Linda Dahlen

“Our family reunions have turned into an organ recital,” my Mom quipped. She died two years ago as I write this, and I sorely miss her wit and wisdom.  

She saw the “duh, what?” look on my face so she continued on, “All the elder generation relatives do is sit around and talk about what’s wrong with their body parts: heart, liver, lungs, bladder, kidneys, colon, you name it. Everyone has an organ to talk about. It’s an organ recital!”

 Years ago, such “recitals” were not that visible to me, so I figured this was some sort of secret handshake society of older family members who felt comfortable to spill their guts – so to speak – about their ailments or surgeries. However, I had not noticed it so much until I turned 60. The elder generation was passing away and my generation was beginning these recitals, albeit tentatively, since admitting one’s physical frailties is a sure sign of being old, right?

We were all beginning to come out of our closets of pretending to be in excellent health. When queried at family reunions “How are you doing?” instead of “fine” or “couldn’t be better,” health issues started to creep into our conversations. The older we got, the more such talk emerged, second only to talk about kids, grand kids and careers. I guess that is a good thing because as a rule it’s not like you can vent these health things to colleagues or acquaintances lest they get that “TMI” look on their face while looking for an escape route. Our family is especially safe in that regard as we are tightly knit. Now even the next generation is starting to do it, but not their kids yet (grand kids that is).  

I did plenty of recitals in my childhood, all piano though, no body parts. I take that back. I guess showing off a monster bruise obtained by falling out of a tree, or having a nail go through my foot was worthy of discussion but only for bragging rights and to make my friends gag. With piano recitals, I was urged by my music teacher(s) and my Mom to go on stage with a grand piano and show off what I had learned that year. Showing off to me was going to church in a new dress with a crinoline or getting an “A” on a math test.

Having stage fright even to this day, performing in front of a large group was and is not in my comfort zone. As a kid, I would have recurring nightmares about walking on the stage before hundreds of people and once in the spotlight, suddenly noticing that I was clad only in my slip, underpants and my black Mary Jane shoes. Standing at the piano, I did a little curtsy and was ready to perform even though my absence of clothing had my knees and hands shaking. It was too late to escape.  My mom was in the audience after all. I would bolt upright in bed, thanking God it was only a dream.

But our family reunion organ recitals, now those are a different animal. For many, it’s the Olympics of health events, and nobody seems to have stage fright, probably because it’s a safe place where you know you are loved. The younger generations initially listen out of curiosity and respect, but with a firm resolve that they will never have any of those things happen to them. I’ve not had the heart to say that since we are all genetically connected, the inevitability of something never happening to them is statistically improbable. The youngsters then slowly melt away into other areas to discuss more interesting things. For the guys, it’s careers, homes, cars or hunting. For the ladies, it’s poopy diapers, little league, hobbies and also careers. Each generation has their klatch. At huge meals or around a camp fire at day’s end, young and old gather to kibitz and appreciate the awesome gift of our large Irish family.  

You never know when someone new by birth or marriage, will join in the fun each year. And conversely, you never know who may never be with you again.

Linda Dahlen is a Messenger contributing writer, Isle Chamber member and local business owner.

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