My mother was an only child. My father one of three. At one time, I counted a paltry ten living relatives from earlier generations. Ten opportunities from which to learn life’s lessons and to be inspired.
Grandmothers. One lived with us for many years and taught me to sew and bake and knit and to respect my elders. Another I saw only once or twice. My memories of her are limited to the butterscotch candies she hid in her luggage when she came to visit. A great aunt was my godmother. She never failed to answer the long letters I penned her and always sent a card on my birthday–though later in life she confused me with my sister and sent one to her instead.
Aunts. I had only one. She sent each of my siblings and me a check for ten dollars every birthday and Christmas for as long as I can remember. I looked forward to those checks and sent my proper thank you’s , but never had a chance to know her. (I had an uncle, too, but he lived across the country in Arizona. I never met him or his son.)
Cousins. One was a dentist who practiced even after severing a finger in a wood working accident. He gave us books for presents–a choice in gifts I failed to appreciate until much later. From him I suppose I learned to be careful around saws and knives.
Aside from my father, the only living relative of the original ten is a cousin, Lorraine Greenfield. A dozen years older than me and younger than my parents by roughly the same span of time, she’s been a bridge between generations–someone I could almost see myself becoming one day, even when I couldn’t imagine I’d ever be entirely grown up.
As she lived with her family in New England, I knew her more by reputation. In her thirties and forties, she taught English and served as a school administrator. Whether it was her teacher-like demeanor, or her Boston accent, at the occasional family celebratory gathering, if you stood close by, you’d catch the scent of higher education and achievement oozing from her pores.
In her fifties and sixties, busy with my own career and aspirations, Lorraine was my link to the Boston branch of our family tree with its growing number of second and third cousins.
Now in her seventies, to no one’s surprise, she’s still hard at it–continuing her life-long pursuits in education and self improvement. After retiring from her first career in the Massachusetts school system, she took a position as an assistant professor at Lesley University and serves as the director of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics division. When we think of active adult communities to which many seniors retreat after downsizing or selling their homes, we think of our lives winding down–not Lorraine. Though she has downsized and moved, Lorraine teaches courses and mentors educators across the country. She travels extensively for pleasure and discovery. And, she’s turned to writing.
Last year, Lorraine wrote, edited, and published a collection of brief memoirs. Some of the entries are from her own past while others belong to forty residents of her community in Dedham, Massachusetts. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Lorraine was the focus of an article in the Boston Globe, characterizing her as a prospector, dislodging nuggets of the past and then capturing them for future generations. In fact, she played several roles to see the work to print. She assembled some already written pieces, wrote others, and cajoled and coddled and inspired other contributors “along the way”. I suspect she takes particular pride in the gratitude of those in her community to whom she gave a voice.
In reflecting here on my relationships beyond my immediate family (which I’ve discussed in part elsewhere), I was struck by how the gifts I received whether concrete or abstract came to the forefront of my memory. And, in the case of one relationship, almost a peer from whom I did not expect gifts, I realized I received many.
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The collection Lorraine Greenfield contributed to and edited Thoughts Along the Way is available from http://www.lulu.com