For local folks, spring is as much a time for reunions as it is for festivals; indeed, some of the festive occasions are occasions for reunions. Who doesn’t know somebody who’s expecting a crowd of relatives or friends, or both, during Jazzfest?
A former co-worker of mine once made his home Jazzfest headquarters for a bunch of music-loving Swedes he met at the fairgrounds. Every year he looked forward to their arrival and to seeing, hearing and tasting the sights, sounds and food of New Orleans from their perspective.
Two years ago, our Jazzfest reunion was with a friend of mine from Texas childhood, who has lived in the Chicago area as long as I have here; her sister and brother-in-law, who’ve called Los Angeles home for many years; and my cousin Mary from Dallas and her husband. The next year, we were reunited with my husband’s younger brother and his wife, from Los Gatos, California.
Some of the reunions we’ve already relished this spring were away from home. An invitation from a woman I’ve seldom seen through the years fixed the date for a trio of them. Anna Mae would be hostess of a gathering of those who graduated in the class of ‘53 at the small school where I was a student in grades one through half of the seventh. By the time I was 12, my family had moved away, but I was invited to party with my childhood friends — some of whom I hadn‘t seen in more than 60 years.
A few miles from that reunion, my first cousin, much-beloved and just past her 88th birthday, was in assisted living. I needed to visit her. And an hour and a half away was a high school and college friend and her husband, who invited us to check out their weekend house on a sparkling little lake. I couldn’t wait to see them all!
But when you’re 70-something, getting together with contemporaries, however dear they are and festive the occasion is, can sometimes have a down side. There is sadness in tracing the passing years in friends’ faces and bodies, and sometimes lessons to be learned from these encounters.
The first lesson came from the friend from L.A., whose physical condition was such that navigating that Jazzfest of two years ago was an ordeal, both for him and his companions. He badly needs both knees replaced, but has a health issue that would make surgery iffy. We didn’t know this, and by the time we got to the Blues Tent from one of the back gates, he was in pain. He needed a wheelchair. He never got beyond that tent or the one across from it, which considering the good entertainment offered wasn’t a bad place to spend the day. But his insistence on plowing ahead very tortuously despite his limitations had upset us all.
The lesson for me and other seniors? Know and accept your limitations, ask for help beforehand, and don’t leave your companions in the dark as to your abilities. Being clear about your condition is humbling, but appreciated.
Lesson two has come from my precious cousin, who hated the assisted living place and has now gone home — frighteningly far from doctors and hospitals — with round-the-clock care, which she cannot afford for long. Her daughters say they will jump that hurdle when it looms up ahead.
But she wants to “be independent,” which is sadly no longer a remote possibility, and she doesn’t seem to realize the toll this insistence is taking on her family.
The lesson? It’s obvious. And we all need to remember it.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living Section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at email@example.com.