I’m feeling pretty exhausted as I write this; my Aunt Priscilla passed away this week, and my husband and I made two round trips to Massachusetts in 26 hours in order to participate in the calling hours and services. As sad as it always is when someone we love dies, it’s also great to see family we haven’t seen in a long time; thus, it was a day of both tears and laughter.
Aunt Priscilla had been married to my Uncle Warren for sixty-six years, and I learned this morning that they met in kindergarten! They were married in the same church where the funeral was held, living always in the same community where my own dad was raised. I have seen photos of that wedding – my dad was in the bridal party, and it must have been stunning; Aunt Priscilla was truly beautiful. They were married in 1945, when Uncle Warren returned from the war.
As the story was told to me years ago, Uncle Warren turned 21 on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed (December 7, 1941) and he enlisted in the Marines the very next day, serving on a battleship in the South Pacific during the war. My dad was the oldest in the family and he enlisted, too, and was accepted into the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. Dad apparently lied about his age because he was too old for the special forces — he would have been 34 on Pearl Harbor day, but he did it, serving in the Po Valley in Italy until he was injured and sent home. It matters — I’m very proud of both my dad and my uncle; a number of years ago I began researching the details of my dad’s service. He died in 1977, before I ever had a chance to find out a lot of things about him. I learned a few things from the military records, and then I asked Uncle Warren if he could add anything that he might remember. I was shocked when he told me, “You know, Marilyn, I’ve learned more from you about what he did during the war than I ever knew before. We never talked about it.”
My uncle and my dad – and the majority of other Shaw relatives – are introverts, and just don’t talk about themselves. How sad that so many of their stories have remained untold. We do have some stories preserved, though.
My grandfather wrote his autobiography and my cousin Val made sure to give copies to those of us who wanted them – you bet I was first in line for that! And there are many old family photos – I have a photo from my grandparents’ wedding at the start of the 20th century, and even photos of my great grandparents back into the 19th century. It matters.
Today my cousin Bruce had his camera with him, and that made me chuckle. A keen interest in photography seems to be a family trait; my dad always had a camera nearby and as much as I tried to ignore it when I was growing up, his slides have been a gift I appreciate more and more as the years go by. I, too, have a camera with me everywhere I go.
I got to see several cousins at this family gathering, and I always love that; my dad’s side of the family has always been special to me. I cherish many wonderful memories of family events, especially all those cook-outs in the pine grove at our grandparents’ home. I didn’t know it when I was a child, but all those outings, picnics, sleepovers, birthday parties and Thanksgivings gave me a rock solid love and appreciation of family that have carried me throughout my whole life. I’ve always thought of “us cousins” as the third, and youngest, generation that began with our grandparents. Inside my own head I think of all those family dinners when our children’s table held maybe six or eight or more of us, and we giggled and teased and had so much fun — that’s where I still fit. That’s my first identity and it holds a place in my brain where all my values and virtues and rules of the road originate.
The Shaw family was large – my dad was the oldest of eight, and I was one of many cousins, too many to count, even, and most of them were right around my own age: Bruce and Dexter and Douglas and Monica and Claire and Caryl and Dennis, and others. As we all grew up and had our own families, and our parents aged and passed away, we have not remained as connected as we used to be. I will always be sad that my own children never got to have the kinds of “big family” memories that I treasure, but I will also remain ever thankful that I am part of this clan, as are my own children and grandchildren, even if they don’t have those memories. I try to tell the stories as often as I can; I, too, am an introvert, but I understand that those strong threads of family can make a difference, holding us tight and binding us together even when geography and time get in the way. It matters.
The pastor of the church, in his remarks about Aunt Priscilla this morning, told us things about her that I never knew, and it all matters. Rev. Starr also gave a reading at the cemetery that I loved, and he kindly emailed me a copy, which I copy for you here. I tried to find out who wrote it, and it is apparently not certain but often attributed to Henry Van Dyke.
“I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until, at last, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says: ‘There, she is gone.’ Gone where? Gone from my sight. But that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: ‘There, she is gone’ there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: ‘Here she comes!’ And that is dying.”
It was a metaphor that truly resonated with me, since I grew up in the town where my mother also grew up, on the ocean. Her father, my grandfather, was a fisherman, sailing out over that horizon on a regular basis. It matters.
Life is good.