I have written frequently that I am one of eight children — seven girls and one boy. Most of us are three years apart, but there’s one squeezed in near the end.
We were raised in a home big on love and short on worldly goods. Our parents always made sure we felt cherished and respected and expected that we treat our siblings the same way.
Mother and Daddy met and married in Richmond, Va., when they were in high school. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but from their first date they were smitten. They ran away to get married (their parents disapproved for religious reasons) although mother’s aunt (who raised her) brought her wedding clothes.
We lost our parents early — Daddy at age 54 in 1974 and mother at age 71 in 1989 and buried both in Richmond. We also lost a sister, Anne (No. 7) to cancer in 2007.
Even though we have always been close, those losses brought us even closer. While we may have differences (we rarely discuss politics; never religion) no dissension surfaces when we are together. We won’t let it.
Mother was an only child and Daddy only had four nieces and nephews, so unlike our own children, we have very few cousins.
I remember feeling so left out when we moved to Tennessee because everybody talked about their cousins. Those few we did have were so very far away.
For several years we have talked about visiting the remaining family and our parents gravesites, and this year my sister Randy (the organizer) set a date for the last weekend in March. We called our relatives in advance for confirmation and everything was on go.
In early January we found a house in the Fan District (where they grew up) on VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) and booked it for three nights.
If you have never checked out VRBO and need a place to stay on a vacation, you might look into it (www.vrbo.com). It was a real win/win.
We had plenty of beds and the accommodations suited us perfectly. Including the rental, cleaning fee and insurance (we opted for insurance with so many people involved) it came out to about $35 a night. Not a bad deal.
Another thing I like about VRBO is that they provide basic items like trash bags, dishwasher detergent, coffee filters, etc — things for which you pay the earth when you rent a condo and end up throwing half away.
The week prior to departure one of our sisters became ill and we were afraid she couldn’t make it. We panicked because everyone being together was what it was about. But she got well and stayed the whole time.
My brother thought he couldn’t go at the last minute because a business meeting on a proposed merger was arranged on departure date, but fortuitously it was rescheduled. Off we went.
We drove two cars (one of them returned through blinding snows in Virginia) and it was, in a word, magic.
We visited gravesites and other places we remembered from our childhood there.
We walked down Monument Avenue where they courted, bought sweatshirts in Daddy’s memory at the University of Richmond bookstore and found their high school and childhood homes. We ate some very good food and had a really, really good time.
And, again, we never had a cross word.
The cousins were so lovely.
Daddy’s only remaining cousin (age 82) is married to a former U.S. representative to Congress (and former Mayor or Richmond), and one of Mother’s only family members lives on a working plantation on the James River.
Although we were initially nervous reconnecting, it didn’t take long to get over that.
We cleared up family trees (that one sister’s husband had painstakingly outlined for us), got proper names of all the nicknames of aunts and uncles, verified that our grandmother was, in fact, as crabby as we remembered and identified with our roots.
We shared laughs and giggles and tears and hugs and bonds that only family can know. Our final memories with them are lasting, rewarding and memorable.
I write this for two reasons.
When people realized we were siblings along the road many said: “My sister and I haven’t talked in 20 years,” or “I couldn’t stand being in the same room as my brother.”
The first reason is to say that if you’re missing a connection with your sibling or other family member, you are missing out on something very special — whether you disagree now, in the past or not at all.
The second reason is to tell you that if you are so inclined, do it now. Don’t wait any longer because despite your busy, conflicting schedules you have a chance to give yourself something very special.
We took such wonderful photos and have so many wonderful memories, and it seems the cousins do, too, from notes we received when we returned home.
I know this: Family is truly all we have; so make the most of it while you still can.
I often think of an interview in the Alabama locker room when Bear Bryant was celebrating a victory with his team. He told the reporter, "Call your mother. I wish I could."
Call your family. If you keep it real, you won't regret it.
’Til next week.