On Family, Part One

Yes, I realize this is the second post in a row that includes a “part one.” I recognize that at some point, you will need a part two, and I will work on it.

The follow is transcribed from my tattered black spiral notebook, the one I take with me when I travel, in case inspiration strikes. Or, in case it knocks me flat on my ass.

From Friday evening, July 11, 2014:

A few hundred yards away from me, nearly fifty members of my family are gathered in a room to celebrate just that: being members of a family. Or rather, being members of this family.

We are children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Many of us descended from four Norwegian brothers. Only one still walks this earth; the others echo in our steps as we walk the grass and gravel in this beautiful place without them. Oh, but they’re still here. Their faces are reflected in their children’s smiles and their stories are told, over and over again. As long as we’re here, they won’t be far away. Their laughter will ring as loud as it ever did before, as long as we still draw breath and find joy in their memory.

After tonight’s dinner, a predictably wonderful feast prepared by gifted and practiced hands, I wandered to a table holding pictures, family trees, and keepsakes of the ones who came before us. A particular photo of my grandpa took my breath away, just for a moment. He must have been about sixty, smiling as broadly as ever in front of the Mendenhall glacier, with the twinkle in his eye that was so characteristic of my sweet Papa Art.

It struck me that this was the face of his I’ll always remember, the one I still see whenever I think of him. Not the frail body in the hospital bed, but the sturdy and stubborn and smart-as-a-whip Norwegian standing by that icy lake.

That’s how I remember him–so how could it be so long ago? They say life will pass you by in an instant if you’re not paying attention–But really, I think I’m paying awfully close attention, and it’s been wholly ineffective in slowing the passage of time.

For a moment, I turned pages of albums and allowed the grief, the missing  to wash over me. I know, I said they’re still here. But I wanted to hear his voice. I wanted him to tell me how he thought the Seahawks will play this year (though, let’s tell it like it is…they’ll dominate.) I wanted his advice on my career and his thoughts on marriage. I wanted a hug, and to smell the scotch on his breath when he kissed my cheek. I wanted him back.

So I walked from that room, to wrestle alone for a minute with the knowledge that while one life is so small, it is at the same time so mysteriously and wonderfully BIG. I found a blue-painted picnic table and here I sit, wondering.

When I was a kid and grandpa would tell me about his history, my history, it always made me feel like I was a part of something big, something special. And on this picnic table with the golden-hour sun shimmering on Puget Sound in front me and the voices of these people, my people behind me, I get it. I am a part of something big. Something special. I’ve lived enough to know that not everyone counts down the days until their family reunion. Most families don’t count each other as friends, let alone best friends. Most families don’t drunk dial or text each other. But we do, and it’s awesome.

Something big, and something special…indeed.

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