I always love to read Kathy Hanson’s Boomer Life columns, even though I’m so much younger than a Baby Boomer. I’m a Gen Xer, of course. But I can relate to what she writes because my brothers are all Boomers, technically.
My parents were from the generation before the Boomers, known as The Silent Generation.
According to Wikipedia, The Silent Generation follows the G.I. Generation (more well known as the Greatest Generation), with birth years from the mid to late 1920s until the end of World War II.
The term “Silent” seems to come from the fact that they chose to focus on careers over activism. I can certainly see that in my family. My parents were the “nose to the grindstone” and “don’t rock the boat” types.
In mom’s family there was a volatility issue — we called her “Granny” — so mom’s mantra was always “keep the peace.” When the fur began to fly, you were supposed to put your head down, shut your mouth, duck from flying objects, and “keep the peace.”
The reason I’m thinking about all of this (via my fingers on the keyboard) is because last Saturday we went to my Aunt Ethel’s funeral. She was the second-eldest of dad’s six siblings and the oldest still living. She was 90 when she died. Aunt Ethel actually made it longer than any other member of her family, I think. If I remember correctly, her father came the closest, dying at 89. Then came my dad who was 86 when he died in December. There’s one member of that family left, my Uncle John. He was the second youngest of the seven kids, and today he’s 84, I think.
So at Aunt Ethel’s funeral, there were six labeled generations represented. The Silents. The Boomers. The Gen Xers. The Millenials. The Generation Zers. And Generation Alpha, which is what we’re calling kids born today.
I sat in that church for the funeral, a church which seems virtually unchanged since the 1970s, and it was just as if I was there with Aunt Ethel for church. There sat my 11-year-old self, except now he’s old and bald, poor guy.
And there a few pews in front of me was my cousin’s little boy, Peter, an adorable, curly-haired little... oh, wait. That’s not Peter. That’s Peter’s son. Peter’s got to be what, 40? Boy, that kid sure looks like him.
And behind me sat the Bakery Ladies. Aunt Ethel and Uncle Harold owned a bakery and their “crew” became lifelong friends.
Some are gone now — Annie Chopyak (still referred to as Annie Bananie), Mary Ruby and Mary Jugajinski. But there behind me were Pat and Charlotte, two sisters and dear friends of Aunt Ethel. I saw them at a funeral four years ago, but the last time prior to that was probably when I was 12.
At the end of the service as we stood to leave the church I turned back and smiled at Pat and her husband Fred and waved.
She looked, then her eyes got a little bigger and she said “Paul?” She jabbed Fred and said, “That’s Paul!”
We all had a long conversation in the vestibule after the service, and it was like Old Home Week — whatever that is. (Yeah, my parents used that phrase.)
I marveled at the fact that these women — in their early 80s, I’m guessing — even remembered me. But they did, plus my two brothers who were there and my 54-year-old cousin whom they haven’t seen since she was a kid.
And yet it wasn’t that odd, because I did the same thing. My cousin’s kids were there, and I haven’t seen some of them since the mid-1980s when they were children, but I recognized them all. And many times I could tell who their kids were just by looking at them.
Yes, we have all these crazy labels. Silent, X, Y, Millenials. blah blah blah.
All I knew was that I was in a room full of Mitchells and I liked it.
When I was a kid, Aunt Ethel’s house was always host to the biggest family gatherings. I thought that was the way it would always be, that I’d always be close to my cousins and that I’d get to see their kids grow up, and they’d see my kids grow up. We’d stay at each other’s houses, we’d play cards and above all we’d laugh. Just like our parents.
But that’s not the way it turned out. People moved, marriages changed dynamics, growing families changed priorities... everything changed.
But there are a few moments in life — unfortunately most often funerals — when you can get together and feel like it’s Old Home Week.
In a way it felt as if time were standing still for an afternoon. Aunt Ethel was responsible for one last big family gathering.
But then again, there were a lot of people missing, and a lot of new little humans filling their seats.
We were lucky enough to be to able to visit with Aunt Ethel just four days before she died. It was obvious on that day that time hadn’t stood still. And yet so much was unchanged. The smile, the laughter, the squeeze of her hand.
The clock keeps on ticking, when we’re here — and when we’re not.
And on it goes.