This past weekend, our vast and extended families and lifelong friends gathered at Windrock on the shores of Buzzards Bay to honor the memory of my grandmother and reaffirm our devotion to each other. Someone may have an accurate count, for we managed to feed a legion at least with food to spare, but I am certain we topped 100 on Saturday. It was the sort of event that saw people pitch in at all levels, often seeing gaps and stepping in to fill them, like the elderly college friends of my eldest aunt who helped me fill three hundred baked stuffed clams. There are many, many memories, and I'll write more about the gathering, but for the moment I want to share a few examples of the offerings of love and gifts of tremendous talent that were so evident this weekend.
My Uncle Rob crafted a box for my grandmother's cremated remains out of hemlock and ceder wood from our property. My mother says there never was a tree that Gran didn't like, and these two woods were beautifully paired. When my Grandfather died, Rob also made a lovely box for him, and the night before the internment a group of family members went around adding representative things to its contents - sand from the beach, paint chips from the house - and decided that the most appropriate place for it to remain that night was on the seat of the old antique tractor in the barn. In Gran's case, her box rested on the mantle in the living room with the glorious views of the lawn and bay she so loved in life, with a few representative geraniums standing in for the phalanxes of flowers she habitually stacked several ranked deep before the picture windows. At the graveside there was another red geranium, and a bowl of specially collected jingle shells from the beach that children added at the internment. The sexton at the Agawam Cemetery made the hole with such precision that her box almost touches that of her beloved Bob, who predeceased her 17 years ago
As much as Gran loved flowers and trees, her eyes went joyfully to the skies, following every silver contrail or lingering sunset with fresh delight. She and my Mom shared an unabashed love for birds, from chickadees at the feeder to darting tree swallows out by the garden. Ospreys, though, had even greater meaning. They mate for life, and at Windrock though they never established a nest on the pole erected for that purpose after Grandpop died, they hover and glide on the southwest breeze and our hearts lift with their wild cries. My mother the quilter made this stunning creation of a pair of these marvelous birds and it now hangs in the living room at Windrock. There is the bay, the mound of rocks that form the breakwater, and the bracken and scrub at the edge of the bluff. She has absolutely nailed the birds, and the symbolism of the bird flying homeward into the frame to rejoin its partner so perfectly captures the hope of reunion, in this place for our family and in the next world for my grandparents.
Photographs do little justice to her tremendous talent, but by all means click to enlarge.
This is a family that sings at the least provocation, and my Aunt Happy is always game to accompany a full-throated sing-along as evening shadows fell. The first night, we worked our way through old favorites - The Ship Titanic, The Sloop John B - and new ones, like the Canadian Sea Shanty with blue-wooded call and response my cousin's son Elihu leanred and taught us all:
"Oh, the year was 1778, HOW I WISH I WAS IN SHERBROOKE NOW!
A letter of marque came from the king,
To the scummiest vessel I'd ever seen,
God damn them all!
I was told we'd cruise the seas for American gold
We'd fire no guns , shed no tears
Now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier
The last of Barrett's Privateers."
We are partial to nautical disasters, down-and-out ballads and standards of the American songbook. I myself lead is in a grand version of Rocky Raccoon.
The greatest gifts of all were the gifts of self, the old friends and family both proximate and distant who all made the effort to come together at this extraordinary place to celebrate an extraordinary life that touched us all and abides with us still. Every one of my mother's living cousins on her mother's side and many of their spouses, children and grandchildren came, and the lion's share of those on her father's side. Every one of my first cousins and their families came. My second cousins Tigerhawk and the Charlottesvillian were there, and it was such fun to watch their children and ours - third cousins! -engaged together in play.
In the interest of bilateral relations I happily accepted the proffered Tigerhawk T-shirt (photo credit TH, who took it with his camera phone and e-mailed it to me moments later) and wore it with pride in the knowledge that blood is thicker than water and good people trump partisan politics every time. I cleverly distracted my generally liberal family members with platters of stuffed quahogs, and after all, our dear grandmother was the most independent of Republicans.
Many people worked over many months to get the old place into the best shape it has been in decades for this event. In honor of that effort, inside and out, I took this picture - a view that would have been impossible before my father undertook much clearing of scrub oak and poison ivy. Garden beds were planted, and marigolds ringed the glacial rock in the lawn as had been done by my grandmother in earlier times. This winter and spring saw three bedrooms utterly renovated and the place has never looked better. Long may it remain the land that sustains our souls and draws us back to each other.