Of course, the Course is Life. At my age I cannot avoid the fact that I stayed, strayed and, yes, have even paid for most of mine. With luck, I have some years ahead but the truth is that I have more time behind me than in front. It’s interesting to sift through the past and identify elements in my life that have supported me on my course for 71 years. This past week two things were crystal clear: cousins and music.
I have 15 first cousins, 3 on my father’s side and 12 on my mother’s. Even though my parents’ sibling relationships weren’t always perfect, the cousins have woven in and out of my life regularly all along, I know each one. I have their phone numbers, their emails and their physical addresses. I know the names of their children and their grandchildren. I know I’m welcome to show up at their door anytime. That’s a good feeling.
We are all over the place now. Iowa, New Mexico, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and some even just a few miles from my house. Whenever a far-flung cousin comes home to the Berkshires someone will host a gathering. Last week was my turn.
We welcomed back Mimi Snyder Archer and her daughter Zoa, who has just graduated from high school, with an al frescoPotting Shed burger fest. Mimi lives in the mountains of western North Carolina, near the Tennessee border but she went to high school and college in the Berkshires. She and her brother, Johnny are the youngest of the 15. I have to pinch myself to accept that they’re both over 50 now.
It would take a more time and writing skills that I can muster to relate a fraction of the cousin stories. I remember special moments--most fun, some uncomfortable--with each cousin, and continue to share good times and adventures with them. It’s interesting how the relationships change over the years. The circumstances of life—geography, politics, money—pull us apart and throw us together.
I grew up with my cousin Jane, but she married and moved away. I barely saw her for decades. Now she and her husband have retired to the Berkshires. What role will we play in each other’s lives? That remains to be seen but just knowing she’s down the road in Great Barrington feels good and right. On my father’s side, cousin Debbie lives a few miles away. We don’t see each other all that often but I’m comforted knowing she’s there.
Music helps us stay the course too. It is another constant for most of us on our journey. A few days ago Lincoln and I went to Tanglewood for the first time this summer. Just the two of us, with one basket, two folding chairs and not enough wine.
Roger Daltrey and his touring band were playing the rock opera Tommy with the Boston Pops. Yes, The Who and the Boston Pops! He had last been at Tanglewood with The Who forty-eight years ago in 1970. I was there, age 23, sitting under a tree on the lawn with friends, the first husband and a picnic. No chairs though. We only needed blankets back in those agile days. Also lacking then…a video screen broadcasting the show to the lawn crowd. We didn’t know what we were missing.
The Who played Tanglewood two summers in a row. The first, 1969 was a mere three months after Tommy, written by band-mate Pete Townshend, was released. Daltrey has said that the crowd, 22,000 that night, was the bigger than usual and he remembers the performance as being particularly strong.
The entire rock opera is devoted to a weird story about murder, perverts and cults. That it is full of warnings and lessons is more apparent the older I get. Dire circumstances, ugly actions and finally, after great struggle, ultimate resolution are sung with beautiful soaring melodies that are anthems to my generation. “We’re not gonna take it. Never did and never will.” We sang that as loudly as we could at Tanglewood in 1970.
While it thrilled me hear it again on that same lawn, it didn’t feel as convincing in June of 2018. As much as this great music, (Tommy has sold over 20 million albums) reaches deep into my reservoir of nostalgia, with the current state of the world, it also pains me. It seems my generation has not done a great job with the things Pete Townshend wrote about fifty years ago. It makes me grateful that we’re becoming increasingly irrelevant. I do hope though that younger people will sing “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me” and dance to the music while they take their turn trying to move our world forward.