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  • John Dunia

A Generation in Time

There are times when life unveils more emotional surprises than usual. This was definitely one of those weeks. I  had promised my mother to come out and visit her because a month prior, she had fallen and broken hip. Over the phone her voice sounded a bit discouraged which prompted that four-hour drive commitment.

Two days after that phone call,  I was thrilled to discover that through the miracle of Facebook, a distant cousin lived in my very same town! We were both incredulous and made plans to meet soon. Saturday morning about an hour into the drive to my mother’s, I received a message from a niece whom I had never met. She and her boyfriend took a last minute flight to Las Vegas and wanted to know if there was an opportunity to meet. Needless to say I was exuberant and since my visit was going to be overnight, we could meet the following evening.

Although my mother was doing better than just about anyone else in their eighties would be doing a month after hip surgery, I could see the frustration in her eyes. There was never a visit where she wouldn’t be cooking me something or asking what I needed but this time she couldn’t. This time it was my duty to do so for her. She sat in her usual chair but needed to elevate her feet by resting them on a cute little turtle-shaped footrest. During the conversation, I told her about the two new relatives I would be meeting.  Since they were related to me on my father’s side, it prompted questions about my maternal aunts and uncles. She had a smile on her face while telling and retelling these stories.

For dinner, I drove down to a Thai restaurant on the corner. A sweet young lady whose name was Carmen took my order and while waiting for the salad to be prepared, I began telling her how this corner looked 50 years ago when would ride my bike to school. There was a Shell gas station and next to it, Nagai’s “Japanese Store” as we always called it. Carmen had recently graduated from a nearby high school and told me about her elementary and middle schools which were in existence when I was a kid. All this nostalgia fed into the various emotions I had recently experienced.

My mother and I ate and continued talking until both of us had a difficult time keeping our eyes open. I went to my old room. Yes, the one in which I slept back in the days of the 19 cent per gallon of gas at that Shell station. So much was racing through my mind that night that I woke up at 2:30 and didn’t get much sleep the rest of the night. I thought a lot about my dear mom. How difficult it must have been for her; especially raising four teenagers on her own. How after her children grew and started their own lives, she took care of our father during his last 3 years which was long after they divorced. When he passed, my mom helped with a family friend who had cancer. After her passing, she moved in her sister who was experiencing early stages of Alzheimer’s. For 5 years she did as much as possible until it was time for my Aunt Smitty to receive full-time care. Yet she still wasn’t done. Two grandchildren were not only completing high school but lived there 4 additional years while attending college. For 77 years of her life, she had been taking care of someone in her family and now she was discouraged. Not because she had broken a hip. Her strength enabled her to walk less than a month after surgery. The frustration came because now she was no longer able to be independent.

As a boy, I despised having to clean that kitchen. 50 years later, it became a badge of honor. Sunday March 26th was Mother’s Day in the UK and strangely enough I celebrated it by having the privilege of finally getting to care for her. Although the visits are never long enough, this one was especially bittersweet. “I’ll be back in about a month”, I told her and promised to take her out for dinner. She told me it would be a miracle if that were to happen. I believe in miracles.

Ironically, Monday March 27th will be the 27th anniversary of my father’s death and that added another dimension to my emotional ride. Driving home I passed “Flo’s Coffee Shop” where my father was a regular 30 years ago. The idea of stopping in crossed my mind but there would be no way anyone who worked there now would remember him.

Later that night I did meet my niece and her boyfriend. It was a crowning finish for the week. In one day I experienced two different worlds: one Dunia who was responsible for my beginning and the other ready to begin her own. I was the bridge in that generation gap with a greater understanding of what that truly meant; the pinnacle of one and the burgeoning of another bore an unusual curiosity to live a hundred years more knowing full well that only  happens in the imagination of dreamers and the pens of majestic poets.

The love it also inspired was one which will never leave me. A longing and insatiable thirst to meet everyone from both sides of my family tree. There became a mystifying love for those whom I’ve never even met nor knew existed. A sense of peace filled my soul while at the same time leaving a curiosity which will never be filled.

There are many ironies in life yet none quite so irritating as those which occur in our final chapters. But there is no one in this world and at this moment who is as proud of their mother as I. Being that bridge between two generations is an ominous feeling and one which will always remain.

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