Share this article

print logo

Mary R. Arno: Celebrating family and a life well-lived

This weekend, seven of us will gather in the Berkshires for a 50th birthday. It should be lovely in Great Barrington, Mass., if a bit hot. But we’re originally from Louisiana; we scoff at temperatures and relative humidities that don’t approach triple digits.

We’ve come together before, in other places, and will again, God willing. Three of us were born sisters; one is a sister of choice who has been in our family since college in the 1970s; two are cousins whose childhoods were spent abroad; one is an adult daughter.

The birthday girl (no air quotes, please) is the youngest of the born sisters. She had been dropping gentle hints, reminding us that it would be her turn soon. As if we could forget. So we will come from Washington and New York, San Francisco and Houston, Baton Rouge and Buffalo to spend a weekend talking, laughing, swimming, hiking, sightseeing, eating, drinking, remembering.

We will fete the honoree with a pageant; this has become our trademark. As we are preparing this celebration, we think of another one, for the middle sister’s 50th, several years ago in Buffalo. The centerpiece of that pageant was a song chronicling her life, to the tune of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

One of middle sister’s childhood artworks had featured a family of sisters wearing blue gingham dresses with mink stoles. So we in the chorus all wore blue gingham dresses, made by our mother as she had sewn our clothes when we were little, and balding thrift-store minks.

For a thousand reasons – a wonderful chef named Maria who cooked while we sang, reconnecting with the cousins, being with a mother who would not be on Earth for another birthday – it was a magical weekend.

When the last course had been served and Maria came into the dining room to tell us she was leaving, we serenaded her, too, breaking into an unplanned rendition of “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria” from “The Sound of Music.” Maria and her assistant laughed almost as much as we did.

So many life events have happened since that weekend. Graduations, promotions and layoffs. Marriages and births. New jobs and new careers. Moves around three continents. There were funerals, for our mother and the cousins’ mother.

Two or three or four of us have been together since then, but not all seven. So there will be much to talk about in Great Barrington, though we will avoid politics. In our number there are two confirmed Trumpsters, at least one Hillaryite, two suspected of feeling the Bern and two not publicly committed. That is a quagmire into which we shall not wade.

What we will do is celebrate a half century of life lived well, and think about how the world has changed since our youngest sibling came into it in 1966. We will dredge up pictures of big hair at proms in the 1980s. We will talk about her time in the Peace Corps, her career as a schoolteacher and her current job with the State Department, which has taken her to Malawi, Zambia and Russia.

And as we head off to trains and planes and interstate highways, we will think ahead to the next celebration. What we may not say, but all will think, is how fortunate we are to have had this one, and one another.