Woster: Siblings, the anchors to our past
Every year before the main meal on Thanksgiving Day, we go around the table and name something for which we are thankful.
I’m sure that’s a tradition shared by many families. It’s simple and takes a few moments. It brings some laughs and an occasional tear. It reminds us that, for whatever troubles we’ve encountered in the past year, we’ve been blessed by good people and good fortune more often than not.
This year, with a pandemic raging and health experts cautioning people against holiday travel and gatherings, Thanksgiving won’t be quite the same. Still, we’ll have a small circle of relatively safe people to share a meal with, and for sure we’ll have some things for which to give thanks.
I’ve been thinking about that in recent days, and I’ve decided that this year if asked to name something for which I’m grateful, I’ll say my siblings. I won’t be with any of them, of course. Both of my sisters live in the Twin Cities area. My big brother is in Sioux Falls and my little brother lives in Rapid City. I haven’t seen any of the four since before the pandemic struck here early last spring.
Well, that isn’t unusual. I don’t see any of them all that often most years. All five of us were together a year ago in July at our annual reunion at Thunderstik on the river bluffs near Chamberlain. That’s something we’ve done each summer since our mom died in 2004. When we shared emails and texts that led to cancelling the event this past summer, I gathered that each of my siblings was as sad about missing the gathering as I was. I mean, these four people can goad me like nobody else in the world, but they also bring a lot of joy and a heaping pile of memories.
Siblings are a guy’s first family, after all, his first friends, first playmates, first tormentors and first, fiercest protectors. My siblings and I grew up on a farm eight miles from the nearest town. We didn’t have play dates with the neighbor kids. If we played, we played together. We fought each other and listened to old radio shows with each other and ate every meal three times a day with each other. Two sisters and two brothers were my world.
They still are a big part of it, even if we aren’t always together. We’ve traded texts and emails more often than usual in these pandemic months, reminiscing about blizzards and grade-school classmates, trying to recall names of significant people who were around during our childhood. It’s been fun.
The author Rick Riordan is supposed to have said, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the eons, it’s that you can’t give up on your family, no matter how tempting they make it.’’ That’s funny. It’s kind of true, too. Siblings can vex a guy to no end. But they’re always supportive when you need them. Usually that’s by phone or text, but it’s comforting to know that if I needed one of them to actually hop in a car and get to me, they would move heaven and earth to be here.
Here’s something Nancy’s older brother, now living in New Mexico, wrote to her on a hand-made quilt back when she had breast cancer: “What a sad place this world would be without you. You are my anchor to my past, and I would be adrift without your joy and love to call me back here.’’
As I reflected on being thankful, it occurred to me that my brothers and sisters are my anchor to my past. I would be adrift without them to remind me of our times together as kids, of our shared parents and shared experiences and of our great fortune to all be living still. My big brother turned 80 last summer. My little brother, the baby of the family, turned 69 this month. It’s kind of amazing that, for a range of pesky and sometimes deadly serious health issues, we’re all still around at our ages.
I’m thankful for that. I’d like to keep it that way for a while longer.