Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, September 23, 2009
Not long ago, on a small stretch of beach along the central Oregon coast, I gathered with the people that have known me the longest.
For a couple of days we caught up with the old and plunged into the new. We welcomed family members we’d never seen before, missed those who couldn’t make the reunion, and reminisced about those who’ve passed away.
I realized then in that little microcosm of time that it would be short-lived. Soon we’d all be back into our daily routines with the people we see every day going about the business of our lives.
I also knew I’d miss the feeling of being under the same sky at the same place with my extended family—people who find my idiosyncrasies endearing, or at the very least entertaining. I knew I’d miss the faces that I see too seldom and the stories that aren’t told often enough.
Ours is a tough crew. Lives have been stormy at times. There’s been disease, death, drugs, and divorce. We are all shapes and colors, ages and persuasions. We are planted, and we travel with the wind. We have snowy white skin or are tattooed and pierced. We’re creaky with age and springy with youth.
Some are liberal, some conservative, some are nowhere near either one of those; some are well traveled and others stay close to home. Most speak their minds openly, but some don’t. Many of us will talk until we shouldn’t anymore, and others prefer to not say much at all.
We are also nothing if not hilarious. Some of the most amusing people I’ve ever known are members of my own family. We are a clever and quick-witted bunch; we also weep easily and probably too often.
There was at least one face I hadn’t seen for 40 years. Really. 40 years. Others I’d seen in the days and weeks before. But those faces are always changing and I guess that means mine is, too.
In the end it didn’t matter how anyone looked. What mattered is that we were there together. And that somewhere in the vapors, my father and mother were rejoicing for the large, warts-and-all family that still gathers in their names.
Over succulent barbecued pork sandwiches and birthday cake for twin 12-year-olds, everyone remembers the good times, forgetting for a moment the riffs and weirdness that can prevail in families, and that have certainly been part of ours.
Watching cousins play in the surf and reconnecting with people I’d known were somewhere in the world, but not sure where, was sweet. No, it was better than sweet. It was delicious.
On the way to our reunion, my children and I stopped by the cemetery to decorate the graves of my parents and my brother. In a private moment I thanked them again for everything, not the least of which is my crazy, wonderful, collection of family.
They are my people. We belong to each other. Sometimes it’s hard to be part of a family. We’re expected to do things, be engaged, we disappoint others, and our attachment to them gives them the power to break our hearts.
But that bit of time with these folks reminded me how bare my life would be without them, and that despite, maybe because of our foibles, we come together willingly looking for the connection that exists in family.
Pictures and email will hold me until we meet again in three years.
And frankly, that shiny feeling inside of me will, too.