father - who died at 59.
At that point, I’ll truly be on my own.
I’ll have fewer things to reference if I see 2011.
Happy New Year.