4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I need to go home. There’s another funeral, and you always go to the funeral. In fact, funerals have become the only time I go home now, and it has become the last time I see people.
I last saw my cousin at my brother Butchie’s funeral, and I last saw my uncle at my cousin’s funeral, and so now I go home to celebrate the life of my uncle. And each person I see who helped me become myself, I will hug them and look directly into their eyes and tell them how much I love them, remind them of something they did for me as a child that mattered to me, that changed me.
So they know.
In case this is the last time I see them.
This is a big one, the passing of the last of the three Groeber brothers. All the Groeber cousins will be at this one. We’re coming in from California and Florida and Massachusetts and Missouri. We are far-flung people, we children of these three brothers.
They are survived by two wives, eight of their nine children (of which I am one), seven of their eight son-and-daughter-in-laws, and all of their fifteen combined grandchildren.
I found a t-shirt from our 1994 family reunion. Called the Beach to the Shore in 94 by my uncle, it was the first and last time all the cousins, any of their spouses, four of the grandchildren and two of those three original brothers all came together down the New Jersey shore.
There should be a Bruce Springsteen song about this. Screen doors slamming, girls walking the NJ boardwalk or pulling beach chairs across the boulevard, the smell of Coppertone and fried dough and salt air, stealing these moments with people who look strangely like me, same curved second toe, same sad right eye that slopes down a little more than the other. Lots of blonde hair, fair skin, widow’s peeks, freckles. An unbelievable amount of teachers among us cousins. Lots of Lutherans.
There should be a song about knowing these people like I do, because we share the same blood, because our fathers grew up under the same roof, because we were all raised going to church each Sunday, with big Christmas celebrations, with uncannily similar experiences we likely may never realize we share.
I don’t know much about my father’s childhood, his stern mother, his father who died in a car crash when my father was only about eighteen. I always noticed more how the three brothers differed from one another, in their temperament, their jobs, their choices in wives, their demons.
But the first uncle who passed, the California one, he was a doctor, but also, an artist. His son, too, is an artist. And I am an artist. And our art is very different, one from the other, but still, we three, artists. There’s that.
I want to ask questions this weekend over a beer and a hoagie at one of the New Jersey bars where we’re sure to gather.
What stories did your father tell you? What was childhood like for a Groeber boy in the 30’s and 40’s? What was your father’s favorite thing? His least favorite? What do you know about our grandfather who died so early and so tragically and our grandmother who died before I could create any memories of her?
But I know we likely won’t have these conversations. We’ll talk about the planes, trains and automobiles we took to make it to the funeral, about the snow storm this week, maybe my uncle’s amazing sense of humor, his intense faith, our own children, where we live, our jobs. We likely will learn very little new about each other or even about my sweet, funny, beautiful uncle who we lost this past week.
And we will hug each other, hold each other’s arms, look into each other’s eyes and say, “I know you, even when I don’t really know you. I see you now, although I really only see you at funerals, in Christmas card pictures and on Facebook. I carry you with me deep in my DNA, somewhere I can’t even begin to know in childhood memories and family traditions… and I love you.”