Morris: A Reunion Filled with Gratitude, Respect
by Leo Morris
No matter how old I get, I seem to keep finding opportunities to appreciate all the challenges my parents faced in their lives.
A few years ago, for example, I learned from my sister that the family trip to the Fort Wayne airport to put me on the plane to Vietnam was not entirely the sedate, ordinary occasion I remember. After I departed, the car stayed in the parking lot for several minutes while my parents held each other and cried like babies. When I heard about that, it somehow retroactively made my year overseas seem more endurable, if that makes any metaphysical sense.
Then there is the awful secret of my father’s upbringing. When we were growing up, my brother and sister and I heard one thing above all from our parents: No matter what happens out in the world, however bad it gets, even if you’ve screwed up horribly, you can always come home. What a powerful message to pass along to their children, which they must have received from their parents.
Not quite, I discovered recently.
When they were children, my father and his siblings were told something very different by their father: If you get into trouble, don’t bother coming home, because I will be done with you. What a horrible thing to tell your children, and how remarkable that my father was able to get past that and become the kind of parent he did.
My latest exercise in filial respect was prompted by a week in Indianapolis with my sister (at her house) and my brother and his wife, who came up from Texas. It was a time of great joy and laughter undergirded, as most reunions are, by deep sadness.
I communicate frequently with my brother and sister by phone and text, in my sister’s case pretty much daily, so we always feel in touch and up to date with each other. But there is a family alchemy that takes hold we are all in the same place at the same time. We feed off each other, which pushes conversations into wonderfully convoluted paths where memories, wry observations and outrageous smackdowns happily collide. We live for a time on a higher plane.
But the sadness creeps in almost immediately and then slowly builds. We know from our first moment together that the time will be fleeting. And the further we move into the week, the more we’re aware that the hour of goodbyes will come and then it will be a year before we do this again.
Inevitably, about halfway through, we start talking about an earlier time, when we all lived in Fort Wayne and did this once a month at our favorite restaurant. How cluelessly we glided through those evenings, oblivious to the future that would see us separated by geography and our life choices. How I want to travel back there and admonish my younger self to savor the moments that will never come again.
It wasn’t until the drive home from Indianapolis, suffused with gratitude and regret, that it occurred to me that our parents had been through this, and then some.
When they moved the family from Kentucky, I have joked, we became part of the great hillbilly diaspora leaving Appalachia for greener pastures in the factories of Michigan. But my parents got tired and decided, when they reached Indiana, “Good enough.
We’re stopping here.”
But the truth is that Fort Wayne was always the intended destination for the simple reason that my father’s sister and her husband had already made the move a few years before. He had both a helpful guide to a strange new place and a tiny sliver of family with whom he could share stories of the people left behind.
I don’t remember that we took many trips back to Kentucky in our first years in Fort Wayne, but I’m sure I felt that each one was more of a chore than the last. And I suspect each was sadder and more precious for our parents.
I wonder if they were subdued by memories of moments they hadn’t savored. I wonder if their sorrow was leavened by the hope that their children would appreciate their journey’s history.
If you asked me to define heaven, I would say it’s like a family reunion where we live on a higher plane and savor every moment. A proper end to the journey.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is this year’s winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.