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Hilda's Family Reunion
by Donal Mahoney


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 everything Lutheran.

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."



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