I consider myself extremely fortunate to have aunts and uncles (in addition to both parents who live not too far away, but far enough (as my beloved husband would say- don’t they all?) who are alive and able to tell me things about their lives. Sadly, it is not often enough that we take the opportunity to sit and talk about things of the past- simply because they do live far away and because I am so caught up in my life with my own family as most of us are, it is really difficult to prioritize this over any other matters that I am devoted to and focused on and yet, I am aware that as each year creeps by, these occasions will be gone for good. Photo books with scribbled phrases and bits of memoir become the treasures when the spoken word is no longer possible.
And so when I had the opportunity last week of phoning my uncle in Israel on the event of his 91st birthday, I was more mindful of how lovely it was to hear his voice, excited and strong and familiar and I listened carefully as he spoke of how his family fussed around him AGAIN and how he was rewarded by a musical DVD from his very talented family further away and how he had enjoyed his clan who gathered for lunch.
“I thought all the fuss was over last year when I turned 90”, he joked. But we are a family of fussers who love a celebration and never miss the opportunity to surprise the special birthday boy as my mum had done again.
And so we spoke of family and I enquired how many lengths he was still swimming or whether he was still hiking across Israel ( I believe he did this until only a few years ago) and generally how he was keeping. He was bright and well and amusing and warm. I love him to bits.
But he soon turned the conversation and enquired about my own family – as he always does- never failing to find out about their schooling and sport and whatever else they’re up to and we started talking parenting and raising children and how things were so different now and how much harder they have to work to get into university etc. “In my day, you just wrote your matric and applied and that was that”, he recalled, though I’m sure that even then, getting accepted to study medicine was slightly more tricky than perhaps other courses of study.
“But, my gosh, you people are much better parents today than we ever were,” he continued. “I am still being accused of never coming to Mark’s soccer games or the girl’s school things and made to feel like a bad parent. I am guilty as hell”. And then, telling me of one of his many grandchildren’s concerns about the new great grandchild vomiting, he laughed and said that he remembered one of his own children vomiting rather more than usual and how horrified his wife, my aunt, was after insisting that they seek the advice of a specialist doctor to assess what was wrong. Apparently the doctor arrived and after examining the child simply said, ” I think it’s best you get yourself a better bucket and mop”, and he roared with laughter at the memory.
I felt a lasting smile spread across my face as I finally wished him well and said my goodbyes. I remember hoping that I would hear his voice many more times over. And I wondered whether our parenting styles, which are so much more child-centered and quantity- focused, are going to produce well-adjusted human beings. As my mother always reminds me when we discuss mother in general, “Well, you didn’t turn out too terribly, did you?”
I hope the next generation will prove that what we are doing is okay. But in the meantime, we need not forget the generation that is passing on – and I am guiltier than most when it comes to this so I am preaching to myself here too.
How much time do you take to listen to the stories which, unless they are written down, will soon be lost?