Every family has its legends.
Ours center around Huntington, W. Va.
Huntington was our summer vacation destination when Lora and I were growing up. It was where my grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and cousins all lived. It was where, according to legend, my parents attended Huntington High School together, graduating in the same class, but never meeting until they were both students at Marshall University in Huntington.
Huntington is where my grandfather was serving as mayor when he died in 1973. A local television station broadcast an interview with him the night before the funeral, and we grandchildren called our parents in a panic, ordering them not to bury Grandpa, he was still alive! We had seen him on television.
Huntington also was home of Soupy Sales, who, well before he became famous for taking a pie in the face on TV, applied for a job at the family business, Duncan Box and Lumber. Rejected, he was allegedly too embarrassed to tell his mother he didn’t get the job. Every morning, he would get up and go down to the lumberyard and sit on a bench outside. At lunchtime, he would open the sandwich his mother made for him and eat it.
No word on what his mother thought of his nonexistent wages.
Huntington is where my uncle Sam, my dad’s middle brother, proclaimed his advice for marital happiness. When he married my aunt Sally, he would tell us, they agreed that he would be in charge of all major decisions, while she would handle the minor ones. At the time of his death last week, there had been no major decisions.
The ties to Huntington have been steadily loosening. As my sister and I left high school and college, the annual family trek ended, replaced by occasional flights as cousins got married, and my grandmother turned 80 and, eventually, died in 2002. There have been more weddings since then, but the strongest connection between my cousins and I has been the weekly phone calls between our fathers.
Every Sunday night at 8 p.m. central and 9 p.m. eastern, the three would get on the phone and exchange the details of their lives. The information our fathers shared with each other, and then with each of us, is how my cousins have kept up with Duncan’s baseball and Elizabeth’s dance, how I learned that someone was heading to Marshall for college and another going to nationals in tumbling.
This Sunday, there were only two on the call. My dad and his youngest brother, Jim. Sam, the middle brother, died last Wednesday. We made the 13-hour trip to Huntington and back, my dad, Elizabeth and Duncan and I.
And I realized that the real challenge for all of us in the middle-aged generation (my cousins and I — our children have already taken on the role of younger generation) will be staying a family in an age in which Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging have largely replaced the elegance of a Sunday night phone call.