Today would have been my mother-in-law’s 86th birthday, if she were alive. She died about 10 years ago, while my family was on 18-month hiatus back home in Northern Maine.
My wife wanted to celebrate, in part, because not enough birthdays were spent together. I saw the small remembrance as opportunity to express continuity of the generations to our daughter. My daughter never met her older grandmother (my mom—the younger grandma—is 64, but, sssh, don’t tell her I said so).
Anne purchased a cake from the local Korean bakery, which sells fancy cakes that are lighter, fresher, and less sweet than those available at the typical American grocery. We usually only buy them for really special occasions.
In the rush-rush twenty-first century, people can too easily lose connection to the past, whether their personal history or that of their ancestors. Americans put great emphasis on individuality, forgetting—no, ignoring—that each person is an extension of his or her family, community, state, nation, and era.
I worry sometimes about kids and continuity. Daily life 50 years ago wasn’t that much different than 1,000 or 5,000 years earlier. Cultural and technological differences aside, people lived enough alike for there to be great commonality. By contrast, for people living today, there is probably more commonality between people living a century ago and a millennium ago than present day and 100 years ago. As commonality—how people live daily lives—decreases so can diminish the meaning of the past, because people can’t relate to it.
Thus, today, our family remembers a small part of the personal past. My mother-in-law bore my wife and nurtured her with love. The woman lives on in my wife and daughter, connected through countless generations of forebears. I offer my thanks to my wife’s mother and wish her “Happy Birthday”.