Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Whole Fam-Damily

I went back to my hometown over the holidays, the first time I’ve done so in quite some time. The visit turned out be civil at all times, with occasional ventures into actual pleasantness. In the interest of replicating these circumstances in the future, I tried to analyze what made it such a relative success (pun intended).

Number One: Remember Who Your Real Family Is.  Before the family visit, there was a multi-day stop with a friend whose family situation is, um, complicated. We made our own holiday, without preconceptions, hidden requirements or unstated expectations. December 25 was declared “The Jewish Christmas.” It included a movie and Chinese food, and the whole day felt uncomplicated and happy. We were more a ragtag bunch of fellow earthlings than any group which felt the constraints of enforced togetherness and jollity. The unconventional fun helped steel me for the family of origin get-together that lay ahead.

Number Two: Five and 48.  What works for me is to visit no more frequently than every five years, with each visit not to exceed 48 hours. The relatives are just starting to remember who I am (what with the 60 months’ worth of additional wrinkles on my face) by the time I’m picking up my boarding pass at Lambert St. Louis International Airport to head back north. There’s no available time to remember the old grudges that are invariably unearthed when boredom sinks in and someone starts to tell “Remember the time” stories. The time my brother locked me in a closet and they didn’t find me for hours. The time I received a turkey butt as a supposedly hilarious Christmas present from the slyly sadistic side of the family (the other side verged closer to certifiable insanity). With my foolproof in-and-out-after-long-absence method, no one ever had time to remember any of those charming tidbits.

Number Three:  Make Time to Do Right.  In the course of my brief stay, I arranged a full morning to seek out and sit with the 87-year-old couple who were such good friends to me and my family when I was growing up. While somewhat bowed by age, health and circumstance, they are as beautiful, kind and caring as I remembered them to be. Seeing them reminded me that I did, indeed, have unconditional love in my childhood, just not always from the blood-relatives.

Number Four:  Have Some Fun, Dammit.  I made time to attend the 50th birthday party of a friend I get to see only about once a year. Although wary of a venture that would require me to stay up past 9 pm, I manned up and had a great time with people I hadn’t seen since I wore newscaster hair, Barbara Bush pearls, and floppy bow ties. It was well worth the effort.

Number Five :  The Great Leap Forward, Generationally Speaking.  Forget your peers; you already heard everything they have to say twenty-five years ago. Seek out their children and grandchildren, and you’ll be sore amazed. During the course of my visit, I giggled with a two-year-old great nephew, frolicked on the dance floor with adorable great nieces, and analyzed the intricacies of life in NY and LA with the twenty something set.  They were way more interesting than the lower back pain and mortgage talk of my age group.

Number Six:  Have an Agenda.  We attended a family wedding over the visit, and my eldest girl, who wants to live everywhere on the earth at once and speak every language known to humankind, found out that many of the attendees had studied abroad, spoke many languages and/or had married foreign nationals. She wanted to talk with all of them, and serving as her personal assistant for introductions and conversations (more like interrogations, but that’s Emma), helped me pleasantly pass the post-wedding cocktail party hours with ease. 

The most astonishing thing about the visit, to me, was that I not only survived, I had a little fun along the way.  In 2016, with a face even more wrinkly than the one I currently sport, I’ll be ready for another trip south.

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