Two days ago I drove out to Long Island. The reason was to attend a funeral for my Aunt Catherine, who passed away just shy of her 100th birthday.
These words pretty much sums it all up!
I, being the deeply shallow opportunist that I am, had visions of writing about the town I grew up in. I thought I would take photos of the beautiful lakes, drive over to the beach, snap more pics and just write about the memories of going back home. After all, I love Long Island and I love my hometown. The memories are beyond great!
But I changed up my mind.
Instead, I want to talk about family.
Not immediate family—but the aunts, uncles, and cousins that build the structure of family.
I’m afraid and ashamed that I haven’t been a great “relative” for many years. My own center of the earth was revolving around me. So many excuses: My divorce. My move from New York City to New Jersey. My move from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. My anxiety (Yes—I’m actually guilty of using anxiety as an excuse. THIS time it’s ok to judge me!).
All this kept me from making even the feeblest attempt to connect with my aunts, uncles and cousins. My selfishness got the best or..should I say worst of me!
Even in death. Over the years I’ve lost many relatives. The older we age, the more we need to be faced that our loved ones will leave us. It’s a difficult realization, but it’s a fact.
Out of respect—I should have been more visible for many others. But I wasn’t.
We were planning to have a big party this coming December to celebrate my aunt’s 100th birthday. This was one event I could not wait to attend. It would give me the chance to see cousins I haven’t seen in years. It would give my now grown children the opportunity to meet cousins they never knew they had (A bit of background—my mother came from a family of 11 kids. I believe 2 died as children so it was basically 9 aunts and uncles. Two aunts joined the convent. All others married and had multiple children. That’s a lot of cousins. My cousins all have kids. That’s even more cousins.)
My mother and her siblings grew up in Howard Beach, NY. It was a small community within the confines of the New York City limits in Queens, NY.
All but one sibling moved out to Long Island in the early 1960’s. My Uncle Tommy and Aunt Millie stayed in Queens, on Centerville Street. It was a great house. Across from a city playground where, surprisingly, I have great memories of playing—even though I fell off the top of a sliding pond onto my skull. Thankfully, I am extremely thick-headed. However, I think I may have rearranged a few brain cells that day!
Anyway, my Uncle Tommy and Aunt Millie had the BEST finished basement of all time. Bar. Wood paneled walls. Their dog Checkers hanging out so chill. There were a lot of Gorman family parties in that house…
Aunt Millie and Uncle Tommy–these two kids had the best party house of all time!!!
Since all the other sibs in my mom’s family lived on the Island (for those of you who aren’t aware—Long Island is referred to as “the Island” for those of us who lived there. We also say “ON’ Long Island rather than “IN” Long Island”), and everyone was within close proximity, it wasn’t unusual to take a Sunday drive to visit relatives or have relatives visit our home.
Cousins would have sleepovers.
We hung out. Family was close. Family was friends.
This picture brings back fun memories but also touching ones–some of these great cousins are no longer with us! But we all enjoyed each other!
The family grew to be so large that instead of having parties at homes, we would have our family parties at the convent. Yes! Luckily, my aunts, Sister Thomas and Sister Josephine, ended up living at convents on the Island! (Which by the way, their given names were Eleanor and Catherine. We grew up strict Catholics—therefore we called them by their nun names!)
Uncle Tommy (another Tommy), Aunt Margie, Sr. Thomas and Sr. Josephine enjoying a quiet(?) moment–probably before Uncle Tommy started yodeling!
Those parties at the convent were wild! We drank. We danced. We laughed at and with each other. We poked fun at each other! It was all
Then things changed. As our world became more transient, cousins moved away. Many moving away as far as California and others to Idaho and Illinois. Our children moved away. (yup–even to Arkansas!) Slowly, the family dynamics changed.
Some of the family continued to remain close—but many of us drifted off……….
Aunt Catherine’s husband, Francis, was my favorite uncle. He was so sweet and kind. My fondest memories of him were his being so touched at every family gathering that he would get teary-eyed. I also remember his hip replacement operation at NY’s Hospital for Special Surgery.
Uncle Francis and Aunt Catherine. I’m sure they are dancing up a storm as I write this! And they are happily reunited!
When I went to visit him, the first thing he did was lift his hospital gown up to show me the surgical scars—in all their glory! He was great. In fact, my son Roman’s middle name is Francis—named after my uncle!!
Catherine, his wife, was one of those women we all aspire to be. Not only did she live a long life, but she was one of those women whose demeanor was just so calm and nurturing. Every time I saw her, she always had a smile. ALWAYS! I honestly don’t think she was ever in a nasty mood!
The wake wasn’t one of those morose and maudlin events. It was more of a celebration of her life. So many old family photographs that I never saw before made me realize just how close and just how genetically gifted my aunts and uncles were. They were all so young and beautiful and handsome! Their faces were those of people who were happy and loved and cherished family. We stood around playing guessing games of “who is that”? We made bets—which is common in the family—on who was who.
We laughed and caught up with each other!
One of my cousins and I discovered we were total reality fans. I wish we lived near each other so we could watch together!
Yesterday, my sister and I attended the funeral Mass. It was beautiful because the priest gave the greatest homily in homage to Catherine. He was upbeat and celebratory. No fire and brimstone!
I wished for a fleeting moment that we had not been in a church for a funeral mass. Instead, I wished that it was one of the Masses we held before those parties at the convent.
The Masses where all my aunts and uncles were present. The Masses where all the cousins were younger and silently made faces at each other to see who could get who to laugh! The Masses where the men dressed and all the women and girls had to wear a lace mantilla on our head.
I was brought back to reality by the scent of incense as the priest shook the Thurible to bless my aunt’s spirit.
The spreading of incense brought me back to reality.
Before heading our separate ways, my sister, my cousin Danny, my cousin Jen and I discussed the possibility of holding a party.
I hope it happens—I mean the party. I want my family back. I want us to all be friends again. I want us to bring back close family dynamics.
One of the few family parties not held at the convent. This was taken over 13 years ago and we still talk about the great time we had!
We can make it happen. We have to make an effort to connect. I know I will try my best!
R.I.P. Aunt Catherine! You are now with Uncle Francis. And Aunt Margie, Uncle Tommy Lynch, Uncle Tommy Gorman, Aunt Millie, Uncle Genie, Aunt Eileen, Uncle Joey, Aunt Gloria, Sister Josephine, Sister Thomas, and my mom and dad, Germaine and Tommy ( Thomas is a very popular male name in our family. Just as Catherine is a popular girl name!!!).
I can tell you that my family is definitely giving Mary a good laugh! Hipster Jesus is whipping up a TON of wine too!
I have a strong premonition you are all making bets to see if we will have that party. I’m gonna bet we WILL have that party! Maybe later than sooner, but it will be an event!
Here’s to all our families! We only have each other for a short time–let’s all try to reconnect!
Here’s a song that should also have the lyrics “I have my cousins and aunts and uncles with me”. Sister Sledge! We are Fam-a-lee!!!