||[Jun. 3rd, 2003|03:34 pm]
I’m reeling with a sinus cold that’s throwing my equilibrium into small tizzies, working my way through the piles of paper on my desk and watching the clock, wishing it would move just a wee bit faster.
The first day back from vacation always sucks.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t trade this experience for a trip to Disney World or Jamaica. For the first time since I graduated from college I was able to have a visit with my whole family that didn’t include anxious hours of trying to keep my spouse entertained and my relatives from thinking he was an asshole.
John never fit in with the Judds. He was always too good for my sisters and brother, superior to my mom. We never went to see them when I was married to him. The one exception was when my dad died, and I will give him credit for behaving himself on that occasion, but outside of that he flat refused to go and see them. He had no desire to converse with them and would not put himself because it was “boring.”
Which meant that I didn’t go home very often, because it was awkward explaining his absence. He almost succeeded in estranging me from my family.
Almost. They are a persistent bunch and would only tolerate being ignored for so long. They kept calling, they kept thinking about me. They kept me in their prayers.
Even though I was hurting them – and myself – with this exile, they kept right on loving me.
Man, do I feel lucky.
This weekend I was in the embrace of family once more. It was wonderful and painful and awe-inspiring, all at once. We laughed so hard that my sides hurt – and I suffered for a couple of hours from the buttered-and-salted-corn-up-the-nose that I couldn’t quite swallow before laughing. My family is funny, and wise, and fun, and loving. And I have not allowed myself to experience all this for many, many years.
I am the oldest. I was the first to leave home, and did so dramatically, moving to Alaska for many years. I missed out on a lot of the memories. At the beginning of the week it was tough – I was being treated more as an honored guest than as family. I felt like an outsider almost as much as theferrett did. He offered me solace as I struggled to deal with feeling like I had to be the role model for people who didn’t need me as their role model any longer.
I realized that I had a lot to learn from each of them.
That outsider feeling didn’t last, though, and pretty soon we were talking and singing and laughing like our old selves. As my mother’s husband said, you see movies where families burst into song at the dinner table and wonder, “now who really does that” – and it turns out that the answer is, this family.
Ferrett fit in great, and they all loved him. He was game for anything. We played Frisbee until landing it on the roof, Pictionary until late in the evening, and sang to our hearts’ content until the wee hours – my sister has no neighbors to disturb and we didn’t even make the dogs howl!
The Bitterroot Valley is as beautiful as Ivan Doig describes it in Dancing at the Rascal Fair. And the raging rivers flooding just the edges of civilization reminded us that nature has its own agenda. We were treated to a spectacular lightning storm, fabulous sunsets, and down home country cooking.
Most of all, though, I got to work through a lot of old sadness with my brother, who regrets never understanding what a brother was supposed to be when we were children, and never being taught by our loving but weak-willed father. Bill is still working his way back into our lives after years of being regarded as untrustworthy and vicious. As he said, when you spend 30+ years as an asshole, it takes a while to convince people that you have really changed.
I ache for what we lost. I stopped being angry with him (mostly) a long time ago, but it doesn’t fill the gap that his lack of reliability left. But now I see him raising sons to be good and kind and gentle and caring, and I can love him afresh for the support he is offering.
Kristi is always on the edge of living in the streets, but she is strong in her faith that things will work out. When the water was spreading across her yard the day before 30 guests were due to arrive, she just smiled and went forward with the plans for the picnic. A contingency was suggested and refused. She knew it would be all right. And the water receded and it was all right. She is the family’s grasshopper, but she has a lesson to teach us ants about letting worry eat you alive.
Of Michele I will say little. She is in the midst of remaking herself and needs the space to do so.
My mother is becoming her mother. This is a sad thing to see. We kids made a pact to bitchslap each other silly if we spotted incipient signs of that bitter worrisomeness in each other. We still had a lot of fun with her, though.
And seeing my grandmother, senile and helpless, in the nursing home softened my heart to her. She recognized us, and remembered that we had been there when we went for a second visit. I doubt I will see her alive again, but I feel that I have said goodbye now.
My niece is a beautiful young woman, and my nephew is skirting at the edge of manhood, still wanting to play silly games and yet working long hours as a ranch hand. He’s a cowboy on the weekends, a junior high student Monday through Friday. He wants to be a professional dirt biker for now. In the winter the dream switches to snow boarder. He’s brave and handsome and completely unaware of either of these traits in himself.
Our one regret, all of us, was that we weren’t able to get all the kids there.
Next summer we are planning to all meet halfway, so we can bring all the kids. Rapid City, South Dakota, is practically dead center between Portland and Cleveland, and there are lots of campgrounds, much activity. A long two-day drive for the families, and we will let our kids get to know their family.
Because family is important.