Here’s to the people who aren’t with us

I can’t remember a time when my grandparents, Joe and Florence Drennan, weren’t a part of my life. We lived in the country, right next door to each other, and my brother and I constantly were around them if we could help it.
We slept over at their house most Friday nights, waking up early Saturday mornings to help Grandpa with farm chores. My Grandma, meanwhile, cooked the best crispy, brown-edged fried eggs in the world for breakfast—and the ultimate elbow macaroni and tomatoes for lunch.
Not for lack of trying can I duplicate these meals in my kitchen.
I loved to watch my Grandpa pour corn syrup for his toast onto a little plate, then cut off the supply running from its container clean off with a butter knife. He also would pour his hot tea from a teacup over into the saucer beneath it, pick it up, and drink it that way.
I’d watch the way he stood every morning at the kitchen sink, looking into a small mirror sitting on the window ledge, where he’d comb what hair he had left with a oval-shaped, soft-bristled brush and then adjust the silver arm bands on his work shirt before he headed outside.
All of this marvelled me.
Us kids were made part of everything—planting potatoes in the spring or walking on the cattle drive, harvesting hay bales in late summer, and shucking peas in the early fall. We lived their lives.
Every winter, Grandpa would hitch up the hay wagon and take us on sleigh rides with our friends, and always found the time to build us a great sliding hill that would surge us out onto the frozen creek bed on our “flying saucers.”
I have the best of both worlds now. I live where I made the memories.
My Grandpa and Grandma Drennan died in 1996 and 2006, respectively, and I think it still will be a long, long time before I don’t hear their voices around this old place.
Grandpa Drennan had a mighty soul stocked with discipline and work ethics that measured hands above any draft horse of his day. And when I walk with intent across the yard from the house to the barn, I remember watching him do the same thing as if on a mission.
Yep, we are definitely related.
But if Grandpa were alive today, I wonder what he would have thought if he’d have walked into the barn in the days before the family reunion and seen what I had done to the place.
And there I’d be dusting and polishing the place so shiny and fine as “Bat Out of Hell” by Meatloaf roared out of two big stereo speakers hanging from the ceiling.
I wonder what he would have said. I believe he would, with deep pride, understand the passion that was bouncing around in there.
I’d been on a mission all summer to ready this old homestead and barn for the end of July and the “Drennan Reunion,” wherein a spirited bunch of some 65 Irish descendants who hadn’t partied together in nine years would move in with their camper trailers and tents for the last weekend in July.
Post hoc, I dare say the spirited bunch did not disappoint their Irish ancestors.
However, there was a moment during the festivities when, as a red-headed young man walked by me wearing a name tag that read “Oppenheimer,” and as word circulated that suddenly I had a family connection to Robert Oppenheimer (“the father of the atomic bomb”), I had visions of a leprechaun-led mutiny which would strip me of my administrator rights to the Drennan family tree on the worldwide web.
And again, when the same person walked by wearing a name tag that read “Edmund Hillary,” I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy at my newfound relationship with a mountain climber, change my contact lenses, or look for the someone who’d been spiking my Fresca with hard liquor.
Mr. Hatch, you are a corker.
I thought about Grandpa Drennan a lot that weekend, of he and his brothers and sisters now gone from this good Earth—and how very much they would have enjoyed these fun times.
And at 3 a.m., when the jovial singing and laughter emanated from the four walls that once held cattle and horses and hay, well, I imagine Grandpa wasn’t the only one “up there” who also understood the great love of family that was bouncing around in that old red barn.
We salute you Joe, John, James, Jack, and Harry, Margaret, Pat, Janet, and Tilly.
“We put our glass to the sky and lift up
And live tonight ’cause you can’t take it with ’ya
So raise a pint for the people that aren’t with us
And live tonight ’cause you can’t take it with ’ya.”

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