Speaking of life

Mom, pregnant me and Audrey at my baby shower in Seattle, 1990

Last weekend I attended a memorial service for my aunt and uncle. This aunt was one of Mom’s six sisters: the one I teased about being my favorite before adding,”but don’t tell anyone.” She would launch her joyous laugh and more times than not follow it with a raucous snort. She and my uncle spent a lot of time with our family out on the Long Beach Peninsula: gathering together for decades in the summer and at Thanksgiving. And as happens in large, close families like ours – this recent service brought together four family generations eager to reunite. It must be my stage of life, but I know many who too have attended memorials like this in the past few months. Many but not all of this family I had most recently seen just over a year ago at Mom’s own Celebration of Life. These three family members were fortunate to live long lives full of purpose and rich with loved ones.

As I sat between Russ and my eldest daughter, at one point I offered my own short tribute to these loved relatives. I shared our inside joke about favoritism, giving a smiling nod to the remaining two sisters, Our family has a special space for teasing about favoritism. In some families such jokes might be mean-spirited or laced with truth. Not ours. I tease each of my four brothers about being “one of my favorites” while they generally put any favoritism toward me in air-quotes: me their only sister. We all teased throughout our lives about being our parents’ favorite, even though we knew Mom and Dad never seemed to unfairly favor one or the other: but still made us each feel favored at one time or another. I got Dad to agree I was probably his favorite toward the end of his life; he offered that smirk to let me know it was fine for me to believe it even though the truth is that he loved us differently but equal. I suspect I’ve carried on this silliness by sometimes referring to our two daughters as my favorite oldest and favorite youngest.

And now we celebrate our favorite oldest daughter’s pregnancy. As I sat next to her during this memorial, she with her now visible growing belly, I thought about the great love this aunt and uncle, and my own parents – her grandparents – would offer to this next life. It makes me happy and sad all mixed up in a beautiful though sometimes difficult acceptance of the cycle of life. While this pregnancy is news I have wanted to shout from the mountain tops, I too am being mindful that the news belongs to my daughter and her partner. My part to share is about how this growing new life makes me feel. I don’t often write poetry, but I did share “Ode to Poppy” with my writing group recently. Too personal to share here; saved for this grandbaby and parents.

Grandmother, Grammy, Gaga. Abuela, Yaya, Aba, Nonna…so many names for this loved person that fortunate kids have in their lives. Some of my friends who grandparent – and many others – do so as the only guardian their grandkids may ever know. Oh my how I honor you! My mom hoped to be called Grammy until her first grandchild (yes, my favorite oldest daughter) blurted out Gaga instead. And that name stuck to her forever. It was probably fitting as Dad’s favorite grandmother was also a Gaga. For me, there is no doubt that my favored and special grandma was our Whowho. I have written many words about this treasured relationship I had with her both in My Music Man and in various blogs. But it was one of my nieces who brought a teary crowd to giggles and laughs at her Gaga’s Life Celebration, letting the crowd (including us now parent siblings) know how when these cousins occasionally banded together to do “naughty” things (nothing too serious, mind you) at summer reunions, this Gaga privately congratulated them. They all knew, following her telling them about being “too good” during so much of her life, that it thrilled her to see these strong-willed granddaughters push limits and boundaries. Gaga was wise enough to keep the stories between them. And so dear Poppy, I can’t wait to see you. I’m going to spoil you rotten and look forward to hearing your stories. Those private ones too.

And, yes, it is Thanksgiving. A holiday marked for some like me chocked full of past and present joyful and silly family memories, while for others, marked with pain and grief over family trauma, or protests over stolen land and oppression. I understand how much a single date, be it a formal holiday or not, can bring with it hurt, sadness and pain. And while I too see the problems celebrating a holiday that may hide behind its real stories, Thanksgiving for me will always be about family. A family that seemed to always be able to come together around food and shared time to acknowledge those things most important. Yes, in this our family is privileged and fortunate. I am reminded of the Thanksgiving meal tradition we honor by first saying grace, followed by individually sharing what we are grateful for. Although the grace has morphed from traditional Christianity to something more pagan depending on who is at the table, the individual sharing continues.

And so, this year? Ah, while there is so much I am grateful for, even in the midst of so much difficulty, it’s easy to know the one thing that rises above. This new life growing. From the size of a poppy seed to avocado to the growing belly of today. Yes! Hello Poppy, I say with my hand on this rounded belly, his kicks bursting in energy. Yes, we will someday tell you about this big boisterous family you join including those who came before. Who knows, I’m sure somebody will talk about favorites. But you will feel so loved that you’ll always feel it to be you. I’m your Grandma. And I will spoil you rotten. Just you wait.

Dick Montgomery (1930-2014); Patricia Daum Montgomery (1933-2021); Audrey Daum Waldorf (1931-2021), Jon Waldorf (1930-2022) at Thanksgiving at Illahee.

Gaga camps with her granddaughters.

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