Fran Edstrom

Seeing ourselves


(11/16/2003)

by Frances Edstrom

At my brother's funeral, I had a chance to catch up with cousins I see only at funerals, sad to say.

My father was one of four boys raised in Ayer, Massachusetts, all of whom ended up back in Massachusetts after some time. The oldest boy, William, settled in Worcester with Aunt Evie, and had five kids. We six kids lived in Framingham. My Uncle Tom moved back to Ayer after the death of my Aunt Bonnie, bringing his three girls with him, and after his death, the girls were raised by my Uncle Robert and Aunt Dolores in the old homestead in Ayer.

Thanksgiving was always a raucous affair, almost always, it seemed, a time when all four brothers and their offspring came together at my grandparents' house for a huge meal.

It is a tradition that continued for many years, even after my grandparents were gone, and Aunt Dolores would be the hostess with the mostest.

One of the things the kids liked about the gathering was that the menu never varied. It made the dinner nearly stress-free, because no one whined about the food, and parents didn't exhort us to "just try a little."

But of course the most fun for us was when we were bundled into our coats and shooed out the door. There were always plenty of places to explore and games to play that involved burning lots of calories.

Year after year of Thanksgiving dinners, summer picnics and other family gatherings has created many memories and forged relationships that have continued well into adulthood.

The cousins who remain in New England constitute the majority of us, and thanks to my Aunt Dolores, get together on a regular basis at the old family home for picnics and parties. I am not so lucky as they, and see them rarely.

It is both comforting and discomfiting to find that after so many years our various personalities change not at all, or if they do, only in degrees of intensity.

They are the same people now that they were when we were lined up in our holiday finery in front of the old Ford for the "cousin picture" on those long-ago Thanksgiving Days.

How can it be that forty years of life experiences fall away like so many silken veils when we meet again?

What is most disturbing is to think that not only haven't my cousins changed one whit, but neither have I. I know I haven't changed because my reactions and interactions came so naturally, unconsciously.

Back home in Winona, I slip into my life here, which seems far away from my New England childhood.

But I have this thought. We usually see ourselves selectively. When we look in a mirror, we can't really see all of ourselves at once. We see ourselves in parts. It is the same thing when we see ourselves in photographs. Our eyes go to one part of ourselves that calls for closer perusal.

It is rare that we get a chance to see ourselves as others see us. Once in a blue moon we will catch a reflection without realizing at first that we are looking at ourselves, perhaps in a plate glass store window.

Getting together with my cousins was that rare glimpse of myself as others see me. It was as though we were watching ourselves performing in a play, taking the roles of our child selves, finding that we were perfectly typecast, and knew all the lines before we spoke them.

So far I've avoided the question of whether or not I like what I saw. It's much less painful and troubling to immerse myself in day to day pursuits and send such thoughts to my mind's attic for storage.

 

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