Next weekend, my husband, Jeff, and I will fly to Maine for a family celebration of my Uncle Stuart’s 100th birthday. He is the second of my dad’s brothers to reach the century mark. We celebrated my Uncle Hazard’s 100th birthday three summers ago in New York City. Hazard died about six months later. He had trouble seeing, but he was still spending a few hours in his office on Wall St. every day until two weeks before he died.

Uncle Stuart is a bit hard of hearing, but doesn’t miss a beat in a conversation with you. He was on the volunteer ski patrol at Mad River in Vermont until he was 80. Apparently, if you are a Gillespie, you either live a long time or you die young. Two other siblings in my dad’s family of origin had their lives cut short by cancer in their late 50’s-early 60’s. My dad, the baby of the family, is 88 and fully anticipates another ten years. My parents live half the year in Tucson, AZ and half the year in Vermont and he continues to supply as a retired priest, preaching and celebrating, in both locations.

As the family mythology goes, being born a Gillespie guarantees you two things: good genes (if you live past a certain age) and the ability to adapt. My grandfather had a paints and varnishes business that imploded in the 1929 stock market crash. Overnight, my dad’s family went from having a house filled with servants to no servants at all. We always heard the story of my grandmother (who lived to be 96) rolling up her shirtsleeves and doing whatever needed to be done. I am grateful for the legacy bestowed on me by this family. It lives on in my generation. My oldest first cousin just got her MBA at 70 after having two husbands die of cancer. I look forward to touching again that innate sense of family, that palpable Gillespie identity that always surfaces when we are together. We are not a tribe without flaws, but we do know how to celebrate. There will be sailing and drinking, lobster eating, praying and singing. I have been asked to do the dismissal at the end of the evening and I thought I would do my favorite one that begins, “Remember that life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way with us…” but it might be lost on this gathering.