I suppose I belong in the second category. The character my mother played evolves from fresh-faced teenager to youthful matron to matriarch to frail old woman whose death is depicted as a sudden, bewildered exit from the stage. I don't remember exactly what her final line was, but I recall it as something along the lines of "But -- but -- I don't understand!" Of course I was in no position to see my mother's performance, but as I read her fraying copy of the script, imagining her in the role, I shivered.
And here's the thing: my sister and her husband have been hosting an annual May party for years, and it's beginning to feel a bit like that.
Please don't get me wrong; it's a wonderful event. Every spring, on a Saturday close to the first of May, they invite family and friends (and family of friends, and friends of friends...) into their home and backyard to enjoy grilled hamburgers and hot dogs and potluck sundries, gaming and drinking, a Maypole dance and an after-dark bonfire, and plenty of lively conversation.
And it's been going on for, what, twenty years now?
You can imagine it, I'm sure. Friends who began as recent college graduates in their twenties, drinking powerfully (and insidiously!) alcoholic fruit punch, laughing raucously, sometimes flirting as the night shadows deepened, appear now to have shapeshifted into forty-somethings with graying hair and children of assorted ages. The infamous punch has given way to homebrew, and less of it. The party still runs late into the night, but the late-night revelers are fewer; the children need to go to bed. Heck, the adults need to go to bed.
I've missed this party for the past couple of years because of conflicts with choral performances, so this past weekend was my first time attending since 2009. Maybe that's why I saw it through different eyes, and through a mist of nostalgia.
At least, some of the time I saw it that way. Most of the time, I was much too busy nibbling tasty things, enjoying the sunshine, and later the firelight, and always, always the spirited, sharp-witted, whole-hearted conversation.
Next year, it is very probable that my sister and her husband won't be living in that house anymore, will have moved from New Jersey to West Virginia. In a movie-worthy turn of events, they're relocating to the same area where my own household moved, nearly half a dozen years ago. I know they'll continue having the same annual party, as by now it has become something of an irresistible force -- but how many of their annual guests will remain immovable objects? Many people who live in New Jersey seem to think of West Virginia as Very Far Away, though it isn't really, not the part where we live. How many will make the journey?
Whatever happens, I know that some things will change, and some things will stay the same. And whatever happens, I will do my best not to stand there stunned, blinking in bewilderment, clutching at my drink and murmuring, "But -- but -- I don't understand!"