Paddy didn't want to go to his wife's family reunion. He told
her that in the same nice way he had told her in years past so as to avoid
other reunions over the many years they had been married. Hilda had always
given him a pass, telling her relatives his job required that he stay home.
After he retired she'd tell them he wasn't up to the trip - a case of the flu
or something. No one ever believed her but many were happy not to have Paddy
there. It wasn't that he caused a problem. He just stuck out among the Ottos
and Hanses. He would forever be an Irish interloper at a German family reunion.
But this time Hilda was adamant about Paddy going with her.
"Everyone's getting older," Hilda said, "and we should see them
before someone else dies."
Hilda was right, of course, Paddy had to admit, as she usually
was. He was part of the family whether they liked him or not.
"I grew up with those people, Paddy, and I may be seeing some of
them for the last time. They may be boring to you but they're my family."
Unlike Hilda's relatives, Paddy's relatives, the ones already
dead and the ones still alive, didn't hold family reunions, confining contact
to cards at Christmas with signatures only, free of any personal messages
unless someone had died, and that was just as well, Paddy thought.
At any gathering of his people, the angry ones, and most of them
had been angry since birth, would, after a few drinks, start picking scabs off
old problems and fresh blood would flow. Hilda's folks did the same thing but
with more discretion. You'd be bleeding and didn't know why.
There was a real din the last time Paddy's family had a reunion
and that was 30 years ago.
"It was a catastrophe lost in cacophony," Paddy told Hilda as he
tried to recapture the ambience. Nevertheless, Paddy still saw his relatives at
wakes. And the wakes were more frequent in recent years.
"Hilda, the odd thing is the angriest ones look the most
peaceful in a casket with or without a boutonniere or corsage."
A few in his family, however, still hoped there would be one
more family reunion despite the debacle at the last one. They hoped that
Paddy's cousin, Margaret Mary O'Mara, who'd been going to Mass every day since
puberty, and was once a contemplative nun, would hold a final family reunion.
"Everybody likes her corned beef and cabbage," Paddy told Hilda,
who was wondering why anyone in Paddy's family would want another reunion after
the last fracas 30 years ago.
"Hilda, the problem at the last one was Timmy served tankards of
Guinness before, after and during the meal and the Guinness prompted inevitable
arguments about the past. Liquor and grudges are a bad mix. One of my cousins
knocked another one out with one punch. We were lucky another cousin didn't
count him out. He was once a boxing referee."
Hilda's people, however, weren't like his loud Irish relatives.
Paddy had to grant them that. They were somber Germans who drank as much as
Paddy's people did but they were steady drinkers, not given to jokes and
laughter. They were quiet even when drunk, so Paddy couldn't tell which one of
them would rip the first scab off the past and that was always a problem.
He knew from the start Hilda's family didn't want her to marry
him, an Irish Catholic from the wrong side of the theological tracks. He never
fitted in well with their German Lutheran culture beyond liking some of the
food. They were serious, pious people not given to the frivolous, everything
Paddy's family was not. In the beginning Paddy had tried to fit in but he had
enough trouble keeping up with his own faith, never mind trying to understand
This time, however, Paddy silently decided he would go to his
wife's reunion unless one of her kin died beforehand and everyone would go to
the wake instead. It had happened before and could happen again but it's not
the kind of thing Paddy would pray for. That would be bad form. Besides Germans
take death seriously. None of the uproar and laughter that can occur at an
Irish wake, especially if there were a tavern next door to the funeral home,
which in Paddy's experience there always seemed to be.
Truth be told, both families were moving closer and closer to
the end of their life span and the lines on both sides were getting shorter.
Every year it seemed someone else would drop out.
"All right, Hilda, I'll go," Paddy announced. "But I'll never go
to another one even if all your people die first."
Hilda thought something didn't sound right about that. Why would
there be another family reunion if all of her relatives died first? But as long
as Paddy was willing to go to this one, she thought she'd be wise to say
nothing and leave well enough alone.
"How about a nice dish of pickled pigs feet for supper, Paddy,"
she said with a smile. "I remember that was one of the few things you liked
when you went with me to the other family reunion. And you said the bratwurst
and kraut weren't that bad, either."