Politics can wait, family can’t

We were having dinner with two dear friends and the talk turned to family. Both had lost their fathers many years ago, and recently, both had nursed their mothers through final illnesses. With their youngest child away at college, they are truly alone, with no relatives nearby.

It’s strange, said the woman, to realize that you have nobody to take care of. And to be honest, the thought of no family obligations sounded pretty good for a moment, as we planned Christmas dinner for 50 (on top of the Hanukkah party for a similar number) and ordered so many presents the FedEx man was practically paying rent.

But the moment passed quickly. As 2008 dawns, we know we’re supposed to think (and write) about politics, but that can wait. This week is a time to focus on family and friends, not Mitt and Mike, and express gratitude for our blessings.

We start with our mothers. Lord willing, Lindy Boggs, Cokie’s mom, will turn 92 this year, and Dorothy Roberts will turn 89. They both live here now, in separate apartments just a few minutes from us, and to be honest (again), there are days when we fervently hope the ringing phone is not bringing news that one of them has lost her balance, or her keys, or her pills.

But most of the time it is wonderful having them here, not just for us but for our children and grandchildren. Sunday dinners often involve four generations around the kitchen table, and when the little ones burst through the door and give their great-grandmothers big hugs, life is sweet, indeed.

Cokie’s Mom, a Catholic Southerner, has lived a public life, as a member of Congress and ambassador to the Vatican. For her, a good time is a party or charity event where old friends share stories of their early days in Washington, stretching back to the 1940s.

Steve’s Mom, a Jewish Northerner, is a totally private person who loves having lunch at a local deli. On a recent visit, she ordered matzoh-ball soup, and when the aroma wafted upward, her face broke into a wide smile and she started remembering her own mother, dead now more than 60 years.

Yet these very different women have become very good friends. Recently, we took Lindy to Dorothy’s building for lunch, dropping her off at the entrance. As we went to park, we saw our two mothers, arm in arm, slowly walking together into the dining room.

In February, our oldest grandchild turns 7, the age when you can really read books to yourself. Reading is like flying; once you learn how, earth’s boundaries can’t hold you anymore.

In September, our twin grandsons also turn 7. One recently said he wanted to be a baseball player (or maybe it was basketball), while the other one had a more detailed career ambition: Head football coach at Notre Dame. We have no idea where that came from, but since the Fighting Irish have such a dreadful record this year, the job should be open soon.

In the fall, our twin nieces, the youngest members of their generation, head for college. One contemplates joining the family business, studying writing on the East Coast; the other is striking out for the West, to fight fires and train as a physical therapist. Like our moms, they couldn’t be more different, but one day, perhaps they, too, will walk arm and arm into lunch.

One joy of the season is hearing from young friends we’ve made at NPR or ABC or George Washington University. Their cards are filled with smiling children (occasionally lacking teeth or flashing braces) and one couple who studied with Steve at GW refers to their two daughters as his “grand students.” Another couple, also GW grads, eagerly announced that the class of 2030 would soon have a new member.

Like us, many of these young couples come from mixed religious backgrounds, and one of our favorite cards (from www.chrismukkah.com) showed a Hanukkah menorah filled with striped candy canes instead of candles. Now there’s a classic case of a market filling a need.

Finally, in 2008, we will both turn 65. Steve, who reaches that mark first, is sick of all the letters hawking annuities and insurance but eager for the senior-citizen discounts. Cokie, 10 months younger, doesn’t want to talk about it. We both wish you a year filled with loyal friends, loving family and an occasional break from politics.

Steve Roberts’ latest book is “My Fathers’ Houses: Memoir of a Family” (William Morrow, 2005). Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by e-mail at stevecokie@gmail.com.

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