Sunday, June 9, 2013
Tonight when I was sitting at the kitchen table in my parents’ home in Raleigh, Dad walked in the kitchen door, a scenario we often played out when I was growing up. As then, he didn’t say hello. Instead, he belted out, “Shut up, Fool! I know what I’m doing.”
Ironically, he had missed this question on the Jeopardy game that Sister Jen had created for their fiftieth wedding anniversary last night. The answer was, “______ _____, ___________! I know what I’m doing,” so the correct question would have been, “What is ‘Shut up, Fool’” but Dad remembers obscure dates of Napoleonic history better than he’s aware of what he says every day, so he missed the question.
Many other of Dad’s common phrases were in the Jeopardy game, too: What is “It isn’t raining rain to me; it’s raining daffodils”? and What is “What a curious thing a terrapin are”? and What is “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am”?
My dad appreciates repetition. He has a poetic sensibility, as many Southerners do. We like words and poems and stories, especially tall tales. We like the way our words and stories, accents and histories bring us together as family.
Last night, we celebrated my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary with lots of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, and a fair number of people who have married into the family.
My soon-to-be Uncle Max was there with his bride-to-be, my Auntie Susie. When I said to Max, “Welcome to the mad-house!” he replied, “I’ve been inducted already. I went to the beach with the Matthews sisters.” (I knew their spouses went, too, but we both understood that it’s the sisters with their high-pitched camaraderie who make up the mad-house.)
There was a lot of laughter all night, and we were laughing again when most folks showed up for breakfast at the house this morning. (God bless Kimbo and Holly, mom’s friends who hosted.)
Mom’s sister Mary Ann, the Matthews family storyteller, was in rare form as she described whom she wants to see when her time to go to heaven comes. (There seemed to be no question about her destination.)
“The first person I want to see in heaven is…well, I should see Jesus first, but then I want to see Abe Lincoln. Then Mama and Daddy and Anna Lee.”
When someone asked, “What about your husband, Tommy?” she said, “Oh, if he’s there already (not a question of place but of time), then I want to see Tommy before I see Mama and Daddy and Anna Lee, but I want to see Jesus and Abe Lincoln first. Then Tommy. I’ve been waiting a lot longer to see Jesus and Abe.”
Susan interrupted this flow to show everyone the pictures of leopard-print wedding gowns that Cousin Lori sent her last night. Susan teases (I think) that she’ll wear a leopard-print wedding dress when she and Max marry this fall. She seemed to like the idea of getting her face painted, too—especially that cool damp black nose. (Max says he’ll wear overalls, but it’s clearer that he’s teasing.)
This extended family is a funny group, and they’ve taught me that love of family comes before everything except love of God, but really this family love is part of God love. (no, that’s not a typo. I mean God love, not God’s love. It’s a question of quality, not of ownership.)
I’m not sure what they all thought when I came out as a lesbian two decades ago, but they’ve been consistently loving to my partner Ann and me. We could have been outsiders, and I thought we might be in this largely Southern Baptist crowd, but not in this family.
There are others there last night who might have felt like outsiders, too, but I hope they felt how included they are. I hadn’t seen my cousin Dean in maybe 15 years, and he was there with his wife Stephanie, whom I’d never met. I was glad to see them. I hadn't seen my Aunt Lorraine since her husband, my Uncle Tommy (There are two uncle Tommys and one Uncle Tom) passed. She looked just the same. That's amazing. I hadn’t seen my cousins Carrie and Sam—both young adults a generation younger than I am—since they needed baby-sitters, and they are taller than I am now (though Carrie’s four inch heels give her an extra boost.) Like our family and my Auntie Myra and cousins on my Dad's side of the family, they’re a bit more subdued than the Matthews sisters, but then most everyone is. It’s been ages since I’d seen Cousin Lori and her husband Rick, too, though Cousin Lori and I are close in age (she’s three and a half months older than I am, a fact that she reminded me of when we were younger and that I remind her of now that we’ve reached middle age.)
This extended family could divide along lots of lines: political parties and philosophies, regions and religion, health care practices, lifestyles, and so forth. But we don’t divide. We gathered in our differences to mark this moment in time, to celebrate my parents’ long marriage and our long-term commitment to family.
We celebrated my parents and this family where everyone’s wacky in their own ways. Where each of us (even Dad) recognizes our imperfections and forgives our relatives as we would have them forgive us—not in some high-fallootin’ ethereal forgiveness, but just in a “hey we’re family and we’re amusing and we’re here together” way.
Thanks, family...every one of you. It was a blast.