Before I go to bed, I like to climb into our back porch hammock and listen to the day shut down. The sounds yoyo around my head while I swing, curved like a banana, eyes closed. Robins tweeting their single-note sign off, the buzz of hummingbird wars, the last big trucks of the day looming, then receding off to another town, and a mocking bird blee blooping to beat the band. Life happens whether we are watching or not.
The hammock slows as the crickets and cicadas take over, and my thoughts turn inward. A week ago, I was four hundred miles north sitting on a porch swing with my sister-in-law Darla, putting the final touches on plans for our family reunion. She had already done most of her cooking and had a big bin of picnic supplies sitting near the door, Bob was on pizza and ice, I had rented a pavilion in the park, and my brother John,had reserved the community room at my mother’s nursing home in case she wasn’t feeling well enough for an outing.
We had everything “well in hand”, a phrase fitting for Amish country with its horse carts and plow horse teams. Swinging there on the porch, the various elements of the event felt like a frisky team of horses. The people coming from far away, my frail mother, the nursing home staff, the ten grandkids, mics and amps for music, the lawn games, and ice; we hoped all would fall into place when the time came.
I sighed as we got up from the swing, prompting Darla to say, “No expectations!” And we made a pact. I told her how Bob often says, “Happiness equals reality minus expectations.” If you set your sights low, he explains, you will never be disappointed. Planning helps, too.
The next day Bob and I, John, Darla, and my brothers Joe, Mike, and James split into teams. My brother James and I would greet incoming visitors at my mother’s nursing home an hour before the reunion. Bob and Darla were in charge of setting up the pavilion. Brothers John, Michael, and Joe, Mom’s handlers, would get her from her room to the community room, and (fingers crossed – no expectations!) out to the park and back.
Brother Bob was the first of those driving in for the day to arrive, followed by cousins Grace and Brian and his wife, Maggie. Everything played out as easily as water flows downhill, each drop sparkling clear and perfect. Mom was able to make it to the park, its picnic tables laden with salads, fruits, casseroles, pizza, dips, and desserts. There were thirty-two of us, four generations, gathered to celebrate the miracle of family a few weeks shy of her eighty-sixth birthday. A niece most of us had not met made for a pleasant addition. Her young daughter was instantly absorbed by the girl gaggle. Darla watched in wonder, noting, “She and Lydia both laugh with their eyes!”
After we ate, brothers Michael and John and John’s son Brandon plugged in an amp for live entertainment. My mother has always been gifted, and although she chose parenthood over a career in music, she filled her days with song. Mom harmonized to the radio, sang in the kitchen, crooned us to sleep, and continued singing to us over the phone after we fledged.
Someone wheeled Mom over to the microphone and she began to sing in her soft, clear voice with Brandon on guitar, Michael on Ukulele, and John on vocals and harmonica. They had been practicing since Michael drove in from Colorado. When they picked up “Over the Rainbow,” I began to cry, and seeing my gentle niece, Charity, mother of six, I knew where to go for comfort. She hooked an arm around me and held me close. “I get a lot of practice at this,” she whispered.
After a few songs, we plunged into the Round Robin. I love this family tradition of speaking in turn about our past year, and telling the group what we are looking forward to in the future. In random order, (each speaker picks their successor), we heard from Mom on down to Levi, the oldest of her great grands, one after another pouring out their hearts. The themes this year were “transition” and “acceptance”.
A couple of the boys had been after Bob to start up a game of kickball and after a couple of “We’ll see’s,” it was time. “Will you announce it?” “Yes.” Do you need a mic?” “No,” and with his stage voice, Bob made a call for players. I soon found myself on the lawn, trying to remember the rules of a game I hadn’t played in fifty years, if ever. Three generations, spanning sixty years in age, from little Alex to me. As if this day couldn’t get any better, I thought, fumbling for a catch and laughing. We are never going to have this reunion indoors again.
Back in the hammock, I open my eyes. The sky is a dusty salmon and the dark woods are pricked with fire flies. I cannot believe how rich my life has become. A life rich in family and good health, spilling over with time, and absolutely devoid of expectations.