Although my memory doesn’t serve me as well as it did 10 or 20 years ago, there are still things that I recall from my childhood. That was back when I was a pre-teen. I can clearly recall living in a small Italian community in a small town in Northeast Pennsylvania. During that period in my life, I can’t ever recall not being surrounded by immediate family, extended family, and family and friends. Without ever thinking about it or articulating it, back then I put everyone into one of four groups. There were cousins and friends around my age, those in their late teens and early twenties, adults (which included my parents and parents of my friends) and the old people (which include my grandparents and the grandparents of my friends).
I had dreams of being older – like around the ages of those in their late teens and early twenties, but I never thought about being any older beyond that. I think I assumed I would grow to be that old, however no one else around me would grow any older. There would always be those adults and old folks around me. Such is the naive bliss of youth.
Thinking back on it now, I realize the old men and the old women in my community were probably in their sixties – actually younger than I am now. There might have been one or two in their seventies; we either revered them as one reveres a statue of someone who died hundreds of years ago, or we kids just referred to them at that old grouchy Sam or maybe crazy Rosie who lived in a nearby house.
I never thought about a life in which they were not part. True that one or two died back then, but there were enough surviving that I just assumed they would always be around. Of course, they would not and are not. The old people past away, the adults became old and passed away, and too many of those late teens and early twenties became old with few surviving. Suddenly, or so it seems, the patriarchs I knew as a child, the oldest in each family, are long gone. And when I look around, I am startled to find that I am the oldest in my family. Those grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts are no longer part of my life. It is sad and shocking at the same time. For with their passing, the joys of childhood also passed away. The comfort and security I knew then is gone. There is no one to look up to, to dream of being, to offer words of advice. The voices of uncles and aunts who lovingly referred to me as “our John” are silent now. The kidding and teasing by those older is over.
I sometimes wonder if those around me now who are younger look at me in the same way as I did at those in my life many years ago. I sometimes wonder if, when they are as old as I am now (which they certainly will be), will they look back and remember Uncle John, Grandpa John, or maybe just that crazy old man John. And will they look at their families when they are the matriarch and patriarchs and wonder if they will be remembered as well.