Now that I’ve used my last post to scare you with my speaking voice (note to self: practice on your feminine voice in the new year), I want to tell you a little story about a New Year’s Day in the past — exactly 10 years ago today, to be precise (January 1, 2006).
There’s a tradition on my mother’s family for so long I don’t remember when it started, but on or around every New Year’s Day, my mom and as many of her grown siblings as possible would gather at their parents’ home (with their permission, of course), for a combination holiday party and family reunion: Decorations are left up, food (high in calories) is consumed, beer is drunk (in moderation, of course), grandchildren and great grandchildren run around and play, stories are told, and fun is generally had by all.
After my grandfather died in 1990, my grandmother would continue the family tradition and hold court at her home on New Years, greeting and conversing with her children and grandchildren. Even after her health began to deteriorate in the later years of her life, she would be there to welcome her offspring, even if her offspring had to assist her.
Which brings me to the story I want to talk about: The family gathered as planned on New Year’s Eve 2005 for their annual to-do at their mother’s house. Grandma, however, wasn’t able to be there: The day before the party, she dislocated a hip (or so I want to recall) and had to spend New Years weekend in the hospital. As I noted above, her health had been in decline in the previous few years; she was in-and-out of a senior care center for a while, and we almost lost her about 5 years earlier when she got real sick.
Now, that weekend, I wasn’t planning to drive up to Grandma’s home (which is located in a small town in Western Wisconsin) and gather for the family party. I had heard initial weather reports that it would storm. Those forecasts, however, proved to be totally off the mark; in fact, the weather was rather nice that weekend. So, to make things up, I made the long drive from Madison to my grandmother’s house bright and (very) early on New Year’s Day Sunday — 10 years ago today. When I got there around 11AM, most everyone had already headed home, and only a few were still around to clean things up. Thankfully, they were forgiving that I didn’t make it up the day before.
But I wasn’t finished on my trip: I followed my youngest aunt, her husband, and their young daughter into town, where Grandma was convalescing comfortably at the hospital. While they checked up on her and left after a short while, I stayed behind a little bit longer. I assisted Grandma with her lunch, we talked about things, and we watched some of the Packers game that was playing on the TV. I spent about an hour and a half that early afternoon with her in her hospital room before saying goodbye and letting her rest for the remainder of the afternoon. I made a quick pit-stop to my sister’s house (on the other side of the state, mind you) to say hello and give my niece a replacement Christmas present (I didn’t realize Santa already gave her a March of the Penguins DVD). Before I headed back to Madison that night (yeah, I did put quite a bit of miles on my car that day), my sis complimented me for spending some time with Grandma when I did that day (“How nice of you to do that”).
The only regret I have that weekend was believing in a bad weather forecast and not spending more time with the rest of the family. But, like I said, they were forgiving. And I got to spend a couple more occasions with them — and my grandma — later in 2006, including a celebration that June for her birthday and another New Year’s get-together on the last day of the year, both occasions taking place at her house. It was by the end of that year that she became a little more frail, needing constant care (including staying at a nursing home) and also a wheelchair for movement. (One of my uncles thought her memory was starting to go as well.)
It was a good thing that I had the chances to see my grandmother as I did, for a few days after seeing her at that last New Year’s party, on the first week of January 2007, she passed away. Her funeral and burial was held one week and one day after that New Year’s party, on a chilly but snow-free Monday morning. After the funeral, her children and relatives gathered at her home — one final, solemn time — to make final arrangements regarding her estate, her belongings, and her home. (I wound up getting her living room couch, which became a prominent part of the new apartment I would move into the following spring.)
That day of the funeral was the last I spent at my grandmother’s house. My oldest uncle made an effort to keep the house within the family, but he couldn’t swing a deal and had to sell the property to a new buyer a few months later. But it wasn’t the end of the family New Year’s party, however; far from it, in fact, as every year since Grandma’s death, many of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren still gather for New Years; the tradition is continued at my eldest uncle’s cabin, located deep in the woods and a 20-minute drive from Grandma’s home town.
While I haven’t made it to every single New Year’s party with my relatives since then, I do appreciate the time I get to spend with them and catch up on all that’s been going on in their lives. I also hope the time I do spend with them isn’t short, nor is it the last. Here’s hoping you and your relation appreciate and enjoy every moment you spend together, on New Year’s Day and throughout the year.