While my trip back to the US ended a month ago, I haven’t properly taken the time to reflect on the trip and what it meant to me. It was a short trip – just over two weeks – but it was one of the most meaningful trips I have taken. Was it because of being away for almost two years, or because of the number of people I was able to see, or just because as I get older I am more appreciative? I cannot say. But it was a good trip.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was spending time with my grandparents. My grandmother turned 101 this springtime and my grandfather hit the same milestone while I was in town. We had planned a famliy reunion last summer but of course that had to be cancelled. This year, though, everyone was fully vaccinated and it felt worth the risk to make a visit.
They have been inspirations and role models. A video I made for their 90th birthdays captured bits of the story how they met, which is a wonderful story similar to the story of so many people of their generation: a soldier meets a girl at a USO dance and they marry before he is sent overseas. In their 78 years of marriage, they have weathered thick and thin and have maintained consistency of faith and values while being open-minded and always learning.
While there, I had an interesting conversation with them, asking them about how the way they think about their lives and mortality has changed as they get closer to the end of their lives. Their candid and thoughtful answers could be summarized as, live your life as well as you can, be grateful for all you have, and focus on the present rather than the future.
While there, my grandmother said that she wanted to swim again. She was a competitive swimmer in her youth and continued to swim her entire life, up until about seven years ago when she suffered a fall. In fact, she had overseen the Red Cross swimming program in her county for many years and countless hundreds of children learned to swim thanks in part to her instruction.
My aunt loaned her a swimsuit, cap, and goggles and I drove my grandmother over to the pool and my aunt’s housing complex. It was a sunny day and the pool was warm as my grandmother took off her robe and eased her way into the water. And in no time she was swimming laps, especially enjoying the backstroke which she does so gracefully. She did complain afterwards that she wasn’t used to the added buoancy of the salt water – she is famliar with chlorinated water! – but otherwise enjoyed the experience.
Another lesson to learn: don’t give up on the things you love.
While last year’s family reunion was cancelled, another one informally happened this year. All of my cousins bar one arranged to be back, overlapping the weekend before my grandfather’s birthday. They brought their spouses and children with them, with just a few exceptions, and all of my aunts and uncles were there, too. So we had the chance to see nearly everyone and spend good time together.
I am the oldest of my cousins and as I see them grow (and as I see their children grow!), I am increasingly aware of the passage of time and feel a sense of responsibility to collect the stories and keep the connections strong between our generation. If I will not have children of my own, then perhaps what I can bequeath to the next generation is the legacy and history of our family. I work on collecting the stories and memories and look for a good way to share them.
This trip was also the opportunity to stay with my parents in their new home. Some fifty-plus years after leaving the Kansas City area for the San Francisco Bay Area, and then detouring to Indiana some 25 years ago, they have recently moved back to Kansas City. They are just settling in, still unpacking and setting things up.
What is interesting is how the dynamic has changed. Every time I visited Kansas City, they would travel over from Indianapolis. So when I was seeing them, they were also visitors. Now, they live there. I can visit them in their home. It is a different experience and will be interesting to see how this makes visits feel over the coming years. It will certainly be easier to have the family all in one place!
I was also fortunate that on my last evening there, an old Xangan friend, Andy Yang, drove down from Omaha to visit. When Tawn and I married in Council Bluffs, Iowa a dozen years ago (across the river from Omaha), we needed a witness for the marriage license. While we had never met in person, Andy offered to be the witness and invited Tawn and me to stay with him and his now-wife, Sugi, at their place. They have been great friends all these years and have become close to our family. I really appreciate him coming down to see me and love that friendships that came from the days of my Xanga blog have grown such deep roots over time.
There is more from the trip I will write about, but that is the Kansas City portion.