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The Family Reunion

Writing Contest home

Kate McCahill, Lake Placid NY
The Writing Contest for Young and Adult Writers
Runner up in Category: Creative Nonfiction
Age 12-20

The warm wind of early fall erased the worn, stale feeling that always accompanied me on long rides in our crowded minivan. The relief I felt to get out of the car overpowered the cramps in my legs and the queasiness in my belly, and I smiled at the familiar hodgepodge of rakes and brooms leaning against my grandparent's house. My mom slid out of the car, looking impatient and crumpled after two hours of offering suggestions to me, a recently licensed driver. Dad climbed out of the back seat and the entire New York Times weekend edition fluttered to the ground. My brother was the last to hop out, with the old yellow lab in tow. After the long drive we were stiff and silent, gratefully stretching in the leafy fall breeze.

My grandmother pushed open the creaking screen door and rushed to greet us. She smelled of Johnsons' baby powder, and she self-consciously crossed her left leg to cover the run in her right stocking. She held me for a long while, and when she pulled away her eyes were bright and open wide. I've been taller than she is for awhile, but my little brother had finally reached her height, so she had to reach up to touch his unruly brown hair, and to peer at his freckled face warm with sun. My cousins poured out the door after her, squinting in the light. The eldest, Susannah, in a green "Save Tibet" t-shirt, grinned and came to hug us all, but my younger cousins lacked her social prowess and cowered in the background, refusing to carry out the rituals of a family reunion.

We moved inside, where my grandfather waited. I went to kiss his papery check and saw the flicker of appreciation and stilted love in his eyes, but his gaze was not steady and his hands shook from all of his medication. I felt a pain in my chest, near my heart, and I lowered my eyes and turned. There was a film of dust on the checkered floor, and the chrysanthemums in their elegant vase were dying. I felt the pain again, but this time it stabbed and I knew it was not physical pain, but a pain that traveled through my being, drying my mouth and stinging my eyes. Uncle Phil and Dad had fallen into their sibling banter as though they still both shared a room under this roof. My demure cousin Martha was perched primly on a blue bench stacked with newspapers next to rosy-cheeked Aunt Ann, and I walked across the cluttered blue kitchen to ask Martha about her poodle, Paley, and her elite all-girls Catholic school that she "loved to death."

The wind toyed with the worn curtains, and the African violet on the windowsill absorbed the sun in its velvety petals. The pleasant heat, combined with the subtle, powerful love in the room, forced me to retreat back to the car in search of a forgotten bag. Alone, outside, I gazed at the old white house. I thought of pine scented Christmas parties with masses of families, and hours of yard work in the garden. I thought about the day my aunt lost her favorite earring and wept; the day my uncles covered the living room doorway with a sheet so we couldn't see the Christmas tree, but my little brother peeked under it; the day we all played hid the thimble, and my cousin hid the thimble in the middle of the library floor, where we searched for half an hour before, laughingly, we came across it.

I tasted something like pennies, and I bit my lip again and blinked my eyes, wondering when the house would be sold, when the memories would be lost. My grandfather barely knew me; we had all changed before his cloudy eyes. My grandmother was old, and tired of washing clothes, cooking and paying taxes. I wondered if a part of us all was dying. But no, this was life; loving and laughing and crying for lost earrings and forgotten childhoods. Time is ageless, I thought, but age is never timeless. I closed my eyes to the sun and breathed the apple-scented air of a perfect fall.


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