“What time should we leave?”
“I don’t know. What time do you want to get home?”
“If you want to get home by 6, we should leave by 5, which means we should start saying goodbye at 4.”
I’ve participated in some variation of that conversation my whole life, all in deference to the affair that is known as saying goodbye to my mom’s side of the family. Petits are known for eating and talking. We do both with aplomb. There’s generally a natural end to mealtimes. When it comes to leaving each other, there’s no such thing.
The last time I saw my cousin Adam, he hugged me goodbye 3 separate times. And not just because I’m his favorite cousin.
Goodbyes go in rounds. I have a big extended family so chances are good that some of the goodbyes will turn into catching up conversations. This is why you need to build in at least 30 minutes to an hour for taking leave. You start in one area of the room and begin to work your way through everyone. Then you have to circle back as you figure out who you missed the first time around. Then you get caught up in a few more conversations. Then you check to see how your traveling companions are doing in the process. Finally, you shout goodbye as you walk out the door.
Now you understand why this process takes a good hour or so.
My parents hosted Thanksgiving this year. I stayed at their house so I was on the other end of the equation this time around. Only half the family could gather for the holiday, the rest having been claimed by in-laws or unable to travel from out of state. The smaller size meant more in-depth conversations with almost everyone there. In theory, this would cut our “goodbye time” in half. In theory.
Late afternoon, cousins, uncles, an aunt, and grandfather began rumbling about leaving.
Grandpa hugged me and asked a few more questions about life in Nashville. We talked about Christmas, the next time I’d see everyone. I grabbed his coat from the other room. We hugged one more time for good measure.
I looked over at my aunt who was talking with my uncles about a PBS special. Because why wouldn’t you delve into a discussion about the Depression while you’re getting ready to leave? The next thing I know, my uncle is comparing the size of his hand to those of his siblings. I have no idea why.
In the meantime, I shared recipes with my cousin Zack and gave him tips on roasting potatoes in bacon grease. Not very healthy but it would be a great post-studying treat for him. We’d talked a good while earlier in the afternoon, having sat next to each other during the meal. But as we said goodbye, we remembered all the things we didn’t talk about before and now was as good a time as any.
Slowly, each family member made their rounds and yes, an hour passed before all is said and done. The front door shut and my parents and I sat down to discuss the day. Happy, content, full.
You don’t have to spend much time around my family to see the sheer love we have for one another. We’re not perfect though. All families have dysfunction, even the best ones. There’s underlying tension here and there but when we’re together, those things don’t matter. We celebrate each other and we make the most of our time.
This is why our annual family reunion continues decades later and now boasts over 200 people. (Grandpa is one of thirteen children. I hail from German Catholics, y’all.)
We laugh over our inability to say a short goodbye. It is kind of ridiculous when I think about it. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to steal a few extra minutes with the people I love most.
Nothing wrong with it at all.