Old Pictures, New Pictures, Glimpses of Our Lives

In our foyer, above the front door, there’s a decorative collage frame full of photos. Surrounding the photo frames are words like live, laugh, love and family. And until just now, it held a couple of photos that were long overdue for replacing, considering events of last year and people who have stepped out of our lives. While those people might always have a little spot in my heart, they no longer hold a place our family’s photo frame about love and family.

Luckily, this particular piece of decor is so familiar to those of us who live here that we rarely notice it or give the photos much thought any longer. Occasionally, I’ll glance above the door and really see those pictures. I wonder if the fact that they haven’t been replaced means that deep down, I’m having trouble letting go. A little wave of sadness sweeps over me sometimes when I look at them and I ask myself what I’m waiting for. And every once in a while, someone will ask if I’m planning to swap out two particular pictures anytime soon. I guess it’s just one of those things that I keep meaning to do, but never quite get around to. Changing them requires just enough effort that the task keeps falling to the wayside.

Brad came home for a visit this weekend. On Friday night, he casually mentioned that he’d taken a girl out for drinks recently… and that he planned to ask her out again. While my heart did cartwheels of happiness  at the realization that he’s picked himself up and is most surely moving on from a broken relationship, I tried to act casual and not ask too many questions. But the conversation reminded me once again that there were pictures that didn’t belong on our walls.

Technology is a beautiful thing sometimes. While Mark and Brad were off running a couple of errands yesterday, I opened my laptop and browsed through picture folders, picking out the ones I wanted to frame. I uploaded them to the Target photo website and received confirmation before my boys were even back home again that my prints were ready for pick-up at my local store around the corner.

I had taken the opportunity to find and print recent pictures, ones that will remind my kids of happier moments than the photos that were being replaced. There were some of Brad from recent fishing trips, looking like a champ holding trophy-worthy catches.

And there was a great picture of Kacey with her cousin and my mom. I don’t have enough recent pictures of my mom looking as happy as she does in the picture from this past Christmas. And the smile on my daughter’s face tells me that she is just fine, right here at this place in her life today. A particular door closed for her last year too, but her face shows the certainty that her life’s road holds good things ahead.

002And as long as I was printing pictures to display around the house, I took the chance to print a few oldies too. After my father-in-law’s funeral in December, one of Mark’s siblings scanned all of the photos that had been collected and displayed at his wake. A CD of the scans was burned for each sibling to keep. What an amazing gift! I’d never seen most of these pictures because, as I’d long ago learned, most of my in-laws’ old family photos were on slides. There were never any on display around their home. I’d never seen the slides, so the photos that surfaced when Bob passed provided a window to a past to which I’d never before been privy. The story of Bob’s life came alive through the pictures displayed in memory of him. And I was fascinated to learn another side of this man, one that I’d never known before.

Mark’s parents’ wedding photo, showing a young, beautiful, hopeful couple is now displayed alongside those of my own parents and grandparents in our living room. And there are some military photos of my father-in-law from when he served in France during the Korean War. One was a formal portrait of Bob in full uniform. Another was more casual, but so handsome. Bob didn’t trust the internet, but I think he would forgive me for displaying just one old photo of him here. Everyone who saw this picture at the wake agreed he looked rather “Hollywood” in it. I can’t resist sharing.

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And then there was that one snapshot of Brad and his grandpa, taken when Brad was just a baby. I’m not sure who took the picture or contributed it to the collection for the wake. I don’t recall it being in any of my photo albums. It’s one of those poorly framed shots with a messy background, the kind that until just recently, I may have dismissed and tossed in a storage box, deeming it unworthy of framing. But when Brad saw it, he decided he had to have a copy of it. My father-in-law wasn’t much for posing and smiling in photos. Many of the pictures we found were taken spontaneously, where someone was lucky to catch a glimpse of Bob laughing or smiling. This particular picture caught him in a rare moment of playfulness with my son, with Mark driving the riding mower, and Bob riding with Brad in the trailer behind it. It’s one of those moments we probably thought little of at the time, but now seems so precious. I printed it for Brad and picked up a frame so he could display it in his own home.

scan0081 with BradI’m relieved and happy to have finally refreshed the photos in the house. The sad memories will be tucked away.  They’ve been replaced with happier visions of the past and present, showing where we come from, and what’s really important. And the common thread, we’ll be reminded, is love.

Life in 2014

Tonight, the year 2014 comes to a close. And like so many others, today finds me looking back, contemplating the events of the past twelve months. I wouldn’t choose to do it all over again, that’s for certain. But I’m grateful for the lessons I learned and the opportunities I’ve had to grow.

On Christmas night, after spending the day with Mark’s family at his brother’s house, half of my family drove home in one vehicle, (Mark had arrived late after working his shift,) while I rode in another with Brad. We were talking about the day, how it had gone on in spite of the recent passing of his grandfather, my father-in-law, Bob. We agreed that Christmas didn’t feel quite right and things were definitely quieter than usual among my husband’s very large family. There had been some tears, but also some great memories shared.

Brad commented that it had been a tough year. I agreed. Neither one of us needed to say any more. I know we were both thinking not only about death, but of relationships that had come to an end. Several loved ones had gone from our lives this past year, some by choice, one because his time here had come to an end. I told Brad that as difficult as some of our experiences had been, I knew they’d made each of us stronger in our own way. I said that he might not believe it today, but somewhere down the road, he will look at his life and think how great it is. And he’ll look back on his darker days and realize that were it not for them, he couldn’t fully appreciate the good in his life.

This week, we laid my father-in-law to rest. His wake on Sunday night was well-attended. We barely sat, stopped talking or hugging visitors for the entire four-hour visitation. The number of people coming to pay their respects was a testament to what a well-loved guy he was. The funeral on Monday was beautiful, with each of Bob’s sixteen grandchildren taking part in the mass as pallbearers, readers, musicians, altar servers and gift bearers. As the mass came to a close, the priest commented as to how impressive it was to see a family so involved in the funeral celebration. Not everyone is so fortunate to be so celebrated.

After mass, there was a funeral luncheon and then we drove in the funeral procession to the cemetery. Everyone later commented on the sign that we figured Bob had sent to us – a bald eagle swooped down from the sky and flew over the line of cars. Bob was a lover of the outdoors and nature. The eagle was surely his way of getting our attention and making us see the miracles in the experiences of the past few weeks as we watched his slow departure from this world. It was a sunny day, but the air was frigid. Upon our arrival at the cemetery, we huddled together at the gravesite, first watching the military funeral honors, and then hearing the final prayers as Bob was laid to rest. There was no shortage of tears.

Later, we all gathered at my father and mother-in-law’s home. We opened sympathy cards, collected money and wrote bank deposits for all the money given in memoriam. We divided responsibilities for the writing of thank you cards, and then together, we ate leftovers from the funeral luncheon. Ties were loosened and shoes were kicked off. A card game went on at the kitchen table while the great-grandchildren pulled toys out of the closet in the den. Three-year old Mitch pulled me by the hand to come race Matchbox cars with him. I willingly agreed. He stopped just before releasing his car at the top of the curving, roller coaster-like track that one of the older kids had pieced together. Mitch clutched his car against his chest for a moment and turned to me saying, “I love you Auntie Terri!”

My heart swelled as I realized just how lucky I am, to be where I am in this world, to be part of a family I don’t often enough stop to appreciate. “I love you too, Buddy,” I said. “You’re my best friend,” he added. (I’ve got to hang around little ones more often! They’re so good for the ego!)

Later, as I sat in the crowded family room amongst so much of the family, I looked upon the Christmas tree that had gone uncelebrated this year. I looked around at all of us, milling around the house, talking, laughing, playing, arguing … and it felt for a moment like so many Christmases that had gone by. Except I quickly remembered it wasn’t Christmas we were celebrating, and one very important person was now missing. I thought back just a few short years ago, when we all gathered, every year in this house to celebrate Christmas Day. I remembered how often I had wished for less chaos, more quiet, and maybe the chance to just stay home instead of rushing, dressing up and playing nice, making food for a feast and feeling exhausted by day’s end. And I realized I had sometimes wished away the very thing I was now missing so much.

There was much hugging that evening. There were still some heated words – due in part to exhaustion and grief, I’m sure and if I’m honest, because that is just sometimes the personality of this family. Even death won’t put a stop to it. But I have a feeling that strong emotions and personalities won’t freak me out so much anymore. I had a heart-to-heart with my younger brother-in-law, whom I’d been feeling at odds with for a while. And it resulted in understanding and forgiveness (and more hugging.) And before my little family went home for the day, I hugged every one of my in-laws. As I said goodbye, I told each one of them that I loved them. Yep, even the sister-in-law I’m not always so sure even likes me. And there were tears in her eyes as she hugged me right back. And believe me, that is not something I would ever have done before. It would have felt beyond weird. But that day, the words just came out of my mouth without a care and the hugs just happened before I could really think about them. Because if I learned one thing from my father-in-law’s passing from this world, it’s that people aren’t perfect and never will be. We’re going to hurt each other time and again, and we’ll find time too, to be happy with each other. And the time to let people know that they are important to me is now, while we’re still here.

The events of this year have opened my eyes to the fact that life and people aren’t perfect. They never will be. It’s how we were designed. And that’s okay. I haven’t taken many photos at family gatherings in recent years. I realized this while sorting through my collection, looking for pictures of my father-in-law for his wake and finding few from recent years. At some point, I decided that too many of my photos just look chaotic, out of focus, destined never to be displayed in a photo frame for anyone to see. Or maybe I’ve been out of sync with some family member and refused to take photos out of spite, not wanting to remember those hurt feelings. This year made me realize that the chaos and feelings both good and bad, are what it’s all about. Everything seems to soften with time anyway, and like I told Brad, the dark moments tend to make the good ones that much sweeter. Those posed, perfect photos aren’t what’s real anyway. Between Kacey and me, we managed to snap a few photos this Christmas. They’re far from perfect, but somehow, they’re perfect.

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I’m grateful for all that has transpired in 2014, and I’m looking forward to whatever 2015 holds for me.

Changes

Until the past few days, it’s been a relatively warm fall. But this morning, as I was out driving around, I really felt the shift in seasons. I had the heat on in the car. I noticed other vehicles that obviously hadn’t spent the freezing night in a garage. Windshields bore scraper tracks and still held remnants of the overnight frost. I passed a runner in long pants and long sleeves, with gloves and a headband to cover her ears. I saw a man on a riding mower in his front yard, mulching leaves, bundled up in a heavy, red and black plaid flannel shirt, a knit hat on his head.

But it’s not just the weather that’s changed. Another of my kids’ lives has taken an unexpected turn and I’ve been worried.

Kacey spent last weekend here at home. On Sunday evening, she drove back to school while I went off to see a concert with my sister and niece. After the concert, as we were just pulling into my sister’s driveway, my phone rang. It was Kacey.

“So… guess what,” she said in a slow, sort of flat voice.

“What?” I asked, hesitantly.

“Connor and I broke up.”

No! I didn’t know what to say and I felt just awful. We’d only recently learned what it’s like to watch one of our kids suffer a broken heart, and I wasn’t ready to see it happen again. I asked her if she wanted me to come be with her, but she insisted I stay home. “I promise, I’ll be okay,” she said, sounding a little shaky.

Four years they’d been dating, since their senior year of high school. They’d come through so much together, in particular, the death of Connor’s mom. I think that brought them closer than most kids their age would otherwise have been. And maybe because of that too, Connor was like one of our own. He spent endless days hanging around at our house. A few nights too. He’s been a part of our family celebrations and vacations. He ate countless meals here and was comfortable enough to help himself to snacks and drinks. He is in bunches of our pictures. Kacey so often referred to him as her best friend. And so many times, he’d make reference to “when Kace and I get married.”

When. Not if. As young as they still are, (they’re only twenty-one,) I guess I’d sort of come to think too that it would eventually be true.

I couldn’t sleep Sunday night and didn’t do much better Monday night. I kept imagining the worst, my daughter unable to smile, crying. She didn’t seem to want to talk, so I texted her frequently in the following days just to check on her. She’d respond, but not surprisingly, her words were much fewer than usual. I asked her to come home again for the weekend and she first said she was thinking about it, then later confirmed she was definitely coming home. I planned to spoil her rotten, try to help her start healing from the hurt. I bought a couple of fun movies to watch and stocked up on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Kacey’s last class of the week is on Thursday mornings. She planned to drive back after that class and would be home when I got back from work. Thursday felt like the longest day in the world to me. I just wanted to come home and take care of my daughter. When I finally got here, she and Mark were in the kitchen, having just returned from picking up Chinese food for dinner. Kacey was talking and laughing with her dad and I experienced such an immense feeling of relief. Laughter! I hadn’t imagined she’d be capable of laughter. Still, I went straight to her and wrapped my arms around her. She hugged me back tightly, and laughed again, assuring me, “Mom! I told you I’d be okay. I’m fine, really.”

“Yeah, she’s fine,” Mark agreed absently as he unpacked the cartons of food from a plastic bag.

I looked from Mark to Kacey and asked her if it was true. “Are you? Are you really okay?”

“Yeah,” she said! “I mean, I’m gonna be a little sad for a while, but this wasn’t really a surprise to me, or anyone else.”

“It wasn’t?”

“No,” she said. “Connor and I have been in different places in our lives for a while now. Maybe  somewhere down the road when we’ve both grown up a little more, our paths will cross again. But right now, this is probably what’s best. He was the one who made the decision to break up, but I didn’t exactly fight him on it.”

Um. Okay. I hadn’t even considered my daughter would be in such a healthy place.

“So…,” I said. “You’re really okay? I mean, you sound so much better than I thought you’d be about this. So, are you going to date other people eventually?”

“Not for a while, ” she said. “But, I mean, yeah, of course.”

I felt like such a weight had been lifted! I thought my baby girl would be beyond consolation and here she was doing the best thing I could hope she would do in a situation like this. Clearly she’s got a great sense of self. She knows who she is as an individual. And her self-worth isn’t tied to her being one half of a couple.

All week long I’d been praying for her, for comfort, for strength, for healing. And now, all I could do was pray, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

We were laying on the living room floor Thursday night after dinner, she and I, watching one of the new movies. I couldn’t help but keep looking over at her and checking to be sure she really was okay. Finally, she caught on.

“What?” she laughed at me.

“I’m just so proud of you.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re being mature, and handling this with such grace.”

“Don’t get all weepy on me now, Mom,” she laughed.

“Can’t help it,” I said, wiping a tear that had escaped.

She is just everything I could ever have hoped for in one of my kids. She’s doing it all so much better than I ever did. She has an amazing ability to embrace life, have fun, know what’s important, and still not take things too seriously all the time. Sometimes I wonder where she came from. She certainly didn’t get this stuff from me – someone who has been as dysfunctional as I’ve been in the course of my life at times. I guess that’s what we all want as parents, though. To see our kids manage at least a little bit better than we did.

All I know is that I’m so very grateful – that she’s okay – and that she’s my daughter. She is such a gift to me!

And life will go on. Seems like she already knew that.

Weathering the Winter

I’m starting out by commenting on the weather. AGAIN.

This winter just seems to drag on, an endless cycle of cold and more cold. It gets to me. I wish it weren’t so, but I seem to be one of the many who are seasonally affected. I made a promise to myself to do everything possible to fight off the doldrums this winter and I’m doing okay with it. I’ve given in to the allure of hibernation a morning or two. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mopey and cranky now and then.  Old habits die hard, but I’m working hard to keep trying to change them.

breakfast cupsHaving a house full of family helps. Last weekend, all of the kids were here and we enjoyed the usual stuff – playing with the dogs, watching movies, eating food that’s so good, even if it wasn’t good for us! I tried out a new breakfast recipe while they were here and it was a hit! Eggs, sausage, cheese and hash browns – all in one. Yum!

Agg2There are lots of other ways to brighten the gray days, for instance, seeing a face I don’t often get to see in person. I had the pleasure of a visit from Agg last week! Agg’s work brings him to my vicinity now and then, so this is actually the second time we got to connect. Mark and I had a nice meal with him at a local place and we got to spend a couple of hours talking about work, football, kids, family, Agg’s travels and the winter Olympics. We had a great time!

And we booked a winter vacation to Florida. Mark and I have never taken a winter vacation in all the years we’ve been married. When the kids were younger, there was just never enough time or money. This year, we finally realized we were in a position to go somewhere warmer than here. Florida, here we come! It sure helps to have a change of temperature and scenery to look forward to.

It’s impossible though, to fill every day with big, exciting events to keep the blues at bay so I’m trying to remember to focus on the  little things that make a difference. Kacey signed us up for a color run in July, so I’ve got motivation to try to resurrect the runner in me, who was never a great runner to begin with. Maybe having a goal like the color run will help me improve.

I’m doing yoga a couple of times a week, as soon as I wake up. It makes both my body and mind feel good.

I have bowling with the girls every week and with other couples every other Saturday – always a fun time, even when my game isn’t up to par.

I’m also trying to remember to just live more. A friend posted an article on Facebook – 22 Habits of Unhappy People. I recognized a few of my own tendencies. One of them is not following through on the things I say I want to do or plan to do (using my camera, volunteering.) Another unhealthy habit was labeled loneliness. I don’t generally tend to feel overwhelmingly lonely, but because of the design of my life and my husband’s job, there are a lot of days, nights and weekends when I’m alone. I often appreciate the time I have to myself. It’s a good time to think, write, read or catch up on chores that need doing. But I also might sit alone in front of the television when I could instead connect with a friend or family member. I tend to find it easier to just stay home in the quiet rather than go to the effort of reaching out to a friend and planning something social. But when I go to the effort, I’m never sorry. I have to remember that interacting with others always lifts my spirits. And that lift seems to stick with me long after we’ve parted ways.

This weekend, I invited friends to come over and play cards after Mark came home from work Saturday evening. It wasn’t a late night, but we all had fun and lots of laughs. I’m cooking with real effort this weekend- an all day beef broth-making, soup-simmering affair. I’m rarely at a loss for words on this blog, but for some reason, tend to hang in the background when it comes to Facebook. I always appreciate those who post Facebook updates that are inspiring, funny or just invite conversation. I stepped outside my box this morning and posted something simple about myself and what I was doing today. I was rewarded with comments and conversation from girlfriends near and far. I need to do that more often! I’m going to go do some things for my parents today, take my dad shopping, and get out of the house for a while, even if it is still cold and more snow is on the way.

The winter days will pass, more quickly than it feels at the moment. Warmer days are coming. Life is good.

Life is Good – December 18, 2011

Everyone wishes their lives were all shiny and perfect. No one really has a life like that though. Not one hundred percent of the time.

Here in these pages, I can write whatever I like. I try to keep it upbeat. Probably makes it look like things are pretty darn nice around here. And they are, most of the time. I can’t complain. But we have our share of imperfections. Today was one of those days that heartily reminded us of our imperfections.

It’s funny how the people in a family can be very like one another, and in other ways, very different. Sometimes different equals difficult. Sometimes different means hard to understand. Come to think of it, sometimes our similarities make us butt heads! (As in we butt heads with each other, not we are butt-heads. Then again, maybe both are true!)

I try to be patient with what I don’t understand. I try to be open. I hope that my kids know they can rely on me, even if they don’t want to talk to me. As a mom, it’s hard when your kids don’t let you inside. But I hope they always know that I love them, even when I am unhappy with them.

When I feel closed out, I try to rise above it. I try to keep being a mother who is able to show her kids that she loves them, no matter what, no matter their successes or their failures, no matter their similarities or their differences. No matter how they feel about themselves or about the rest of their family members, I hope they always know that I love them. But I think I have the right to speak up when someone falls short of being respectful of others. I have the right to say so when someone doesn’t carry their weight around the house. And I think I have the right to say so without feeling disregarded.

Understandably, telling someone else that they are falling short isn’t going to be met with enthusiasm. I get that. But sometimes there are issues that just need to be addressed.

I lost my cool today. I’m not proud of myself when that happens. Sometimes it just can’t be helped. But me losing my cool resulted in others losing their cool. Big time. All I could think about was the fact that we are one week from Christmas and we were having ourselves a rip-roaring, three-way screaming match. Great. Just great. And it doesn’t feel good when you’ve let it all out that way. It just feels like failure. The silence and the walking on eggshells afterward is proof of that failure.

It’s my way to crawl inside my shell after something like this. I need to stay to myself for a while when I feel slammed this way. We’ll all sleep on it and we’ll test the waters with each other in the coming days and hopefully we’ll remember that we are a family with our own unique ups and downs and that when it’s all said and done, we love one another. I hope we can all remember that.

So yeah. Days like this suck. But days like this are bound to happen. And as hard as it is to admit it right now, this was just one day in the broad scheme of days. This is our life. Not all wonderful and perfect, but still … a pretty good life.

I’ll just be happy to put this one behind us.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day already. Where has the year gone?

I hung out in my kitchen last night, an activity I find myself enjoying immensely more than ever before. Maybe it’s an age thing.

First thing after I came home from work, I had boxes to unpack. I had a Pampered Chef party a couple of weeks ago. (For those not in the know, this is one of those home party businesses that sells kitchen products.) The merchandise arrived yesterday and Kacey, who is home for the holiday weekend, helped me separate and sort all of that fun kitchen stuff. We bagged up the orders for the guests first, and then gathered up all of my stuff. The beauty of hosting one of these shows in your home, is that as the hostess, you earn free and discounted products based on the amount of purchases made by the guests. And I did quite well. My kitchenware has been nicely refreshed just in time for the big cooking and baking season. (de-I, you will be pleased to know that I now own a set of stainless steel mixing bowls!)

After a quick dinner, I set out to prepare some things for Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s home today. I made a cream cheese filled pumpkin roll for dessert and a snack mix to keep the hungry guests at bay until dinner is ready to be served.

In between all of this activity, I spoke with my sister, who called in a panic. It seems the requisite episode of family dysfunction had occurred in the form of a phone call with one of the brothers. Hearing her side of the story, it seemed he was upset over nothing. I’m guessing some kind of stress – work, family, life, who knows – prompted his complaints. Who ever knows why some people feel the need to stir the pot. Regardless, my sister was worried there might be a dark cloud over Thanksgiving. I told her I was sure our brother just needed to blow off some steam and she was the unlucky recipient. I said Thanksgiving would be fine, and even if it didn’t happen exactly as planned, we’d be okay.

Sigh! Why does this stuff have to happen within families? It’s tempting to let it sour my attitude about the holidays and family functions, but one nice thing about getting older is coming to the realization that no family is the picture perfect family. Everyone has their issues and no one is immune to conflict.

I just read a wonderful book called An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski. It is the true story of an unusual friendship that is formed between a successful, single woman, Laura Schroff and an 11 year-old panhandler, Maurice. Maurice lives in a world of drugs, violence and poverty. One day while begging for change on the street, he asks Laura for some change. She passes him by at first, as if she hadn’t seen or heard him. But for reasons unknown, she comes back to him and offers to buy him lunch at McDonald’s. It was the beginning of a lasting connection that enriched and benefited both of their lives for years to come.

Understandably, the book describes many instances of what is wrong with this world, with people and among families. Near the end of the book, I read this passage:

We all want relationships that are healthy and resolved, and sometimes that simply doesn’t happen. But the beauty of life is that inside these disappointments are hidden the most miraculous of blessings. What we lose and what might have been pales against what we have.

Those words struck a chord with me. Over all the years of my life, how often have I wished for something better or easier or more carefree within my relationships? How many years have been spent expecting things to miraculously change, only to find disappointment time after time? It rarely occurred to me to consciously be grateful for what is. And yet, somewhere, underneath it all, I can see that I am thankful for what is, even if I didn’t know it. Despite the flaws within my family, I wouldn’t wish for any other family. Given the chance, I would never go back and change the people who were predestined to be my parents, my siblings, my aunts, uncles and cousins. In spite of all of our quirks, I know, this is right where I belong.

This morning as I began preparing stuffing and thinking about when the “back-up” turkey needs to go in the oven, I realized something. I don’t love the occasional fighting and bickering that happens. But I do love my family’s silly nature. I love the way we reminisce about the past and find things to laugh about together. So maybe I don’t love the fact that my brother once wore a favorite radio station t-shirt on Christmas that stated across the back, I have to poop. That may have been a little much! But I love the goofy banter that takes place at family gatherings. I love the chaos and the noise and everything that makes us unique. And I am thankful that in spite of all of our imperfection, we have abundance.

Dear family, I love you … even though you can’t all possibly hope to be as perfect as me! ;-)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Family Ties

My cousin Chris must be … I don’t know … ten or twelve … maybe more years older than me. One of my earliest memories of Chris is from when I was just shy of four years old.

We lived in a two-bedroom rambler in a neighborhood full of similar homes and young families. My parents had given up the master bedroom in order to give enough space to their three kids who had to share a bedroom in that tiny house. I never felt the house was so small back in those days, though.

In August of that year, our family was about to grow by one. Chris came to stay with us kids while my mom and dad were at the hospital. I remember crying because Chris was trying to make me eat peas at dinnertime and I didn’t like them. And I remember the house feeling strangely empty during those days my mom was away. But soon enough she was back with my baby brother. Our lives returned to normal – a new normal – but normal never the less, and Chris went back home again.

It wasn’t too many years later and Chris was back with us again, this time for an extended stay. My parents had finished the basement by then and my sister, two years older, and I shared a bedroom down there while my brothers were moved to the small bedroom upstairs. My parents had taken back the master bedroom. Chris was a mystery to me back then. She was a young adult while I was still a young child. And she was one of the cousins who lived in the country in Wisconsin. Her family’s farm really wasn’t all that far away from our city neighborhood, only a forty minute drive or so across the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. But when you’re young, such a distance seems a million miles.

Our newly finished basement contained a playroom next to mine and my sister’s bedroom. One weekend, my parents began to clean out the toys and paint the walls. A new hanging light fixture was installed; very seventies as I recall, with an orange-yellow globe and a bronze chain covering the electrical cord that plugged into the wall outlet. They explained that the playroom was being converted to a bedroom for Chris.

I didn’t question why Chris was coming to live with us. I was a kid and at that age, I just blindly accepted anything that happened as normal. It didn’t occur to me that other kids I knew didn’t have cousins living with them. I vaguely remember some kind of explanation about Chris needing to live closer to the job she’d just gotten in the city and now our family was a little bit bigger.

There isn’t much I remember about the time when Chris lived with us, other than the fact that we kids got on her nerves now and then, and understandably so. In such a small house, the four of us probably seemed like swarming bees at times. And I do remember when Bill started coming around.

Bill was a big bear of a guy and even at my young age, I remember realizing how very handsome he was. Everyone loved Bill. Chris did. My parents did. And we kids sure did. Bill was a big kid himself and he played silly games with us, gave us piggy back rides and made us giggle until we cried.

It wasn’t long before Chris and Bill were married and had an apartment of their own not far from where we lived. I remember Chris taking my sister and me to her apartment for dinner. I thought she did this so that we could play with Bill. She was probably just giving my mom a break from her child rearing duties!

Eventually, Chris and Bill moved back to Wisconsin, close to my aunt and uncle, Chris’ parents. Chris had babies of her own. Jamie and Brent were born in close succession and a few years later came Benjamin. I didn’t see much of Chris after that. Big family gatherings of aunts, uncles and cousins happened a couple of times a year, but as things go, it was never possible for every family member to attend. Chris had Bill’s family now too and she would often be absent from the holiday gatherings I attended. As I grew older myself, I kept up with Chris only through the things my mom or my aunt told me about Chris’ life. Everyone’s life has its tangles and Chris had her share. Bill eventually went his own way. I never saw him again. And Chris was on her own now, taking care of her kids. I saw pictures of her children but since I saw them on so few occasions, they grew up barely knowing who I was. And considering the age difference, Chris and I never were or ever became close.

About two years ago, Mark and I attended a birthday celebration for my aunt, Chris’ mom. It was held in one of the small Wisconsin towns not too far from home. There were probably a hundred people in attendance, many of them family and many others I didn’t know. While talking with some other cousins, Mark tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out a man holding a little boy.

“Who’s that guy there,” he asked?

I looked where he was pointing and tried to figure out if I knew.

“I don’t know,” I told Mark. It suddenly dawned on me that I was seeing Bill’s face, but I knew it wasn’t Bill.

“I think that’s one of Chris’ kids,” I said.

“I’ve seen him around at work,” Mark said. “I’ve talked with him before. He’s your cousin?”

“Yeah,” I said as it dawned on me that I was looking at Chris and Bill’s son. “That’s got to be Brent.”

I hadn’t seen him since he was a very little boy. Eventually Brent caught sight of us and came over, looking at Mark as if trying to place him and wondering where he knew him from. So we talked with Brent and I asked him if he remembered me, his mom’s cousin. Barely, he admitted, but soon we were all laughing and marveling at what a small world this can be at times.

Brent has a family of his own now and for some reason, really wants to hang out with us – Mark and me and our family, and my sister and her family. My mom’s side of the family, while close at heart, doesn’t often gather together physically, so Brent’s desire to spend time with us always amazes me. He has come to several family functions held by my sister and me in recent months and I couldn’t be happier. The connection has helped me feel closer to Chris too. I feel as if I’ve seen her more often in the past year than I have in the many years before. While she was visiting my parents recently, we got to joking around and she called me her favorite cousin. I’m not sure if I quite believe her, but I’m happy for the chance to get to know her better now, even if making a connection comes so late in life.

Today, my sister and I are heading over to Wisconsin. Brent invited us to come hang out with him, his family and some of the other cousins at their town’s festival this weekend and I’m really looking forward to it.

Sometimes, as the years go by, it feels as if the extended family is beginning to unravel a little bit. I think back to the years when my grandparents were still around and I wonder how they’d feel about the distance that sometimes settles between all of the family. It makes me a little sad to realize how disconnected all of our lives are most of the time. My grandma adored her family, so I think it would make her sad too.

So Brent probably doesn’t even realize it, but his invitation, and the chance to spend time with extended family feels to me as if we are taking those loose ends and tying them up tight again. I like it!