Treasuring the Goodbye Years


Sunday evening, 7:30 pm, was always the designated time to leave my parent’s Cape Cod cottage to return home.  During seventeen continuous years, my family failed to meet this self-imposed deadline.   For me, packing up, regardless of the destination, ranks right next to scrubbing toilets on the pleasure scale.  Leaving my parent’s home was no different. Regardless of my children’s ages or how often we repeated the deadline, they never quite understood the definition of imminent departure.

“Did everyone pack all their shoes?  Don’t forget to check under the beds. Grab the wet towels.  Strip those sheets before you come downstairs and throw them in the washer.  Has anyone seen the tapes we rented from the video store?  No! You cannot go for one last swim.  Do not pack those crab shells; they’ll stink up the car.  Leave them for next time.  Mom, whatever we forget just put in the spare bedroom and we’ll get it in two weeks.  Okay guys, one last hug – see you soon Dad.  Come on kids, give Manya and Papa Bill a kiss goodbye. Hey, where’s our dog?  Everyone in the car NOW!”  Amid this cacophony of various voices and edicts, we’d finally manage to pull out of their driveway, honking the horn two times with arms waving from all car windows.

My family spent at least two weekends a month on Cape Cod, happily driving the three hours from Connecticut.  Many times we’d leave for the weekend late Thursday night just to beat the Friday traffic.  To this day I can close my eyes and recall both the complete relaxation and utter exhaustion I would feel upon buckling my seat belt Sunday night for the drive home.  Most times I would be fast asleep with the kids, waking only as my husband turned off at our exit.  We’d carry the children up to their beds, unpack the car, and make that late night call to Mom and Dad.

“We had a great time. It was absolutely wonderful.  Thanks for everything.  We’ll see you soon.”

Fast-forward twenty years.  I am no longer in those halcyon days of young parenthood, gliding along the highway of preplanned destinations and hopeful expectations, sharing each new development of my children’s growth with my parents.  Nor am I in the fast lane; I no longer call to bemoan all the teenage turbulence and overcharged hormones my children are experiencing and which I seem to have no control.  As my children aged, so did everyone I love; as such, I have now entered the next phase of adulthood, the “good-bye” years.

We enter this phase when we begin to gather up the memories and mementos of our loved ones.  For me, it began with a linen tablecloth and 12 matching lap-sized cloth napkins. This was the same one my Mom would use every Thanksgiving and Christmas and which still bears the faint stains of red wine and gravy spills. Since she no longer has large dinner parties, she gifted it to me.

This is not just a tablecloth with matching napkins, it is a canvas filled with happy memories from my past.  Every time I lay this cloth on my own family’s table, I recall the many times I saw my mother ironing it when I was a child, newspapers spread on the floor so our dog’s hair would not get on it.  As I iron and place each napkin upon a plate, I remember being taught by her, as I teach my daughters and sons, the exact placement of the spoons, forks and knives.

Another time, I became the proud owner of the family’s faded crocheted afghan, knitted by my father’s mother.  This afghan, with its varied colors of red, green, orange, and white was my source of comfort during both real, and feigned, sick days.  During one trip home Mom gave it to me, for my own children to use, safely wrapped in a plastic bag. She had no more use for it, and needed the space in her closet.  Every time I open my linen closet door and see “my” afghan, I am reminded of all the times my siblings and I made it into a tent, fought over who was “hogging it”, and the times my mother gently placed it over me as I dozed.

We all enter these goodbye years at some point in our lives.  One day you are sharing kitchen duties with your mom and before you know it, she is directing, and correcting, your cooking skills from the kitchen table because it hurts her to stand for any length of time.  One holiday everyone is laughing as your father carves into the turkey, making silly gobbling sounds; too soon, he is passing the carving knife to someone else to use because he can no longer hold the knife steady.  One summer weekend you’re arriving at your parent’s seaside home, children rushing out of the car, scrambling to beat the tide, toys and fishing poles in hand; when you turn around, you are standing beside your parents as they lock the door for the last time. They have sold the home and are beginning another phase of their lives. Time is fleeting, and before it is washed completely away, memories and mementos must be carefully given and lovingly received.

My mother taught me to accept these gifts with a smile and a promise; a smile for the gift itself regardless of it’s monetary value and a promise to recall those moments spent with each other. A beaten up Chinese checker set is priceless to my daughter. She still recalls the exact moment she beat her grandmother for the first time, after trying for 3 years. The glazed and slightly chipped bowl, which my father filled with popcorn on many Saturday nights, sits proudly on my shelf, still in service as my family’s popcorn bowl.  We receive items no longer needed by our parents; items they want us to have. Accepting them holds the unspoken promise that we will recall the happy moments, the fleeting seconds that were the building blocks of our life.

My parents try to choose carefully the items they want each one of their six children to receive.  These mementos, when held or viewed in years to come, will allow all of us to remember.  We may laugh together, seated around a Thanksgiving table, recalling the time Grandpa Joe spilled gravy in the creamed cucumbers and Granma Mae laughed so hard she spilled her wine.  We will smile at the memory of popcorn being popped on a stove, not in a microwave, using hot oil and real butter.  We will even shed a few tears when passing a cherished photo hanging on the wall. That’s the way it should be.

My great grandmother once told me we all die three times; once, when our hearts stop beating and we are laid to rest.  Our second death occurs when people no longer share stories about us, stories about our life.  Our final death occurs when there is no one left to even remember we existed. Receiving and cherishing gifts from our loved ones, packing memories away to share with each other, helps to guarantee we will not forget them. It is their way of saying,

“We had a great time.  It was absolutely wonderful.  Thanks for everything.  We’ll see you soon.”

Copyright 2009 Carol S. Bannon


About Author

Carol Sbordon Bannon is a full-time writer with a degree in elementary education from Worcester State University. She is a substitute teacher and has been a catechist for over thirty years. In addition to A Handshake From Heaven, she is also the coauthor of Our Family's Christmas Elf. She is happily married and currently resides in Concord Township, Ohio. Visit Carol at

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