I can never remember the start of things, the way they begin, the very first tender stirrings of memory—I am more clear on the way that they end. It is fall now, and the trees are blazing toward winter in a last desperate golden show, as if by exploding in artistic showers of shed leaves they can put off the winter chill. And I wonder this year what the spring will bring. It was April when my father-in-law passed away, on my wedding anniversary, and the next Valentine’s when my mother-in-law followed him, as if she could not bear to be parted from him for a single moment more, and we celebrated, which seems an odd thing, that at the close of her life we murmured words of joy and praise, but it seemed a fitting day, and a fitting time, like she had a date that she needed to prep and preen for, and I could almost see her waiting for her sweetheart, with her hair perfectly permed, set, and curled, and her softly powdered and rouged cheek, and her earrings—she always wore earrings to match her carefully chosen clothes and shoes and the handkerchief tucked into her pocket or handbag or just peeking out of the edge of her sleeve. And now it is fall, and another departure has come and gone, with the death of my husband’s Aunt Gloria or Auntie G as he liked to call her.
When we started calling my in-laws the G-force, it was a sly joke, a humorous and slightly irreverent nod to the fact that we had found ourselves in the position to care for three elderly relations in their late 80’s—Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Gloria, hence G-force. We invited them for Sunday dinners with tables set with candles and centerpieces and nice dishes, and cushions that we pulled out every week for the chairs, to pad the bony frames of our elders as they sat and talked and laughed and regaled us with stories from times long past, although they had a tendency to argue over the details. The G-force became fixtures at every family event–birthdays and holidays and piano recitals and dance festivals, right up until the end when it became too difficult to navigate stairs and parking and getting into and out of cars, and then we took videos which we would show them, describing everything in fully rendered, bright technicolor detail. And slowly, almost without realizing it, our lives became impossibly intertwined.
A few days ago, searching on the internet, I came across an old video of my father-in-law. He had competed on the game show Password in the 60’s and every once in awhile I would browse through the back catalogue to see if I could find his episode, when suddenly it appeared and there he was in black and white, sitting tall in his best suit, flashing the slow, easy grin that I remember in an older face, his quick quips and the thoughtful tilt of the head so very much the same, and I wondered, why is it that we seem to have an inexhaustible supply of easy smiles and slow grins, and not enough time to enjoy them in?
My mother-in-law was a hostess extraordinaire, and although I learned to cook from my own mother and grandmother, it was from her that I learned that there are a lot of ways to show love and affection—and that one of those ways is by brilliantly hosting dinner parties and holiday parties and birthday parties and family parties and barbecues with deviled eggs carefully packaged in tupperware, cushioned against the bumps and spills of hauling blankets and baskets and chairs and grandchildren and one white and fluffy dog up a canyon to eat in the dirt and the grass, sitting by the edge of a spring-swollen river in the early evening light.
And now it is fall, and they have all gone, one after another after another, and we find ourselves suddenly with an abundance—an abundance of time and memory, an abundance of loving and leaving and serving and weeping, an abundance of experience in sitting with family as they worry or grieve or softly whisper prayers into the fading night. And last week we had friends over for dinner and I pulled out the tablecloths and the candles and the nice dishes but not the cushions for we are all mostly young and still in good health and adequately padded against the ravages of a hard chair and an hour or more of good conversation, and I couldn’t help thinking about the way time works, a living thing bringing generations close and grace closer, and I paused a moment to think about my children and the possibilities of their children, although they are all still in college and I hope much too serious about their studies to be dating, and I realized that what I thought was an ending was really a beginning and that is the way stories are, layered over one another in an abundance of love that has no start and no middle and no ending at all.