Spent the past weekend visiting my mother in Sharon, PA. Descriptive words for the area include depressed, economically abandoned, sad. The flavor of old-world sensibilities persists…festivals featuring Polish sausage, Italian meatballs or Hungarian cabbage rolls. The flattening of vowels represents the immigrant parents and grandparents who shared the homes or watched the children or came together for family celebrations. Driving up State Street, I sense time and history withdrawing from the present, abandoning the town to its uncertain future.

I never lived in Sharon. By the time my parents moved there from Struthers, Ohio, I had married and moved out of their world. But my six younger siblings – four brothers, two sisters – remained in my parents’ home for several more years. They share a history I know only through their stories. Listening to them at our gatherings is like opening a present…Or a time capsule, one I didn’t help fill. I feel a void. What they experienced together I will never share. They have anecdotes and adventures, wild tales of escapades conducted without me. And they have secrets…every once in a while one escapes during conversation, reminding me of all I missed.

My sister Kathy, third in line, served as the bridge between me and the others. A typical middle child, she bore the brunt of their teasing and the weight of their trust. When we were little, I hated that she followed me everywhere, begging to be included in my life. Since her swift, unexpected death last fall, I have wished many times that I could have her back for one more conversation.

For many years we concluded each family gathering by toasting our good fortune – that we were all still together, that no matter how much we argued, at the end of the evening we were still brothers and sisters, still friends. That tight group of seven has been shattered. Getting back together means more now than it ever did, overshadowed by the knowledge that now we are six, that our moments tick away and only love survives, manifest in the hugs and laughter and love you’s we give as we depart.

I never lived in Sharon, but part of my heart resides there, still invested in my first family and the bond we will always share.