I'm back in New York after my Midwest family vacation, and I can't even begin to tell you how special the trip was for me. At my Grandma Witte's 90th celebration friends and family gathered to wish her Happy Birthday. All of the great grandkids lined up, each holding a carnation with a ribbon on it, and paraded into the room singing Happy Birthday, hand delivering their carnation to make one big great grandchildren bouquet. Grandma was so surprised and I of course cried. It was a spectacularly sunny and gorgeous day at the Sac City Country Club, and all the kids ran around on the golf course playing soccer and tag and throwing around piles of newly fallen leaves. We were able to make a trip to Rochester, Minnesota (where I was born) to visit my other Grandmother, Grandma Lawler. We took her out to the Eagles Club (her favorite spot) and had a nice lunch together with the sounds of a polka band playing in the background for the Polka Dance they were having. Being able to laugh with her, having her get a chance to talk with the kids about school, and their little favorite things, it was so simple but so meaningful. We got a chance to visit the farm where my mother grew up that has been in her family for three generations, where my uncle still farms the land, and Finn hopped into the tractor and the kids played with the farm dogs.
I spent a lot of time taking photos of my Grandma Witte's house, it's like an entire chapter of my childhood and so much of it is exactly the same, down to the toys we played with, the books we were read to at night, the photos on the wall. I wanted to just take it all home with me and keep it the same forever. I got a chance to look at some old photos my grandmother had of her mother, who passed away when my grandmother was just a child. I saw my grandmother's Christening gown, which she still has, photos of my father when he joined the marines, pictures of my grandfather, who passed away twenty years ago, photos I had never seen.
There was a lot of laughter, and a lot of fun, and many smiles and many memories. But it was also so very bittersweet. Saying goodbye to my Grandma Lawler at the nursing home was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I made a promise to myself that I would never be late again sending her photos, or cards, or letters, and seeing the recent photos I had sent proudly displayed on her little space of wall next to her bed made me smile and also completely broke my heart.
And leaving my Grandma Witte after such a special week felt impossible. I tried to hold it together for the kids, but I cried nearly the entire way to the Omaha airport. These two women, anchors of two families, so important in my life, it was painful to say goodbye to them and I need to already make plans to get back there soon. It made me think about those things you don't want to think about, that your loved ones will not always be around. That you need to make time for them, for what is important, and to leave the unimportant stuff behind.
At my Grandma Witte's 90th party I got to see my great uncle Emmet, my Grandpa Witte's father (pictured below with my brother Chris), who I haven't seen since I was a child and didn't really remember too well. Being able to see him, my Grandpa's brother, was so special. Everyone remarked how nice it was that he made it out to see my Grandma on her birthday, that it was so kind of him to come out and wish her Happy Birthday, especially since his wife was ill. And his wife passed away the next day.
Out of all of the countless trips I have made to the Midwest, this one is so far the most poignant, the most important, and might be the most lasting impact on me. It reminded me that above all else, your family is who you are, and being a family is the most important thing. Being there for each other, loving each other, it will last a lifetime if you are lucky.
Sitting here today, I miss them all. I miss my brother Chris and his incredible kids. I miss my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my grandmothers, my father. I miss the feeling I had of all of us Wittes being together, sharing meals (including the most amazing homemade cornbread I've ever had), sharing memories, and just being together. At my grandmother's party, I bent down to give her a hug, and she whispered in my ear "You're a good girl, Jenny", and even though it was something she had said a thousand times to me growing up, I swear I will never forget her saying it in that moment.
Take some time this week to slow down, to just hang out with your family, and if you have any that are still alive, call your grandparents and tell them that you love them. xoxo