I’m thinking about my aunt this morning. I didn’t know her all that well, or anyone in my family actually. That kind of thing was not encouraged; oddly, it was actively discouraged. No talking at the dinner table. Go into your room after eating. Even better, get out of the house. I have a sister, in fact, who has not spoken to me for over thirty years. No one knows why. That’s just the way they are.
I was in junior high when my parents finally, blessedly, split. I never saw my dad or any of his family again until after I left home at 17. Every few years after that he’d blow into town and we’d go out and drink. That was our activity, I guess the only one we both felt comfortable with. And on those occasions I’d often see my aunt; sometimes we’d go to her house and start the party there. Connie was different than other women I knew, and keep in mind that in my late teens/early twenties I barely knew myself. I look back now and wonder how that was even possible… but I think I was just waiting all those years to get out of that house, to begin to live. To breathe, to BE. So I was late catching up to myself, and to fully appreciate the wonders of Connie.
Both she and my dad came from the school of I don’t give a sh*t. I know, it sounds disrespectful to say, to write especially. I’m sorry. You’d have to be from our family to get this. On my dad, it just came across as admirably selfish; you couldn’t even hate him for it. Once he came by my house to pick me up for something, and my first two children were downstairs playing. I asked him if he wanted to meet them, and without the slightest shame he replied, “No, thanks.” No embarrassment. It was just who he was. And I came to appreciate his self-acceptance, his blithe carelessness. I am far less damaged by those who are honest about who they are.
My aunt liked to go out and party as much as anyone, and they both loved to laugh. I am much more like my father and his side of the family than any of the other members of my family of origin, and I find that kind of fascinating. The genetic inclination toward fun, for laughing, for independence. I’m grateful for it, and consider it a wondrous legacy. Connie wasn’t as selfish as my dad, and in fact went on to raise a beautiful family, one that seems to overflow with deep caring, true love. When she passed away this past November, she and her amazing husband had been married for 51 years, and the love that surrounded them came off them like a force field. I’m a little fascinated by that too, as I knew her parents, of course, and it was no Ozzie and Harriet. (I’m dating myself but it works here, trust me). And yet….could it be that we arrive on the planet with our story already written, to some degree, just waiting to unfold? I think of my own family, the four kids that Paul and I raised and loved deeply from day one. Love doesn’t seem to be an indicator of a life without troubles, does it? And an absence of it doesn’t always predict drama. We’ve all seen kids raised in the darkest circumstances come out as shiny as new pennies.
For some reason, while I was brushing my teeth this morning I remembered a Facebook post one of Connie’s sons had written before Christmas. Something about how he didn’t feel like hanging Christmas lights on the house, but he was doing it because if she was here she’d be bugging him to get it done, and he missed that. He said he hoped they were bright enough for her to see. I’m a thousand miles away from him, but they seem very bright to me. In fact, they’re bringing tears to my eyes.
I didn’t come from a family that knew how to love. But it was arranged for me to have Connie in my path, even peripherally. We look alike, we laugh alike, and I would be so happy if it were true that we loved alike. My story isn’t written by my circumstances. If it was, it wouldn’t be the joyous raucous tale it is. I think we are given the gift of life, and in its meanest conditions it’s always the greatest of gifts. If you are placed in a dry barren field, and you’ve been wired for a trajectory of overcoming, and laughing, and learning to really value love wherever you can mine it, is that not still a great gift? What is better? Connie, I don’t know why but you are burning a hole in my heart this morning, and I am driven to give thanks for you today, for your superlative example of another road taken. For the way you snorted sometimes. For the kindness you showed a young girl who rarely experienced it. For the triumph that was you and Joe for 51 freaking years…. Girl, you killed it. I am forever grateful.