These family wakes and funerals are a strange thing. My father’s side, so many with such bad hearts, including my father (all 70 years of him just this week’s lesson in ignoring your doctor’s advice)– they all die early and often, but being Irish & Catholic, there are still lots of them plus wives and children, so that all of these gatherings are re-introductions to people you met years ago at the last wake of your second cousin named after the other grandmother, the one on the Campbell side, or was it the Doyles? No… the Morrisons, surely, we were just up in Prince Edward Island this summer, and oh, you were there? When? We were there too… and have you talked to Billy (only a scant handful of cousins at no remove get to call my Dad that anymore) because he’s gone up there with his daughter and he’s seen the grave, gone to the house of the Bishop, too, don’t you know?
It’s a room full of men who all resemble each other and if you look at all the family photos going back, back, back, back, it’s in the square chins and faces, the sagging jowls of age, the apple belly of god-bless-him-for-living-so-long, you’re-taking-good-care-of-him, he-looks-good, the white and silver and iron grey hair that all parts on the right, and curls wild as Yeats in old age if they let it. (They don’t, not like in the old photos, the ones that go back and that they, all in their suits, still resemble, because a suit is a suit and a tie is a tie in most ways. It’s a shame, that Caesar cut in vogue is brutal.) It’s the women in trousers who all stand out from the photos of yore, and whom one searches for the hint of family in; hair can be colored and cut and glasses reframe those same brown/hazel eyes. Still, nothing hides the Irish chin or the snub nose of you’re a Maloney or Doyle, or the petite frame of the Roches, and oh, do you remember when Rita and Bud danced at the wedding and she stomped on his foot because he wouldn’t go fast enough?
There are younger second cousins and thirds in whose place I’ve stood, though now, in their eyes, I’m old, since I’m almost as capable as my Dad of holding up these genealogy chats– not really caring and it all being a lot to take in, just this huge crowd of old folks who all look like each other inasmuch as we’re all Irish and all get together when another one of us dies.
I don’t see the resemblance they claim in me to people I’ve never known, and the polite non-mention of husbands and wives divorced or abandoned leaves not a lot to be talked about except the last hospital visit, the last family gathering (most often a funeral), the last trip to gather information, too late, from hither and yon.
If they’d all sit down at once, monkeys on the same family tree typing on interconnected computers, you wonder what kind of book would come out. Would it bear any resemblance at all to the stories paid over and over, or is the only thing left the wave-like murmur of “I heard from my father, who I think heard from your mother, or was it the Knoxes, I can’t recall, but in any event, he was definitely a steam engineer, and his father, for sure, was lost out at sea.”
Aren’t we all, until we’re forced on to shore, together again?