Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Duty Kid

In my family of origin, the "duty kid" was a person who represented the family at an event. The event was usually hosted by someone in the generation before mine. 

My husband Art and I just returned from the celebration of life of my cousin Bob McNeal. His family lives in San Clemente, California. Bob was the oldest cousin on my mother's side of the family, and I was the second oldest. Now I am the senior member of that generation of McNeal offspring. 

My sister Alyx was pretty close with Bob, as she spent many years as a resident of California, and Bob was the power of attorney and executor of my mother's estate. Alyx and her husband Virgil had planned to meet us for the California weekend, but Virgil was undergoing chemo for stage 2 bladder cancer. Alyx didn't want to create a risk for Virgil's compromised immune system, so she decided not to go. I offered to read any tribute she might write.

I'm not a shy person, but I am quite uncomfortable walking into a room where I only know one or two people. There were over 100 at Bob's celebration of life. Fortunately, the first person I saw was Bob's wife Judy. I asked her if there was anything I could do to help. She said, "I've been walking around with my camera all afternoon but I haven't taken a single picture. Could you do that?" "Sure," I said. So I spent 20 minutes meeting people at every table in the room. It was much easier than random small talk.

Bob McNeal had a younger sister, Patti, who's four months younger than me. So she'll be 75 in January. I haven't seen Patti in 50 years, and I'd heard that she was really looking forward to having a conversation with me. And that did come to pass. She and her daughter Christy wanted to meet up with Art and me for dinner the night before the celebration of Bob's life. We spent 15 minutes on the phone trying to decide where to eat. It was hard because we live in Tucson and they live near Dallas and Patti is a picky eater and we didn't know local restaurants or how to get around in San Clemente. Eventually Patti decided on IHOP! I have never been to IHOP for dinner, but I was game. I had fruit crepes - quite excellent, actually. Patti and Christy and Art and I sat together at the celebration the next day and then went to IHOP again for dinner. 

Most families have an interesting dynamic, especially when there are multiple generations present. Patti told me all about them from her perspective. It seemed important to her to tell me, and I'm a good listener. From time to time Christy modified what Patti said so I understood a little better. What was most interesting to me is that I would never have recognized Patti if I'd seen her on the street, but Christy looked just like her mom. I'm glad she came along!

Bob's oldest son hosted the tribute session. Patti spoke first and then he called on me - probably because we were the same generation as Bob. I read Alyx's tribute and then added a story of my own. Then the grandkids, childhood friends, Navy buddies, FBI associates, and neighbors. It was a fun and heartwarming gathering.

Sitting in the airport this morning waiting for our flight home, I sent copies of the 50 photos I took to Judy. 

I'm very glad to have seen so many of my relatives though, as I said, it's been a lot of years for most of them. I've decided there are advantages to being the duty kid.


DJan said...

You are a treasure whenever you are called upon to do something for others. Thank you for this wonderful story about your departed friend and his celebration of life.

Olga said...

It sounds like a true celebration. It has me thinking about how families can be out of touch for years and come together in familiar connection in such times.

dkzody said...

I have never been the duty kid as I was the "baby" of every family on both sides.

My brother was 20 years older and the oldest grandchild on both sides. My sister was 17 years older than me and she did become the duty kid for awhile. They are both gone.

I've not been tasked with any duties, and probably won't be as the family is pretty much all gone except for a few cousins and one nephew and his daughters. It appears his wife may be doing the duty kid job.

Barbara said...

It seems strange to say but sometimes I think about how much fun it was to hear people talk about my Dad at his celebration. It did my heart a lot of good.

Mary in Colorado said...