Friday, August 13, 2010

Lifetime of Memories

I mentioned going to Atlanta last weekend with my mother-in-law and father-in-law. At 81 and 82, respectively, they are doing remarkably well and we are so thankful to have them as part of our lives.

Long travel tires them out, though, so when they told us about the possible trip to Atlanta, Wife and I suggested that they drive from Little Rock to Nashville and let us drive them to Atlanta. They liked that idea. They would come here on Friday and the next day we would go to Atlanta, spend the night and return here on Sunday.

The trip was for the purpose of attending a memorial service for Barbara, a friend of my mother-in-law’s from her childhood in Oklahoma. Barbara and her husband moved to the Atlanta area a few years back to be near their daughter and her family and, unfortunately, Barbara became a victim of Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago. She passed away at the end of June.

Her body was cremated and I never fully understood why the memorial service was delayed – whether it was to allow friends and family adequate time to get there, or what – but it worked out well for my in-laws that they could plan, and it certainly helped for us to go with them, which we were glad to do.

Now, I can tell you that my in-laws are among the most efficient people I have ever known. They have never, ever been late for anything. My father-in-law plans for flat tires and breakdowns, always expecting the unexpected. There is always a built-in cushion of time for anything. I was instructed to knock on their door last Saturday morning at 6, but of course they were already awake and almost completely dressed. I served coffee and a light breakfast at 6:30 and we were out the door at 7.

Typically, they had packed separate bags for (a) the trip here and (b) the trip to Atlanta, so no time would be wasted re-packing on Saturday morning. As for me, I had not really given much thought to what I would take for the barely-24-hour excursion so I was, of course, packing Saturday morning. I have no doubt that my last-minute scurrying around unnerved them, but I assure you it wasn’t the first time. (I won’t comment on Wife still trying to decide on Saturday morning what she would wear to the memorial service and/or dinner that night, and finally opting to take a number of different choices).

My father-in-law was equipped with GPS, a physical fold-up map and print-outs from MapQuest, so there was absolutely no chance of our getting lost, either between here and Atlanta (a drive I have made a number of times) or once we got there. I find the lady who speaks on the GPS a little annoying but we’ll talk about that another time.

Wife graciously volunteered to do the driving for the trip down, and her mom rode up front with her; my father-in-law and I rode in the back with the GPS lady, the map and the print-outs from MapQuest.

Our ETA was between 12 and 12:30 EDT (we lost an hour changing time zones) and, although we arrived at 12:20, well within that range, they were a little undone that we were “late.” To their way of thinking, if one is not early, one is late, and that is unacceptable. Since I had not been driving, I bore no responsibility, although I’m sure my failure to pack the night before probably had something to do with it.

Our first stop was lunch at the home of Barbara’s daughter and her family. Barbara’s son and family, who live in Ohio, were also there, as well as Barbara’s husband, Norman, a couple named Helen and Jim who are also longtime friends of my in-laws and now live in Colorado, and Helen's and Jim's daughter. Although Wife and her parents are not related to these people, they are very much like family and have the kind of relationships where, when they get together, no matter how much time has passed, it’s like they have never been apart. My in-laws’ friendships with Barbara and Norman, and Helen and Jim, go back more than 60 years.

Barbara’s daughter had a lovely buffet spread and we sat around a big table and ate and talked. She said that this day would be about remembering Barbara and asked my mother-in-law what her fondest memory of Barbara might be.

Of course my mother-in-law immediately said that there was a lifetime of memories for those two who had known each other since junior high school, but the most significant to her was not one specific time, but rather a span of time during the Korean War. My father-in-law was stationed in Korea and my mother-in-law was home alone.

“Barbara was such a help to me getting through that lonely time,” my mother-in-law said with misty eyes, recalling many days and nights they spent together. This conversation quickly turned from somber to humorous, however, as she related a hilarious incident where Barbara posed my mother-in-law for a picture IN BED with Barbara’s husband, which they mailed to my father-in-law in Korea! My father-in-law said that he didn’t find it all that funny (although he smiled when he said it).

The rest of the day was a continuation of recalling fond memories. The memorial service was uplifting as Barbara’s son and daughter both spoke of a devoted mother who had a zest for life. There were photos displayed in the church foyer, chronicling Barbara’s life as a young girl all the way through being a five-time grandmother. Several of the photos included my mother-in-law and father-in-law.

Back at Barbara’s daughter’s home they all continued to remember. We toasted Barbara’s memory and enjoyed another meal together.

One might think that for me, an outsider who hardly knew Barbara, this occasion might have been, at best, tolerable, or at worst, maybe a bit boring.

It was neither. Getting to see my in-laws yuck it up with their old friends gave me great pleasure. When they are with these folks, they are not in their eighties -- but neither are they in their sixties, fifties, forties or thirties. They are teenagers, or early twenty-somethings, and I have the privilege of seeing them differently. As I said, I did not know Barbara well, having only met her a few times, but I definitely got to know her better last weekend as her life was celebrated. That was fun for me too.

Back at our house last Sunday night we celebrated Wife’s birthday. Monday morning they were gone and reported in, of course, when they were safely home.

They were scheduled for a few days of rest before leaving yesterday for another trip, this time to Southern Missouri, where they would meet their other daughter for a couple of days. I trust the GPS, et al, got them safely there.


Kelly said...

It sounds like a beautiful celebration of Barbara's life! I've never been a fan of funerals and would much rather my friends and loved ones remember me in a manner such as this. I also like the idea of waiting awhile so that the initial shock is past. That also allows for love, comfort and remembering just when the need for such is starting to kick in. (at least in my experience)

Debby said...

I loved the part that you got to see your in laws as teenagers and twenty somethings...I never thought about it, but that is what happens when we visit with Tim's aunt and uncle, and I love it. I love them. I love the time that we spend with them. And Uncle Herman is in his nineties now.