Newsflash: your parents were once children. Some of you may have figured this out before I did, but the corollary may surprise you: your aunts and uncles were, too.
Last weekend my dad, a couple of his siblings, their respective spouses, and I gathered for an incomplete but very enjoyable family reunion. It has only recently occurred to me that these people—spouses excepted—have spent all or most of their lives together. They know each other in a variety of contexts: childhood, adolescence, newlyweds. They know the stupid choices, the heartbreaks, the brilliant successes, the unexpected joys.
They hold all these versions of each other within their memories and yet miraculously manage not to hold each other to those versions. Forgiving and forgetting even the small things can be difficult—the broken toy, the gloves thrown in the snowbank (sorry, little sister)—and history between siblings is not always comprised of only small things. This willingness to let go is a big chunk of what it means to be an adult, and it is rare.
I appreciate this group’s ability to laugh—kindly—at the way we are utterly and predictably ourselves. My uncle will always pause mid-conversation to find the source of the unusual airplane motor the rest of us don’t even notice. My dad will always search out mayonnaise packets, oblivious to my other uncle’s impatience to get where we’re going. But by and large, everyone chooses to be entertained rather than annoyed by each other’s idiosyncrasies.
After my grandmother died, the entire family gathered at a beach house with an astonishing collection of food and drink. Toward the end of the week, my dad and his brother and sisters sequestered themselves in one of the bedrooms for a few hours. When they emerged, all my grandma’s assets had been bloodlessly divided up, the only item of contention a CD/tape player that may have been worth $100 at the time. They flipped a coin. No hard feelings. No lawyers. Everyone not only still talking to each other but also still enjoying each other.
And that, perhaps, is the older generation of Henrys greatest legacy to my generation: the lived conviction that enjoying each other is more valuable than whatever else might happen.