Wednesday, August 13

who i am

It was walking into Auntie Patti’s house around 11 am after traveling since 4pm the day before and being hugged and then handed a baby. No fatted calf but no inquisition either; you just slip back into the family seamlessly. Here, take the baby while his mother mows the grass, go inside and say hello to your cousins.
Inside it smells like Mimi’s house. There is her red couch, the cribbage board; little pieces of your grandmother are everywhere. And in the pot on the stove is the food of your childhood. You’re exhausted and you don’t know if you want to lie down and sob because of the headache pounding behind your eyes or because the feeling of home is so overwhelming.
The air in the backyard is salty – you can’t hear the ocean, but you can smell it. Soon you’ll shower and change and head downtown with your mom for gift shop shopping, lobster rolls, fried clam strips and chowda. You aren’t walking hand in hand with your parents down those steep streets toward the picture perfect harbor. You aren’t riding on your father’s shoulders up rickety outdoor stairs to get bubblegum ice cream, but it seems that you are even as you sit with your mother discussing family politics over a dark beer and a lobster sandwich.
The day of the reunion is hectic and blurry in your mind. With a few shockingly clear moments. You’re sitting at one of the picnic tables, drinking a Cape Cod because – duh – and you look up for no reason at all as he’s walking down the hill. And you look because it can’t be – this person is a man, and your cousin J.R. is a boy – except he isn’t anymore, huh, how about that? You’re running before you know it and he catches you and lifts you and twirls you around. Do you even need to speak after that? What can you say that will match the flood of memories that come with a hard hug?
For someone who has been starved of physical affection for the past three years this time is like coming to a freshwater ocean after wandering in the desert. This family does not stop touching each other. You are told to ‘Come and meet your cousin’ so many times that it starts to become a joke. You are hugged so much you are almost full of it. Familiar faces pop up in a sea of newness, but familiar newness. There is a tone in the voice, there is the slant of the eyes, there are the skin colors – so many shades, there is so much that you fit into here. All of a sudden you are surrounded by people who look like you or your mother or your grandfather; there are pieces of you in each face, each movement. A cousin you don’t know buys you a drink at the bar, later you buy him one, and two hours later your mothers introduce you – as if it were necessary.
The littlest ones run through the sun to the bouncy castles or to tug on the shorts of the men throwing horseshoes or barbequing. The children are stunningly beautiful in the sun, brown and gold and radiant. We just don’t make ugly babies, more than one person will say that day.
You’ve stopped looking for Erica and asking about her because your mother and cousin are getting annoyed. You’re trying not to be disappointed that she won’t be there and you wonder why she seems like the missing puzzle piece to this family jigsaw. You sorely miss the sound of her father’s laughter when the men all double over at the horseshoes over something one of the children did. You can’t hear what happened – the sound of the women standing or sitting in groups or flitting among them is not the quiet sound of the South – you are no longer the loudest person in the group (you no longer even rank).
She walked in with her mother while you were doing something else and when you look up she’s talking to your Cousin who’s pointing at you and obviously telling her that you asked for her only ten million times that day and then you’re running again. And then you’re crying and you are just too happy and she’s so beautiful and all you can think is that your family is all here. Finally. And you don’t really realize how miserable everything has been until it is so starkly contrasted with this feeling. This simple happiness feels like insane joy. But you’re crying and being silly so you pull it in and you talk about things you can’t remember and the day moves along.
That night at the big dinner you look around and for the first time in a long time you are really comfortable in a crowd. Everyone knows who you are in some way, you are: Punky’s daughter, Ruthie’s grand, Patti’s niece, Marnie and Princess’ cousin – your life is reduced to your relationship to every woman in the room who is older than you. People answer to the name Godfather or Godmother, those titles are taken seriously. Your mother has both of her godparents there, a comfort since her parents have passed on. All of her godchildren are there too.
The rest of the weekend will be spent drinking and playing and cooking and laughing and arguing, sleeping on the floor and being woken up at 3:30 in the morning by the baby. How many people are in the little two bedroom house- 14, 15, does it matter? You’ll walk with your cousins down to Dunkin Donuts in the morning and you’ll watch for Cape Verde in the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. You’ll stay up late into the night sitting in the backyard with your older cousins and talking about everything while you stare into the light of the fire you’ve each been tending for two days running now in the little chimney surrounded by chairs. The night before you leave your youngest cousin will fall asleep in your arms while the two of you are humming nonsense baby songs and dancing around the yard. When you finally get to sleep the next night, back in your bed far away from your family you will still feel the imprint of that soft warm head tucked under your chin. You will hum yourself to sleep.


As American as Apple Pie said...

What a beautiful and personal recap of your family reunion. Makes me wish for one of my own.

NoRegrets said...

That's so nice. So glad you had a wonderful healing time.

And I'll play cribbage with you any time.

WNG said...

It was something I didn't even know that I needed...

And NoR, I actually don't know how to play! My older cousins all do, but I've been too lazy to learn :(

Jay said...

The last thing that we did that was even close to a family reunion was my grandmother's 85 birthday 4 years ago. It's always nice to just spend time hanging out with family.

Hey! You need to go and sign in at It shows you as inactive and I want to make sure you can still sign in and all that stuff, okay?

NoRegrets said...

Well, girl, you'll have to learn. You get a couple games of beginner's luck and then you have to work for your wins.

Dianne said...

this made me cry. my family was like that when my Grandmother was alive and then again when I was 'head' so to speak.

It has drifted so much since then.

thanks for the reminder

your photos are wonderful - such beautiful faces.

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

That was an awesome recap. I have never really been away from my family longer than six months, and now I am starting to get a little homesick. Afraid I will soon forget all those things you just beautifully recounted.

But man doesn't family feel good, almost as good as Vodka!


Gye Greene said...


That was a really great post; like an article in some literary-type magazine. You should seriously consider expanding it just a touch, and submitting it to Parade magazine (or something). So "Americanna". :)

(Oh: and they pay you money, if they accept it.) :)

I'm always happy for folks that have close-knit extended families. One side of my family is pretty close (everyone lives in western WA). I'm not as close to the other side, for a number of reasons -- even though **they** live in town, too.

Glad you had a good time.


WNG said...

Wow guys - I didn't mean to make anyone cry, although I was bawling as I wrote it.

OG - the family/vodka COMBO was just insane, I mean, how much better can things actually get???

Gye - Maybe I'll send it in to someone... who knows?

Dianne - my cousin Lisa is the one who started this reunion because we hadn't had one in something like 16 years. She just started emailing people about a year ago and slowly pulling everyone together. If you miss them, you should do it.

NoR - I could trade you painting time for cribbage lessons and then I could beat the crap out of my cousins...not that it's all about winning ;)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

What a wonderful event and great pictures of a lovely and happy-looking family!

I had a mini-family reunion last weekend, too. They came together to honor my birthday in June, which meant that I managed to drag the birthday out for two months.

WNG said...

If you don't have at LEAST a month for your birthday you're just not doing it right!

I'v kind of gotten hooked on it now, Hearts, I'm already bugging people about meeting up at the beach in April (for my birthday, of course...)

Big Man said...

This sounds like an outstanding family reunion.

Wasn't your birthday in April? I just found out that the Lunatic family may have a new addition in April.

WNG said...

April 17th! Doesn't it just seem like fate that the new lunatic should be named after me? I'd love to have a namesake!

It was really great, Big Man - very special.

slag said...

Very sweet. I'm so glad your trip was refreshing after all.