“My little family, which not very long ago was disjointed and angry, has really turned around. We’re getting closer and closer,” I said to Claire as we bounced down Hollow Road at breakneck pace.
“Isn’t that what you wanted? Isn’t that what you were trying to do?” She asked.
It is. I nodded, unashamed. Eight years ago, when I got the phone call from my mother that my grandmother had finally passed away after a long, terrible battle with old age, I was barely speaking with the extended family. We’d lost track of Aunt Deb, widowed when her husband, the golden boy of the family, died suddenly. Her children, my cousins, had scattered. I was holding a small private grudge against my Aunt Malone, who I felt had pretty much ignored me all the years I’d been at college just a few miles from her house. And Aunt Malone was holding a large and public grudge against Uncle Mike for something having to do with the recently deceased grandmother’s estate, while chasing his eldest son around town trying to keep him out of drugs. And all of this was just big stuff. There were countless other small squabbles going on at any minute, so numerous that I couldn’t even keep track of them.
And I didn’t have to because while all this was going on I was 600 miles away in Chicago, living like a bohemian artist and generally pretending like I didn’t have family. My mother gave me the details of the funeral on the phone. I didn’t go.
And then Christmas came. There were so many things going on – so many fights, so much confusion about whom was speaking to whom – that we didn’t even get invited to my Aunt’s traditional party. Everyone did their own thing. My immediate family’s thing was boring.
I couldn’t let us do boring things for Christmas. Mostly, though, I couldn’t let us do things without the rest of the family. It was silly, and I was going to take it head on. I started calling people I made them talk to me about nothing for long stretches of time. “How’s the weather?” It was a great start. “Where did you do your school clothes shopping?” Also good for killing time. “What are you making for dinner?” I’d stay on the phone until they couldn’t possibly stand me any more. Sometimes I’d drop bombs to keep things going. “I’m moving in with my significant other.” Or, sometimes, “I’m thinking of joining a band.” I was never thinking of joining a band, but it brought on a lecture that added several minutes to the conversation. Little by little I whittled everyone down. I got to know them for real. I learned where they shopped, and what they worried about, and where they went on vacation. I learned more about my relatives in that campaign than I had known my whole life. Here’s the thing though: it took years.
And then Claire and I found ourselves driving at breakneck pace down Hollow Road on an overcast afternoon in March. We had come from visiting Aunt Malone, whose children were all living peacefully under her roof. We had seen my parents the night before, and they had seen Aunt Malone. Cousin Rob and I had talked on the phone. Aunt Lynn was expecting me next weekend. Years of whittling was working, and my wittle tiny fambly was finally getting back together. I smiled.