This is always the one day of the year that I feel a bit sad. Today is my father’s birthday. He was born on this date in 1941, just three days before Pearl Harbor. He died in 2005, at the age of 63. I suppose that I should count myself lucky to have had him as long as I did, seeing as how he watched his own father collapse and die in front of him on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain in Mandeville, Louisiana when he was a small child.
Growing up in the 1940s without a father was tough. This was the era when women were not welcome in the workplace, and single parents were nearly unheard of. His mother did what she had to do, and moved into a poor neighborhood in New Orleans and tried to provide for her children as best she could. She made sacrifices, and eventually remarried to a man who had the means to care for my father and his older sister.
It was no wonder that my dad grew up to adore his mother. So much so, that after her death in the early 1980s at the age of 63, he insisted that he would not live longer than his mother. A bit over two decades later, he would get his wish. I am just glad that he got to see his own grandchildren, and that my children used to get spoiled by him. My son tells me that his favorite memory of his grandfather was being taught how to fish.
When I was a child, we would attend family reunions that required convention halls. Living in South Louisiana used to mean growing up in traditional Catholic households, where it was not unusual to have seven or eight siblings. The generation of my parents was the first generation to stop this practice. This meant that I literally had hundreds of adult relatives as a child. There are entire towns in Louisiana where I am related to nearly half the town, even if only by marriage. It was not unusual to ask a woman on a date, and later discover that I was her third or fourth cousin. I used to joke with my mother and tell her that anything outside of first cousin was fair game.
On my father’s side of the family, only his older sister remains as my last blood relative. On my mother’s side of the family, there remains only my mother, her two siblings, and my great aunt. I lost several older relatives in the past year, as the last holdouts from my grandparents’ generation dies off.
So, it is this particular day each year that I feel a bit like I am approaching that point in my life when I must think about my own mortality.Soon, that feeling will be replaced by the joys of celebrating Christmas with my own family, and even though my own children are grown up and following their own paths, I can still play the nice Uncle to my nephew and three nieces, while dreaming of the day that I can teach things to my own grandchildren.