Relatively speaking…

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On our recent trip to the Spokane area, we also reconnected with a cousin and an uncle of mine we have seen very little of over the past several years. We had a delightul dinner with Melody in the Peacock Room of the Davenport Hotel. Melody is a very talented, warm, funny, smart and beautiful woman who spent much of her career in the television production business and now works for a Spokane-based film and video production company. She’s been really active in the theater community in Spokane and will soon appear in a film! (More on that when we know more!)

Melody really knows her way around Spokane… and the Davenport Hotel. She gave us a personal guided tour after dinner, with all sorts of interesting tidbits I’m sure very few people ever get to hear. I was so happy to see what a happy place Melody is in these days!

A few days later I met cousins Sandy and Shelia for dinner in Gresham. We had a blast! I think it’s really amazing how easy it is to reconnect with extended family members you haven’t seen much of in years. There’s so much in common, not only family lore but certain traits and points of view. (Well, we didn’t get into the election, but nobody said anything about my Obama bumper sticker…)

Seems so easy to just talk about anything! Growing up in a big extended family makes us learn how to laugh at ourselves, don’t you think?! It felt that way in ours. We grew up overhearing the adults discuss us, defining our roles, pointing out our strengths and weaknesses in front of everybody… we all lived in very small houses, and everything that got said got heard, basically.

Here’s a little recap, tell me if I’m right about this, cuzes:

Sandy was the beauty queen, she was the star of the group, and all of us younger ones admired and adored her and wished we could be just like her, but of course we couldn’t even get close. Because she was so sweet and kind, we weren’t even jealous of her, just enjoyed basking in the glory that shone brightly from her and reflected on all of us. Boys flocked to her like moths to a flame. I have never seen anything quite like it up close and personal. She and I were especially close, spending time at one another’s houses in summer, confiding all sorts of precious and silly things. When we were apart, she was always the one I wrote to in order to mark a special event. Sandy always had a profoundly reverent streak, but I was a grateful that she loved me even though I pretty much lacked one no matter how much I pursued one so I could be like her.

I remember once in graduate school, my Chinese teacher’s wife worked for the same company Sandy worked for, and after he met Sandy, he marveled at how much she and I looked alike. “Huh? What are you smoking?!?” I wondered. I guess there is something to people thinking that all people of another race look alike.

Anyway, I was anything but the beauty, more like the ugly duckling of the extended family. Mostly I was known as the brainiac. I was so into devouring knowledge, creating things, just doing doing doing. Maybe it was to make up for what I lacked in the looks department? I remember Aunt Irene saying once: “Marie, just stay as plain and smart as you are and you will go far.” Partly I pursued the intellectual side of things because it was my family role, but also because I came by it honestly, I just had a pretty insatiable intellectual curiosity.

Okay, okay, enough about me, back to the cousins: I didn’t know Sheila and Melody as well as I did Sandy because they were younger by a few years, a number that is insignificant now but loomed large as cousins figure out how with whom to pair off as children.

Melody was always a bright star herself. She was the oldest child in her family, with the associated leadership skills and outgoing personality. When we visited her family in Kennewick when we were kids, I was blown away by her Barbie doll collection. Having never had a name-brand doll myself, that put her in another class altogether. I remember realizing one day that she had a childhood a lot more like the ones in storybooks than I did, or ever imagined. It was clear from a young age that she had talent with a capital T. What a voice!

Sheila was youngest in her family, and was always the adorable little one. I always thought her brown eyes and brown bangs were just about the cutest ever. Looking back, she may have felt she lived in Sandy’s shadow, and seemed more shy and inward, but I think she was actually quietly gathering the awesome power her presence holds now. If you want to feel centered and real, spend some time with Shelia. Meet her children, from China and the Marshall Islands. She is deep, that Shelia. She’s emerged as a family leader now. Just ask Sandy.

The other relative we visited with last month was Uncle JB, my dad’s remaining living brother. (Aunt Arnelle — Sandy and Shelia’s mom — is his only remaining living sister.) He lives in a nursing home in Kennewick. What a sight for sore eyes. Not so many left from his generation now. We must honor them.

We had a wonderful visit, and I fear it may be our last. He just turned 90 and he is tired.

The human brain is an amazing thing. So many parts stay intact, others lose their grip. His sense of humor is still sharp: when I asked if he was following sports, he said, “Oh, yeah, my hotshot Mariners.” (a reference to their record-setting losing season!)

He’s also up on politics (“Obama’s my man!”) but not so clear on where he had breakfast that morning. Lots of discussion of many different topics…some random, some linear, some new, some old. Best part was being able to touch him. I left with mixed feelings, happy we had come, sad about some of what the visit represented.

I really really miss my Granny and Blaine. Think about them every single day of my life. Miss them. Sometimes it just hurts.

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