This weekend was supposed to be all about celebrating my youngest son’s 40th birthday . . . and it was! But it turned out to be even more than what I had expected it to be. It was a time machine.
When Matt called to invite us to attend a party on Friday, which was to culminate in watching him perform on stage for the first time in over a year (he’s a singer/songwriter), he added a little wrinkle. He informed me that my cousin, Vernon, whom I had not seen in over twenty years, was also going to be in Charlotte, working as part of the technical support crew for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, a popular band from our home state of New Jersey that was scheduled to perform a concert on Thursday.
Naturally, I was elated at the prospect of seeing my cousin, so I agreed without hesitation to attend the concert. By the time Thursday night rolled around, I was as nervous as a groom on his wedding night. Many questions went through my mind: Would I recognize my cousin? Would he recognize me? What would we say to one another? Would we shake hands, or would we hug? Who would speak first? Would he think I looked old? Would he be as tall as I remembered him? After all, twenty years is a long time.
As I sat in the restaurant with my wife, my son, his wife, and my granddaughter, images of my extended family flashed across the movie screen of my mind. I pictured Vernon as a little boy, then as the young man I last recalled those two decades ago. Gradually, other memories came flooding back of our grandmother, my father and his father (my Uncle Al), and all my other cousins, aunts, and uncles, some of whom are no longer living.
Suddenly, I noticed my son looking past me to a spot near the front of the restaurant, and I knew that our cousin must have arrived. I stood up and followed Matt toward the entrance. But where was that little boy I remembered? Who was this tall, bearded man reaching down to embrace my son? Then he smiled and I knew. It was Vernon. He reached out his hand to shake my own, and I brushed it aside. “Come here,” I smiled, and then we hugged. I was eighteen, and Vernon was two years old. The conversation flowed like wine. How is your little girl? She’s in college? How’s Becky? Fine, she’s right over here. How long has it been? Your granddaughter is adorable! Questions. Answers. More questions. More answers. The time just flew by. It was if we had never been apart. We were relatives. We were blood. Famiglia! Famiglia per sempre!
The rest of the evening went by in a blur. Of course, the show was fantastic, but it wouldn’t have made any difference even it weren’t. My cousin and I were back together. Pictures were taken. Hugs were exchanged. More pictures. More hugs. And then it was time to say good-bye, once more. Time had intervened to pull us apart again. Vernon and the band were scheduled to be in Durham the following evening. There was no guarantee that we’d ever see each other again, but we both promised to try. It didn’t matter, though, because our final words to each other said it all: “I love you,” said one of us. “I love you too,” said the other. Time turned out to not be that important after all. Heck, it’s only relative, isn’t it?