My father was one of two surviving children, his brother a couple of years his junior. Their baby sister died as a very young infant or toddler. My mother was an only child, adopted by a couple who were older and had been unable to bear a child of their own. Her biological parents were both deceased and family members who took in her siblings didn’t feel they could handle a newborn infant.

I don’t know if my aunt had siblings or not, I did know her mother when I was young, but don’t recall ever meeting siblings.

Between the brothers and their wives, there were 7 children. I am the oldest of them and the oldest surviving member of this biological unit. My sister was the next born, then a female first cousin, my brother, then a male first cousin, followed later by two more female first cousins. There is a span of 14 years between me and my youngest first cousin.

My uncle’s work took him away from Virginia for most of my life so I didn’t have frequent contact with the cousins, but we did all gather each year in the Virginia mountains for a week.

This photograph has my father and stepmom, who my father married after my mother passed away taken at a family gathering in the mountains to celebrate my Dad’s birthday. I am unsure of the year. I am sitting on the wall on the right in the black teeshirt, the youngest first cousin is in the red shirt over my Dad’s shoulder left center. In the center of the front row in the brown shirt is my younger brother’s youngest child, his daughter and her Mom beside her. I will not try to identify the others in this photo as you see, many generations.

My mother passed away when I was 40 years old, in early December. That Christmas was difficult for our family, but new traditions formed as Dad moved on in his life, remarried and added two step siblings to the clan. Five years ago, my Dad passed away less than a week before Christmas. My youngest first cousin had gathered me and driven me across the state to visit him in the hospital during his last few days. He remained alert and cognizant of the situation, said his goodbyes to each of us and she and I drove back across the state a few days later, as she had to return to work, I was going to return alone the next day but he died that night. Another hard Christmas.

Early this month, I received a call from my brother one morning, he was in tears, his little girl had died early that morning, not of Covid, but a tragic loss. She was born with a genetic disorder that she coped with her entire life, was told she probably couldn’t have children, but she did, a son who turned 4 only a couple days before she passed away. She had a tough few months healthwise, but seemed to be doing better. She, her husband, and son lived in Canada. The borders are closed. All I could do is send my love in a note.

Two weeks ago, I was notified that the youngest first cousin had been hospitalized. Again, not from Covid, but she had an underlying condition for which she took medications and her system started shutting down. Two nights ago, she passed away, leaving her husband, her two sons over her shoulders in the photo, their wives and a just turned 2 year old grandson. Her husband and at least one of her sons were with her. Her sons and their families live across the country.

As I said, I didn’t see my cousins except for a week each summer, but this cousin lived half an hour from us and we did develop a closer relationship after we moved to the mountains in retirement. Dinners out occasionally, kayaking on the river together. Her birthday and our anniversary share a date, her grandson and I share the same birthday.

I’m not writing this looking for sympathy, just to encourage all of you to look at your families and cherish them, hold your relationships close to you. You never know when that connection may be permanently severed. Heal your differences if you have them. Times are tough enough with the social isolation not to have some connection with your families.

Saturday Again

The weeks speed by. We look forward to whatever routines we can hang on to. Saturday mornings used to be breakfast at one of two local diners followed by the Farmer’s Market. It didn’t matter what time we arrived at the market as long as you weren’t too late in the morning, you could still get what you wanted and there was no restriction on how many people could gather to shop, listen to music, buy prepared food and just sit and eat with others on the lawn or one of the benches. Then along came COVID and for a time, even the market had to shut down. When it reopened, it was with safety measures in place, such as a modular fencing that had been used only for special events held once a month in the summer where alcohol could be purchased with food and music provided. The fence now controls the entry into the market, manned by volunteers that keep count of how many have entered and how many have exited. Then orange dots were painted at 6 foot intervals on the sidewalk outside the fence to help remind people to social distance while waiting. At the request of some of us seniors, the first hour was designated for pre orders and the over 55 crowd, but that seemed to put a lot of responsibility on the young volunteers to “police” the line and was ignored by some people.

This week, there were two lines 6 feet apart, one for the pre orders and over 55 crowd and one of others. Being there just a few minutes before they opened, so queued outside the fence until opening time, the Market manager walked the line and asked if you didn’t appear to fit the age requirement if you had pre orders and several folks were moved to the other line. It felt safe. I was in the first group of 25 to enter, was able to quickly pick up our weekly goods and return to the car. Being the Saturday after Thanksgiving, several vendors were not there, and the students for the most part have left the area as theyare on campus semester ended last Saturday and they will have a week vacation, a week of online class, and virtual exams, followed by winter break, so they are out of the town until at least mid to late January unless school continues virtually for the spring semester. As people realize the early hour is for the older folks, I expect that our market experience will be less stressful for me now.

After the market, we now do drive through breakfast in the car, sit in the parking lot and eat, not what we used to do, but still somewhat carrying out a routine.

Yesterday, I placed my curbside order at Eats Natural Food store. The form you use suggests ordering by scoops, cups, or a similar measure as ordering by weight is difficult to envision. Four cups of oatmeal weighs much less than 4 cups of beans or rice for example. I needed oatmeal, so I asked for 4 cups (a quart) and was amused when I opened my bags at home to find this instead of a plastic bag.

A “quart” of dry oatmeal. At least the container can be returned, sanitized and used again, much preferred to a plastic bag.

This suddenly seems silly and irrelevant as I just found out my youngest first cousin who fell ill 2 weeks ago, passed away last night, leaving a husband, two sons, their wives and a young grandson. This is on top of having lost a young niece earlier this month that left a husband and 4 year old son. May their families find peace.

Post Thanksgiving, Heading into Christmas

We always had a rule that no Christmas decorating could be done until after Thanksgiving, then daughter got old enough to complain that we had to wait until after her birthday on the 29th. It became a family tradition to which I still comply. Even when she was younger, she wouldn’t complain if I put up the door wreath between Thanksgiving and her birthday, but nothing else.

She is a grown woman with children of her own and her own house, but still, I wait. I still usually put up the door wreath and pull out my Santa lap quilt in the interim, but nothing else. I am struggling to make the holidays as normal as they can possibly be, and will haul out the Santas, Christmas linens, and in a couple of weeks, the lights and ornaments for a locally cut tree. First, the house needs a deep cleaning. Living on a dirt/gravel road and driveway and having two large shedding dogs in the house, keeping the hair and dust down is a full time job and though I vacuum the exposed areas daily, the deeper mopping under furniture and thorough dusting doesn’t get done as often as it should. Each year that I pull the Santas out, I dream of the Library box shelves with the glass fronts that would help keep the books cleaner and the decorations I take out more dust free. Or maybe the revolving shelves like in mysteries, so the shelves just need to be revolved to the decorated side at Christmas and the book side the rest of the year.

All gifts are purchased or made and ready to be wrapped and packaged. One box to be mailed to Son 2’s family which will include the Grandmom made hand knit stocking for the youngest grandson, born about two weeks after last Christmas. Another box to be delivered in a second socially distanced meeting with Son 1 in early December. The gifts for daughter and her kids, as she lives nearby, will be delivered to their door on Christmas, an opportunity for us to not spend the day sitting in our house alone because the kids can’t visit this year. We will give them their gifts outdoors and come home.

In mid December, I have an opportunity to again set up a craft display and honor sale at Wilderness Road Regional Museum. Since the spinning challenge that I do each month with the Jenkins spindles encourages projects made with the yarn spun, I spent the last couple of days knitting a pair of plain, no pattern, hand spun, hand knit fingerless mitts to take to the sale. A few hats, mitts and mittens, a couple woven and lined bags, and a few smaller simpler shawls or scarves will also go along with a basket of handspun yarn skeins. The event is by reservation for two afternoons/early evenings and will hopefully reduce my inventory a bit before I have to report it to the county for tax purposes early in next year.

For now, I am going to grab mop and dust cloth and get ready to set up for the next holiday as soon as it is “legal.”

Take care. Hopefully next year will be closer to normal, even if the normal is a new normal. I want to hug my kids and grandkids, not see them at distances of a dozen feet.