At the top of the generations to come

There was a short-notice memorial service for my Uncle Jack just a few days after he died. Margaret and I rearranged our calendars and made the drive to Michigan to be there.

Jack attended a little country church near his home. The place was full of friends and people from the congregation. I was gratified that Jack was so well loved. I deeply enjoyed hearing their stories about him, and telling them a couple of stories of my own.

My dad and Jack after a very good day of fishing in 1970

I was the only blood family member there, in large part because the service was so last minute, but also because there aren’t many of us left.

I have such outstanding memories and good feelings of the Frederick family from my childhood. We came together at most holidays and had such simple good times together. I felt like I deeply belonged, and I knew I was loved.

My goodness, but were our times there almost magical. The kids would run around doing whatever all day, either in the sun or in the snow. In the evening we’d sit in the screened-in gazebo down by the lake, or when the weather didn’t cooperate, around the dining room table. My grandparents would inevitably reach that point where their wine and beer loosened their tongues, and the drunker they got the more stories they told from their lives. The stories were amazing! And probably only 90 percent true. They knew a lot of people while my grandfather was still an engineer and the family lived in South Bend. Then after everyone went to bed my brother and I would stay up stupid late and watch The CBS Late Movie.

Family is always complicated. It turned out that my grandparents were the glue holding us all together. After they died in the late 1980s, their children hardly ever came together again. My grandparents had been alcoholics, and the family was marked by it. Their youngest son, Dennis, was also an addict, and they enabled him until the end. It caused a great deal of resentment in the family, made worse when Dennis tried to use his brothers and sister in place of his deceased parents. Longtime hairline fractures among the four children split wide open. Mom and Jack remained close, but by this time he had married Maxine and followed her around the country as she pursued and completed her career. After my grandparents died, we never again had a large family gathering. My parents created a new tradition centered around their nuclear family and, in time, my family (as I was the only one to marry and have children).

Ever since, I’ve missed the good times with my grandparents and the extended family. Dick died in 2019, Mom died last year, and now Jack has passed. Dennis may still be alive for all I know, but because of some bad behavior toward my mom over the years I will not seek any level of connection with him, and should he somehow find me, I will not respond.

I had kids and two of my cousins had kids, but because the family split apart, the next generation has no real connection to the larger Frederick family.

Jack was my last link to the Fredericks. I could call him, or see him, and quickly tap into that feeling of belonging. He was always happy to hear from me, and engaged me just like the whole family used to.

On my father’s side I have connections only with a handful of cousins. To be precise, they’re children of my father’s father’s brothers and sisters, and their children. But my father didn’t involve us in his family much when I was a kid, and we didn’t develop the same level of closeness as we did with the Fredericks. I was close to my Aunt Betty and to some of her kids, but that was about it.

I’m now at the top of a family hierarchy that involves my children and Margaret’s children. It’s been true for some time, but Jack’s death made it impossible for me to deny it anymore. I wish for multi-generational connection for me and for all of our children, but it is simply not to be. I’m mourning this as much as I’m mourning Jack.

Sitting in a whiskey bar in South Bend with Margaret, late in the night after Jack’s service, we agreed to accept that we are now at the center of the generations to come. Neither of us prefers it. But we can make the best of it, and we hope, create the same kind of good feelings of belonging in the generations after us that we each experienced in our own extended families.

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17 responses to “At the top of the generations to come”

  1. Marc Beebe Avatar

    It’s disturbing; that knowledge that everyone you grew up knowing is gone and you are now the elder of the clan. I know it too well.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is disturbing. I’m trying to just move forward and make the best of it.

  2. DougD Avatar

    Yes, these waves break on the shore and are gone. At least you & Margaret are making the effort, if not for you there’d be nothing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Here’s hoping the kids value it.

  3. Ward Fogelsanger Avatar
    Ward Fogelsanger

    Very much like all families….we put the “fun” in dysFUNctional.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There’s some truth to that.

  4. -N- Avatar

    As you say, family is tricky. It is warming, destructive, a refuge, a place of hell. We all deal with our families of origin but whatever hand we have been dealt, we need to deal with it. How Child A experienced family is not the same as Child D, and Parents B and C also must deal with it. Ultimately, we choose to stay or leave, to gather or to disperse. I like the fact that you and Margaret see the value of family connections and are willing to take on the unwanted responsibility. Some people will value it, others will find it suffocating or just not care. However people respond, knowing your door is open is a gift not yet realized.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have to think that dealing with what we got as kids is critical to our maturing and being empathetic people.

      I hope all of our kids value what we’re trying to do. They seem to, so far.

  5. JR Smith Avatar

    My mom was one of eleven children. I grew up surrounded by so many aunts and uncles and both grandmothers still alive. The kitchen at my grandmother’s small farmhouse was standing room only at Christmas. One by one, they’ve passed. Only just a few remain, all nearing 90. Someone once told me that life is like a conveyor belt. We’re all on it and it keeps moving and one by one, everyone falls over the edge. Ok, there is my melancholy for the day.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Your big family sounds like it was wonderful. But yes, all things must pass. I think that what makes this harder for me is that I didn’t see this coming. In retrospect, it was obvious.

  6. tbm3fan Avatar

    Those type of family gatherings ended for me in 1966.First, my father’s father had one brother who I never met much less know his name. Didn’t know anything about his mother’s side of the family. So basically a dead end. My mother’s father I didn’t know anything about and my mother only a little more. Her mother’s side we knew everything from her Mom down through all her siblings of which there were five others of four boys and one girl. So a bunch of uncles and a blood line aunt. Family gatherings always was with my mother’s family, or Nana and Pop Pop was we called them. Naturally they had a fair number of kids themselves. Only moving from New Jersey to Maryland cut down on our attendance at some since most all centered around New York City. Moving to California ended it all.

    Today I am pretty much it. Father passed away in 2019. Younger sister died suddenly in late 2019. Her death put my brother on the outs with her two kids my grown nephew and niece. My nephew asks didn’t I know my brother is a drunk when not working? I didn’t know as we don’t talk since the day our sister died. My mother is in hospice at the moment leaving me head of what is left on the West Coast. To be honest it is what it is and doesn’t bother me much at all as compared to you.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sure I’ll be fine with this in time. I just didn’t see it coming so it hit me hard.

      Sounds like you’ve had a lot to handle in your family.

  7. J P Avatar

    I have a stepmom living, and she has two living siblings, so I am still “one of the kids” on that side. My father’s side was never good at keeping in touch, and after my mother and her two sisters were gone, that side isn’t as close as we should be either.

    Marianne and I are the oldest of our respective families, but neither side is as close as it used to be. Maybe this is just normal.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      When I was a kid my mom’s family was so close that it blew me away when my friends’ families weren’t. Maybe that’s why this hits me so hard, because it was a lot to lose.

  8. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    As you say families can be difficult. Two if my brothers became angry and abusive when I moved back from Australia to New Zealand, and my mother, then recently widowed decided she would also return. It turns out I had been the one keeping the relationships going, calling regularly and visiting when I could. When I didn’t call anymore that was it, we have spoken maybe twice in the past twelve years. Mum is 88 now, still living independently, but like many inc rement years

    1. Steve Mitchell Avatar

      In recent year our political views have diverged. Not so much to talk about now.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      What a shame that the family couldn’t hold together.

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