March 2003, eleven years ago, marks the beginning of what has become known as Sib Sab. That March—the one-year anniversary of the death of our Dad—was when my three siblings and I began this tradition. It also represented a year since we had lost our last parent with our Mom having preceded him in death in 1999.
Growing up, we always had a close relationship with our parents and with each other. But after we all moved away from home, married, and started our own families, we siblings did not stay in touch with each other as much. Fairly frequently, our parents would call each of us individually to see how we were doing. They would share what they had been doing and would always catch us up on what each of our siblings were doing, as they would have learned from their calls to them. I might not talk to my brother or sisters for several months but I always knew what they were doing through my parent’s phone calls.
Our mother would also send us cassette tape recordings of herself to convey information that might be too lengthy for expensive long distance calls. She chose this media over writing letters as none of us could very easily read her handwriting.
The summer after our Dad died, the four of us along with our families got together at the place we usually went for summer vacation growing up—Montreat, NC. It was the first time for all of us to get together since our Dad’s funeral. At the Montreat cabin my parents often rented after we became adults, we celebrated my sister’s birthday, something we had frequently done in Montreat growing up since her birthday typically coincided with our summer vacation there.
It was a joyous time to be together and a time to capture family photos, one of us four siblings that would become a tradition as well.
But it was also a sad time as it was the first time we had been at that cabin without our parents. As I was sitting in the warm, knotty pine paneled living room inside that cabin, I tried to picture where my mom would sit while we played games at the kitchen table. I could recall there would be happy conversations going on all over the cabin. I remember thinking as I juxtaposed my Mom’s image sitting in that rocking chair that she was really the glue that held our family close together and kept us from drifting apart. And now both she and Dad were gone.
It was always sad to leave Montreat since we had such great childhood memories of vacations there. But this year, it was particularly hard to leave Montreat and I internally shed a few tears as we drove past Asheville, NC, the town where we had celebrated our parents 50th wedding anniversary just four years prior.
My memory has faded as to whose idea it was for just the four of us to get together but I do remember my thought I had while sitting in that Montreat cabin that it was our parents that had been the glue that interconnected us and kept us together. Now I knew we had to make some of that glue ourselves.
It wasn’t called Sib Sab in the beginning, a phrase my sister coined a few years later for our annual Sibling Sabbatical. In fact the first time we got together at my sister’s home in Knoxville, TN, none of us knew what it would turn into or that it would become an annual event. That first year, we were still getting accustomed to the idea of being “orphans”—parentless siblings.
My brother had to fly in and my youngest sister drove up with me from Memphis. Once all four of us got together, the first order of business was lunch at a restaurant close to my sister’s house—a social setting our mother would have loved. Over lunch, we talked about what we could do together since we had not made any plans other than just getting together. We knew we wanted to spend time talking but having never been together just the four of us since we were little, we had to figure out what else we would do.
We ended up doing things that we all enjoyed. In addition to more food—and beer…
We went to a local museum..
A coffee shop…
And a bookstore.
On Sunday, our last morning together, we sat around drinking coffee and talking while ice and snow flurries fell outside, a premonition of future bad weather that would impact our getting together.
It was a conversation where we shared what was going on in our life as well as that of each of our families. At that time, it wasn’t possible for us to have a four-way telephone call to stay in touch with each other throughout the year. I realized this was the best way for us all to talk together at the same time, just the four of us.
After going to our oldest sister’s church where she was working at the time and having lunch, my sister and I got back in the car to drive home. On our way home, I don’t recall if we discussed about making this an annual event. After that first Sib Sab, we did get together for other events—graduations or holidays—but not just the four of us. Thanksgiving 2005, we did get one of the traditional photos of just the four of us.
And I think it was Thanksgiving 2006, while the four of us were sitting outside on the pool deck after a hearty meal that we must have brought the conversation back up. I remember saying that it was good that we were still getting together for these family events but they didn’t give us that private time that we enjoyed together in Knoxville. In spite of our best intentions, with everything going on in our lives at the time, it still took us another 15 months before we would have our second Sib Sab. But it was the Sib Sab that would launch an annual event.