The heavy heat of the night combined with sporadic coughing from the tail end of a summer cold makes it difficult to sleep. I lean against propped pillows and resign myself to fitful dosing. Slipping into a quiet stoic mood, I rest my interlaced fingers against my stomach and, as if of their own accord, my thumbs begin twiddling. How like my father! I remember him at the end of a long workday, sloped against the burnt orange Naugahyde cushions of our Scandinavian teak chair, fingers interlaced, the thumbs slowly swivelling one against the other.
When I was young, I didn’t pay much attention to my genetic kinship. I had my father’s dark brown eyes, and my mother’s long fingers; I preferred being alone, like Dad, and felt compelled to please people, like Mom. That was about it. Now, well into my 60s, my now-departed kin make themselves visible in behaviour as well as looks. “Good!” I reply to a friend, as we agree on a lunch venue, and vividly, I hear my mother in both word and cadence. “Good!” she would always say in a firm, happy and ‘that’s settled’ tone; a plan confirmed, a date arranged. Over the last few years, my hair has turned almost completely white, and I can see my Dad’s sister, snowy-haired Tante Benine, reaching up through my hands to pat the hair in place.
And this weekend, a visit from my niece Jessica, her husband Mike and their gorgeous 8-month-old twin daughters, Annabelle and Jasmine. When I welcomed my niece, my hand reached out and gently stroked her cheek in one of my mother’s trademark gestures. Seated on a blanket made by my sister Patricia (Jessica’s mother, still very much alive), the babies kick their legs and pump their arms. They stare unabashedly at their kinfolk, faces crinkling into exuberant wide-mouthed laughs. Their slate blue eyes haven’t yet revealed which genetic pathway they’ll follow: brown like their Mom’s or hazel like their Dad’s. Like all babies, they are adorable beyond words, and we adults grin helplessly as we watch them cavort. The spirit of my dead parents hovers in the room, and I can feel the smiles of generations beaming through our own. Like Wendell Berry, “I tremble with gratitude”, celebrating another link of kinship and wonder.
I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children
who take pleasure in one another.
At our dinners together, the dead
enter and pass among us
in living love and in memory.
And so the young are taught.
~ Wendell Berry