One evening earlier this year, I settled down at my computer to sort through the flood of e-mail that fills my inbox each day and instead spent a long time looking at photos. Hunting for a document I wanted to consult, I had opened a folder I hadn’t opened for quite a while and found inside it another folder filled with photos of my family…Mum, Dad, my sister and brothers, me wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat (I was a lot younger then and about half my current height). Once you start slowly making your way through dozens and dozens of images of your past frozen in time, it’s very hard to stop.
At one point, I came upon an image I didn’t remember ever seeing before (my niece had put together the digital photo gallery for the rest of the family after my parents died). It showed a gathering of happy couples clearly assembled for a special occasion, and as I scanned the faces of my parents and two pairs of aunts and uncles, I realized what it was. For many years, my parents and many of the cousins on my dad’s side of the family got together for what I knew as a McNamara Dinner (there were a lot more McNamaras than Lewises). They gathered twice a year, always settling on the date of the next dinner before the evening had ended. I knew my parents looked forward to every dinner. At some point after most of the diners had retired, the dinners became lunches, and as the years went on, the lunches were held only once a year and the diners became fewer in number, until there were so few and many of the few were sufficiently advanced in age that there were no more lunches.
After my mum died, it occurred to me one day that there were two cousins left—my dad’s brother Ron and the patriarch of the family, Cousin Gerald. When they died, I realized, the patriarch of our branch of the clan would be my cousin, senior to me by about seven months.
Very shortly after I found and sat staring at that photo, my sister called to tell me that Uncle Ron had died that day. She called the next day to tell me that Cousin Gerald had died.
My uncle’s funeral will be in late June, but Gerald’s was a few weeks after he died. I liked him, and more importantly, I knew that my father had always liked and greatly respected him. My parents would have wanted to be at the funeral, and I wasn’t going to miss it.
Gerald had been around for more than 100 years, and he was much loved by a huge family and a lot of friends. The church was full and the Mass was an uplifting and even grin-inducing celebration of a life well lived. And of family. (And of everything Irish!)
Now that the last of the diners have arrived, the McNamara Dinners can resume. Within what is now the eldest generation of the clan, my siblings and I are separated from our cousins by geography, but we keep in touch—or try to. As I was wishing my older cousin a happy birthday on Facebook, I learned to my shock that he is not, in fact, the eldest. I am. Which makes me the patriarch. Which feels odd, because not long ago, I was a kid wearing cowboy boots.
Murray Lewis, Editor-in-Chief