On My Mind: Generations

Apr 15, 2020

The neighbor came from across the street with her daughter in one arm and a string of balloons in the other.

It was the daughter’s first birthday. Her mom was going to figure out some way to make it special without going anywhere or having anybody come over. Maybe a picnic in the backyard. The little girl rode on her mom’s hip, oblivious to this milestone in her life.

My mother-in-law watched from the porch, smiling.

Joann Felsing has had 84 birthdays, the latest one back in February. She was not expecting to spend these first few months of her 85th year living with her oldest daughter and son-in-law while we all waited out a deadly virus.

She moved to Charlotte in December to be closer to us. But in January, she fell in the parking lot at her retirement home and broke both her arms. She stayed at our house while she healed. And by the time she was cleared to go back, the virus was here. We wouldn’t be able to visit her at the retirement home, so we all agreed she should stay with us until the virus fades.

It has turned out to be good for all of us. My wife and I tend to get lost in the grind of work, and Joann has reminded us of the pleasures of spring flowers and birdsong and Mayfield ice cream.

At the supper table she tells stories about her childhood in East Tennessee, about the boys who gave her rides back home from college, about the series of cats they had around the house that were always named Old Tom.

I thought about all she’s seen as we sat out there on the porch talking to our neighbor and her little 1-year-old.

All the seasons of our lives were gathered there in the four of us.

I wonder how we’ll all remember this moment. Maybe as just a strange and anxious vacation. Maybe as a source of unexpected blessings. Maybe as something to learn about, years from now, a young girl piecing together a time she lived through but was too young to know.

It was a beautiful day with a touch of chill at the corners, balanced on the edge between winter and spring. Our neighbor told us goodbye and headed back across the street, her daughter in her arm, the string of balloons trailing behind.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

Want to read all of WFAE’s best news each day? Sign up for our daily newsletter, The Frequency, to have our top stories delivered straight to your inbox.