I am the oldest child of an oldest child (actually, both my parents were oldest children, but today, I want to talk about my Father's family). My father, Henry, was the oldest of seven; brothers E, C, J, F, and G, and their one sister, D. Except for my parents (who moved west to Colorado when I was an infant), the whole crowd of them were born, raised, and lived their entire lives in a working class, blue-collar suburb of Akron, Ohio.
My Dad died almost 22 years ago. Since that time, one by one, the others of his generation have died as well. On May 6, the last of my Dad's brothers died after a long illness. While their sister, D, remains, the uncles are all gone now. Somewhere out there, the brothers are all reunited, and if there is fishing in the great beyond, then the fish better watch out!
Tom and I traveled up to the northern part of the state on Thursday night to attend the funeral. It has been decades since I spent time with my extended family. There in that place, I found myself surrounded by dozens and dozens of my, now adult, cousins -- each of them with a face I recognize as "family," though I don't think I'd know any of them if I fell over them on the street. How very, very odd... to be confronted at every turn with eyes and mouths and noses; with shoulders and hands and chins that cause me to imagine that I have seen that face somewhere before.
At the end of the day, we drove back home (well, Tom drove), exhausted and a little dazzled at the size of the clan to which I belong. And I cannot help but marvel at what my grandparents, two first generation children of German immigrants forged -- this remarkable, swirling, far-flung, boisterous, open, loving family.
In my mind, I keep humming that old song, "May the circle be unbroken...," and I do feel as if the circle of brothers is, once again, complete. On the other hand, the circle is so much wider... so very very much wider than the uncles, the aunts. I am part of the bigger circle; the circle of cousins and cousins children and grandchildren: forty-six become eighty plus become probably a couple of hundred. No, the circle is not broken at all. The circle has circled round and round and come back again... Far and wide, the circle encircles us all.