Saturday, July 06, 2013

Family Ties

I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that I don’t hold any particularly strong affection for the place of my birth.
After all, there’s a reason – a lot of them, actually – that I no longer live in the UP.
If I didn’t have family there, I can’t think of a single reason why I would ever go back.  Certainly I’d never be driven by any sense of nostalgia or some kind of quest to reconnect with my youth or whatever, though that has more to do with the kind of person I am – one who’s not typically motivated by those kinds of things – and not so much with the place itself.
It’s not that I hate it there, or that I don’t have any good memories of my life there, but…it’s just a place.  A place I happened to live in for the majority of my life.
(For the record, it’s not like Northern Virginia is all that great either, though it certainly has some things going for it that, on balance, make it more appealing than the UP.)
In the times I’ve visited over the years several people have asked me when I’m moving back, as though doing so is a foregone conclusion.  “'’Never’ seems like a good time,” I typically say, finding myself greeted with a horrified look of shock and dismay, as this is taken as a personal affront.
I’ve insulted their home, and by extension I’ve insulted them, because they feel personally invested in the place in exactly the way that I don’t.  I understand that reaction intellectually, but I don’t really understand it on an emotional level.  A place is a place, and, for the most part, it’s only as good as what you make it, but some places give you a little more to work with than others.  The UP just doesn’t give me the raw materials I need to work with in order to make it a good place for me, and I’m never going to share that chauvinistic belief that there is something about the area that makes it inherently superior to others.  Does it have things going for it?  Of course.  It’s a beautiful area – when it’s not buried under snow – and I like how it stays light so much longer there on summer evenings, and in contrast to NoVA, the lack of traffic is almost heavenly.
But, as I’ve said many times before, while I call it “home,” it hasn’t been my home for a very long time, and honestly, it never really felt like it was.
So that’s my little preamble, and now I’ll talk about the few days I recently spent in my kinda-sorta home.
As I said, it’s really only family that brings me back to the UP, and in this case it was a new member of my family.  My niece Jourdan recently became a mother, and so it came to pass that she and her husband Andy made the voyage north from Arkansas to visit the family, which is what drew the rest of us in, as we were all eager to meet this new addition.
I’ve already written about my experience getting there, so let’s get to the details of my first day back in the UP.
After sleeping on a too-short couch – I managed to sleep only because I was so exhausted – it was time to begin the day, which involved having breakfast with my mom and my brother Brad.  (I do miss my mom’s French Toast, but it’s not something I can eat very often given the restrictions of my diet).  Later in the day, we headed out to Walmart for my brother to pick up a few things and for me to buy a wireless router for my mom so that she could make use of the new Windows RT tablet I bought for her.
Later that afternoon, my sister Kim arrived with Jourdan and the baby – Chole – so that my mom could take her “trick-or-treating” around the building to show off her great-granddaughter to all of her friends.
While displaying her to one particularly enraptured neighbor, my mom attempted to introduce my brother and I.  I said, “She doesn’t care; she’s got a baby to look at.”
And I can’t fault her at all – Chole is much more interesting to look at that either myself or my brother.
Later that evening, with my mom and brother in tow, we headed out for dinner before making our way to the casino.  Unfortunately, while the food my brother and I had – we got the same thing – was excellent, my mom’s didn’t sit well with her so she decided that she should call it a night and my brother and I dropped her off at home and headed on to the casino.
While there, my luck managed to be about typical, which is to say it was terrible.  I’m not that big on going to the casino in the first place, but I’m even less inclined to do so now, as I only like (inasmuch as I like anything there) to play standard slots, and those have become increasingly rare, replaced with the convoluted electronic games in which you play a thousand lines at a time and some crazy shit happens and you have to scratch your head to figure out what that crazy shit actually means.
The few standard slots that remain are difficult to get to, as they’re generally spoken for, but eventually as the night wore on I was able to score a spot at one of the machines I like.  It turned out to be worth the wait, as I ended up cashing out $350.
On the way home we came within inches of hitting a bear.  So that was neat.
Sunday was the official family get-together at Hancock Beach, and my sister Kristy, her husband Ken, my brother Stuart and my nephew Todd, and a foster child Kristy and Ken have taken in – whom I just learned about the day before – arrived and we set to eating a lot of food and sitting around talking.
It was the first time that all of has been together since before my dad died.
When we first arrived at the beach, I spent some time talking to Andy and Jourdan before going into the pavilion to greet the others.  There was some odd little man I didn’t recognize sitting next to my sister, and, seeing the Monster Absolute Zero in my hand, without any sort of greeting he said to me, “Those are bad for you.”
Thinking, “Who the fuck are you?” I shrugged and said, “I do a lot of things that are bad for me.”
”I don’t drink pop at all,” he said, and it was clear that there was something….off about him.  “Just water.”
”Oh,” I said, as if this were somehow worth knowing.  “Okay.”
I looked to my sister in confusion, and she said, “A straggler.”  I had assumed that someone there – family included my brother-in-laws family and a friend of my sister’s and her daughter – knew him and had invited him, but he was, apparently, just a crasher who was at the beach and decided that he’d join in.  He went on to inform several other people about his new “water only” policy, but as the time came for us to actually start eating, my brother-in-law gave him the boot.
That evening we were all too tired and bloated to do much of anything.
On Monday my brother got a visitor, as someone he went to high school with lives in our mom’s building.  I’ll say that this was…entertaining and leave it at that.
That evening we headed over to Kim’s to visit and a friend of my mom’s stopped by to see the baby.
I was up early Tuesday morning to bring my brother to the airport.  I had originally intended to leave the same day, but clicked the wrong date when I booked my flight.  (I had wanted to avoid the worst of the 4th of July travel, but my previous post tells you how well that worked out.)
On Tuesday I bought a book to read on my flight back and my mom and I had lunch, and then I spent the evening visiting at Kim’s.  We had intended to see a movie that night, but the only thing I wanted to see was too late for Kim, and Dean ended up getting a migraine anyway.
And that more or less brings us up to date.
The highlight of the trip was, of course, getting to see Chloe, but it was nice to see everyone, and, again, it’s only the people that can get me to go back to the UP in the first place (and to put up with the travel nightmares that invariably plague me when I do so).
It’s still strange to think that my sister is a grandmother, but it’s clear that it’s a role she loves.
My niece Jenni is heading to Arkansas with her sister for the summer to help out with the baby while Jourdan goes back to work.  I slipped her a fifty from my winnings for her trip.
And now I’m back here, settling into my routine, and trying to find the raw materials to work with in order to make this place that is now my home into a good place.

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