We sat more than a week back in the living room of our Little Bitty in the Syracuse neighborhood of Eastwood, comfortable in our usual evening hang-out positions of couch and recliner, when my dear wife Karen dropped this one on me.
What did I discover about her those precious days we spent in Colorado for her first Family Reunion?
Well, now, beloved, it sure was my privilege and pleasure to watch you operate with two sisters, two brothers, four nieces, two nephews, a great-niece and a cousin, your people who came to Estes Park from Alaska and California and Oregon and Washington and Texas and Arkansas and Arizona. And throw in your sister-in-law, nephew-in-law and cousin’s boyfriend, too, as well as our traveling companions daughter Elisabeth and boyfriend George Three, to give a robust total of 19, though we figured out that the most we had together at one time was 15 because of staggered arrivals and departures from the Thursday to Tuesday event.
You’re much better in your family circle, in fact, than you led me to believe in our dozen years together. As I watched you settle into a rhythm with siblings Lynne and Jana, and Steve and Scott, it was indeed, as niece Stormy exclaimed so vehemently from the couch that night that all five siblings and the cousins gathered in our blue cottage, hard to believe that the last time all of you were in one place was 1986. I listened while older brother Steve and oldest sister Jana discussed how things were in that house in LA before Caroline and Bob separated and Scott denied anything the rest of you threw out there about middle child syndrome, really, and youngest Lynne contrasted how things were when she was living alone with your mom in San Diego after the rest of you were out living your own lives.
You all did this with little stories and easy grace, tales about Roman Meal bread and lima beans, 50 cents paid to spy on a sister — denied by Scott to Lynne about you, quickly, as Steve and Jana chuckled and I could not judge the if-so’s.
Oh, how I was impressed by all of it these days, as we met for hikes and jeep tours and drives up the mountain in our cars and meals. Oh, the big meals we ate together at various joints. All of it was punctuated by conversation that winged its way across the tables and generations.
I did more than listen, of course. You know me, my dear wife.
So I asked questions, and learned about Steve’s job with the city as a tax assessor in Salem, Oregon and Scott’s with the Army Corps of Engineers in Sacramento, Calif., and Lynne’s move from Arkansas to Corpus Christi, Texas, to work in new company with husband Chuck, and Jana’s place as a marriage counselor up there in Wasila, where Sarah Palin sure did change after she become swooped up by the American public and national politics.
My nieces and nephews did not escape my focus.
I quizzed Stormy about her husband and her Native American looks, because she has a different dad than sister Kimi, whom I grilled about her longtime boyfriend. When Lynne jumped in that the guy already is father-approved by Chuck, I continued because, well, an uncle should be interested in this, too.
I asked Dacia about her big job at the animal clinic up there, and listened as she spoke of her boyfriend nearly husband and his children. I questioned Drew about his chase for that engineering degree, as well as that so-obvious scar on the top of his noggin’, and listened in horror as he described how the allure of excitement while he lived in Utah and attended school his first go-round led to him falling off the back of a pick-up truck traveling at 40 mph.
I quizzed Ross about which medical schools he was waiting to hear from in his application process in his quest to follow his older sister Flynne, who so recently completed her residency despite the birth of their beautiful daughter Lainie to she and her teacher husband Jordan. Ross’ first choice is the in-state University of Washington, he explained, because tuition is $20,000 a year less than the others on his list, and that’s where he lives now while he works as a nurse assistant.
I chatted more briefly with Flynne and Jordan at our group dinner and hike around Sprague Lake during their short stay, but I sure did love watching Lainie dance across that little stream with dad holding her hand at the end of our walk.
Steve’s wife, my sister-in-law Joan, warmly filled me ear about her and Flynne’s trip to Poland, describing the beauty of the cities and the people of our shared ancestry. No, she answered to my query, the food there was not quite like the Polish we like here in the States.
They all seemed interesting and interested, and I loved watching Elisabeth and George fit right in, too, telling their own stories.
I heard other things along the way, but I won’t repeat them here. Because, you know, family.
So I learned that you indeed come from very good people, Karen.
The question, then, is: What did I learn about myself?
Families, you know, aren’t the easiest for me. Not until I met you a dozen years ago, I’d say, and then Elisabeth grew into the smart, beautiful and confident woman she is, can I say that I’ve been completely comfortable with my daily standing.
Those that have it all, the figurative white picket fences with the grandparents on one side and the parents on the other and the aunts and uncles completing the cul de sac … well, I’ve seen something like that in action, and more glory to them for being so happily entangled 24-7.
As for me, my youth was marked by a parental mismatch, as much discord as good times, grandparents that stayed in Brooklyn after my father took us out to the leafy burbs of Long Island in search of something elusive, better, the dream that I bought into. All by myself, was my preference …
I fled to upstate New York to college, forged my own life and moved to Maryland, loved my sisters from afar, waited until 30 and a return to upstate to marry, had my daughter at 32 and kept thinking that dream was tied to what I produced at the job, then divorced when she was 9 …
Yeah. Norman Rockwell hung on someone else’s walls.
Click on any gallery photo for a description. Click on the right photo for an enlarged slide show.
So maybe I didn’t now how to act properly every step of the way with all this warmth around me. That night outside Dave’s Smokin’ Bar-B-Que, when we were deciding how many cars to take up the mountain, and Steve was thinking that maybe Scott would drive his own to make it three, and I got a little short and declared too loudly about how confounding this was …
With Steve, yet, like me the oldest brother in the family, whom I’d walked with side-by-side just earlier that day pouring out frustrations about job searching because he’d gone through a similar layoff from his longtime employer and career reinvention, and he was full of empathy and compassion and good advice.
Elisabeth set me straight afterward. What did it matter, two cars or three? See, smart kid.
So this warm embrace from family members I just met from far and wide is nice. Very nice, indeed.
Talk was on about another edition two years from now. And the next two years from then.
Sis Jana wanted photos, so I emailed her a batch. She answered her thanks with this little note: “Good morning BIL!! Thank you so much for sending the photos. Treasures all. It was a pleasure meeting you, Elisabeth and George III! My heart is full knowing my sister is married to such a wonderful, loving man.”
Oh, the pleasure is mine, Jana. Truly.
What do you get right about your family? What are the most puzzling things to you about your family? Do you live close by to your family or far away, which would you prefer, and why?