Saturday, September 16, 2006
This morning I got up early and went running on the beach. There is something very timeless about the beach. The waves come in and out. The tide ebbs and flows. The sun rises and sets. Clouds gather and dissipate. The beach is in a constant state of change. And for that reason, it is always the same.
I am staying in a house in Avalon, New Jersey, which belongs to a friend of my Mom's named Pris. Mom and Pris attended the Mary A. Burnham school in Northampton Massachusetts when they were teens and have stayed close ever since. Pris invited our family to come and stay in her beach house in Avalon for a week to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary. It has been pretty amazing to be able to spend time with my parents and sisters this past week, laughing, joking, eating meals together, and just hanging out as a family the way we did thirty years ago. It is also pretty amazing that we even want to.
My parents and I visited Northampton last week where I videotaped my Mom as she looked around at the two big houses that used to comprise Mary Burnham. Her old school is no longer in existence, having merged with another school, but the two houses remain intact and are now used as student housing for Smith College. In fact, my good friend from Louisville, Jane Halliday, used to live in one of those houses when she was at Smith. I visited her there once or twice when I was at Wesleyan University.
In addition to Northampton, my parents and I also visited Wesleyan, where my Dad went to college, as well as various other points of historical interest from the story of their lives together. Middletown Connecticut, where Wesleyan is located, is also the town where my father was born and went to high school. He lived in the town of Cromwell, just up the road and we went back and saw his old house there -- still exactly the same, including the same color.
My Mom is from Mt. Vernon, New York, and we took a trip there to see the old apartment building where she lived with her mother. The building is still there, but the house they lived in with her grandmother is gone. In nearby Bronxville, we saw the church where my parents got married. We talked to one of the ushers outside the church who explained to us how the recent storm had split one of the boughs from the big elm tree in front of the church. He seemed pretty shaken up about it.
We also went down to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where my parents had their first apartment and where my sister Cindy was born. Bridgeport is also where my Dad had his first job with General Electric. My Mom worked there too when they first got married. The plant is mostly closed down now and the surrounding area is pretty rundown. The day we were there, police were investigating a triple homicide that had occurred the night before, just across from the entrance gate. As I was shooting a long zoom shot down the length of the building, the security guard came up and told me that they were kind of sensitive about having the place photographed and that it would be best if I left immediately.
A little north of Bridgeport, in Derby, we went to look at the house my parents lived in when my sister Susan and I were born. It is a modest one-story on a quiet street in a small town. It used to be red, but is now a bright yellow. The current owner let us take a quick tour. She has been there for over thirty years and still knows some of the families who lived there when we were there. Some of them are still in the neighborhood.
I have been videotaping all of these journeys through the past in order to create a short film about how my Mom and Dad met, got married and started our family. It's been pretty cool revisiting all of these significant sites with them. Once you begin traveling down memory lane, you encounter all kinds of side-streets and alleyways that you thought were long forgotten. I heard a bunch of new stories about things my parents did and people they knew back when they were just starting out on their own. I have always had a certain basic idea of my parents history, but seeing and hearing it all firsthand with them made it seem less like ancient history and more like real life.
I edited some of what I shot to create a few short clips to post on a website I set up to share the anniversary with friends and family. It's been a while since I tried doing any video editing and even these short clips took a lot more work than I had anticipated. I'm thinking the full-length version won't be ready until Christmas.
So now we are all gathered in Avalon to celebrate the big occasion. My sisters and I have been here all week, while the rest of the family has been trickling in over the past few days. Tonight we will all have dinner together.
The mythical island of Avalon was a place where the Druidic priestesses of the Celtic tradition lived and practiced their arts. The island was continually shrouded in a veil of mist and could only be approached by those with faith in magic. Only a select few were admitted beyond the veil to witness the enchantments and learn the mysteries of the sacred isle.
Our Avalon is accessible off an exit on the Garden State Parkway, over a causeway that cuts across the marshlands of coastal New jersey. It is only occasionally shrouded in mist. Fortunately for us we had several sunny days to enjoy the beach. But it seems that there is a kind of magical quality to it as well.
Maybe it is the magic of generosity, manifested by my Mom's friend Pris letting us stay in her beautiful house by the sea. Or maybe it is the magic of friendship, conjured up by the many cards and letters my parents have received from people they have known from throughout their lives and whose words and thoughts are testament to the quality and value of their relationships. Or it could be the magic of family, that draws us all together from far and wide and despite our differences and obligations.
But I guess the greatest magic of all, and the one that infuses and engenders all of the other types of magic, is the magic of love. Love brought my parents together in the first place. Love has kept them together for fifty years. Love is what created this family. And love is why we are all here now.
Congratulations Mom and Dad. And thanks for everything.