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Memory: Gathering


When we got together with my cousin and her friend from Arizona recently, they were passing through Milwaukee bound for Door County. It had been several years since we'd seen one another. She caught us up on some of her world travels and we shared our visit to the Leelanau with family. All kinds of memories opened up as we talked, and I began to call up images of a variety of houses and yards and young cousins and long-departed elders and siblings. I'd seen my cousin more frequently in our youth, when both sides of my family largely resided in my hometown. My mother's parents had lived across the street from us, and her three brothers had raised their families, cousins abounding, within readily walkable blocks on the south side of the city. My father's father, his mother long departed, spent his remaining years across town from us and his sister's family lived for a long while closer to our neighborhood before moving across state. I had a good sense of whom I was descended from and who I was related to as I grew up.


Those of us in my generation eventually dispersed rather widely, and later our children did as well, to Wisconsin, Florida, and California. My wife's siblings still gather annually, as best they can—there have been losses among them as well and Covid complicated things, particularly this summer—and we've often hoped to get our children and grandchildren all in one place for a spell. When we got home from that Leelanau reunion this year, I noticed a photograph in our living room that evoked one of our earliest gatherings.


In summer 2007, we'd rented a house on the Door Peninsula, and the photo opposite my easy chair shows three of our grandchildren and two of their grandparents ostensibly reading from Sleepy Time Tales, a book I don't really remember. The picture always amuses me since our oldest granddaughter and her brother and their grandmother, holding the book, are all looking at the camera, the youngest child, their cousin, is gazing away from everything, and only Grandpa is intent on continuing to read the story aloud, completely ignored. The grandchildren's ages are likely four, two, and not-quite-one at that time. Both families will each add a daughter in a few years time.


Since we've just spent a week with those three and two more grandchildren on the Leelanau Peninsula across Lake Michigan, I can't help being aware of the passage of time and the changes those kids have undergone. The granddaughter in the photo will soon start her sophomore year in college, the boys will be a junior and a sophomore in high school, and their younger sisters will be in junior high; incidentally, their grandparents' hair is now considerably lighter in color. I'm tempted to try to replicate the photo, in the way I've seen people on Facebook display decades of family growth by annually staging photographs of family or friends in the exact same poses in the exact same locations. I'm aware of the likely differences in our version. Our grandkids would sit in the same positions on the couch, the co-ed to the left, the boys still in the middle; Grandma possibly needing to perch on the nearest boy's lap. The younger granddaughters would kneel or squat before them all. Since both of the boys are now very much teller than Grandpa, he would be entirely hidden behind them, except possibly for a glimpse of his shirt—fifteen years later he still wears that same one each summer.


The Leelanau family reunion is not certain to be repeated next summer, so the recreation of that first picture is in doubt. Luckily, a few weeks ago, one of our daughters photographed all of our grandchildren on one of the Cathead Bay trails in Leelanau State Park, deep in the woods. The three from the first photo stand behind the younger girls to the rear, the oldest granddaughter still to the left, the grandsons' positions switched so that her brother is deepest in and the youngest one (with glasses) is furthest on the right, while his sister is furthest to the left in the foreground, and the youngest granddaughter is most to the front, her siblings directly behind her. Knowing something of their energies and interests—they dance and play sports and read online—I won't try to read to them this trip.


We have many photos of their younger years around our house. It's always rewarding to relive moments we've shared with them. It's always stirring to recognize how much they've grown when we gaze at recent pictures. I'm content to stay here with them in the present. I'm in no hurry to see images of them in the future but certainly hope to have many chances to view them.


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