Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thanksgiving: My Family

OMG, how did a whole month pass? I fully intended to post this the Sunday after Thanksgiving, so it had some hope of being timely. But it took me 9 hours to get home from North Carolina, eating up my entire Sunday evening. And then it was two weeks before finals, and I had three memos, a 20-page paper, two finals and a take home to get through. And now it's a month later, and I escaped frigid DC for tropical Waialua, Hawaii. And I *absolutely* am thankful for that!

But this post is about my family. I don't know how the heck they put up with me. For the past ten years, the first question most of them ask me when they talk to me on the phone is, "where are you?" And they don't mean it as in, are you at home or at school or at work or the grocery story or the library? No, it's more like, what continent are you on? Because sometimes I've been in South America, sometimes in Southwest Asia, sometimes on the East Coast of the US and sometimes in Hawaii. It is kinda fun to keep 'em guessing though :)

I'll never forget telling my brother that I had taken the ASVAB in preparation for joining the Coast Guard nearly twelve years ago. He was into his second decade in the Air Force, and I think I didn't talk to him for a year or two when I was a young, thoughtless pissant in high school because I was upset about his participation in the military industrial complex that was such a major stumbling block to the peaceful, sensible, rightful way that the world *should* work. So, needless to say, he was a little bit surprised to hear that I was pursuing a military career ten years later. I think it took him about 30 seconds to pick his lower jaw up off the floor from where it had dropped when he heard I was enlisting. And then he proceeded to give me very useful advice...stay operational. Well, Jay, I did (finally) take some of your advice, and you were SO right! We've had some great conversations since then about the military, leadership, current world news and life in general. Thanks, bro, for sticking it out with me while I pulled my head out of lalaland.

And my brother has a wonderful family who I had the chance to see for a couple of hours Thanksgiving weekend. His wife, Susan, is a great mother to their three kids, homeschooling them and teaching them to be thoughtful people. In Africa. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention...Jay is a bush pilot in Africa for a missionary group, doing lots of medevacs and transporting medicine, people, supplies and probably a chicken or two in his planes all throughout eastern Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan...dangerous places where the runways sometimes have doglegs in the middle of them, guards with AKs and never mind the cows and giraffes blocking the way. So, Susan doesn't necessarily have all the conveniences of a regular suburban housewife. But she does an amazing job, keeping a bountiful garden and making beautiful quilts. Their kids are really sweet, but growing up so very, very fast. Alex is now taller than I am, and is starting to give his dad a run for his money in wrestling matches. Beth is beautiful, and will likely be completely stunning in a few years, never mind smart and talented. She crocheted me the coolest beanie for Christmas...awesome colors and it fits perfectly. And Sam is such a pixie, so impish and curious. I miss seeing them on a regular basis, but know they are growing up in an amazing place that will make them really cool people to get to know when (if) we ever live in close(r) proximity.

My dad and his wife visited on their way through Maryland enroute North Carolina to see my brother and his family the week before Thanksgiving. They were so patient with the kitchen under construction and other idiosyncrasies of my old house. I usually get to see Dad and Sandee on the Coast Guard's dime about every year or two. They live a couple hours from New London, CT, so I get to visit them whenever I go to a C school at the Academy. But I hadn't seen them since I got back from Bahrain, so it was really great to be able to host them for the night. They ran into some traffic and bad advice from their GPS that shortened the visit a little bit, but we got to chat over dinner, and they got to see where I live, for the first time since I left the east coast ten years ago.
Uncle Steve, Aunt Jan, Ally, Amy's mom Susan, and Amy
Thanksgiving itself was a wonderful day...exactly what the day is supposed to be. Tons of good food, a warm, crowded kitchen, great people and a fun time. I road-tripped down to my friend Amy's house in North Carolina to hang with her and her 9-year-old daughter, Ally. Her mom came over, and my Uncle Steve and his partner, Aunt Jan came in from Rockingham County for dinner.

Acrobat Ally and Jan, waiting her turn on the trampoline
Amy and I have been friends for nearly 20 years. I haven't kept in continuous touch with anybody else that I've known for that long, except for other family members, so I feel like I have every right to call her and Ally family. She has been there for me through all my stupid human tricks, ready to laugh at me, with me, for me and around me. We met in a political science class my first year at Berea College. In retrospect, I'm really surprised we never got kicked out of class. We laughed the entire semester...poor professor (he kinda looked like Ichabod Crane, which didn't help at all). And I don't know that the college farm was ever the same after we worked there for a summer. Work briefings took at least ten minutes longer but were so much more enjoyable for everybody because we joked around so much. Best line *EVER*: what happens if you don't wash sheep in cold water with Woolite? Do they look like this? (put palms on either side of your face by your ears and pull backwards so your face stretches tight). We tried to ask our boss that with straight faces, but could only get it about halfway out before we couldn't say any more words through the hilarity. She didn't think it was so funny. And meringue...that stuff kinda hurts coming out the nose. Just saying.

I don't know why Ally puts up with me...I'm kinda mean, pouring cold water over her in the shower after she threw some 'tude at me, and tickling her relentlessly. But she's known me as Crazy Aunt Charley for her whole life, and I hope to be there for her like her mom has been there for me. One of my favorite things about being back on the east coast is being closer to some of the people I love that I haven't seen enough of recently.

Mom always told us that family does anything they can for family. I took it for granted for a long time, but Uncle Steve has done so very, very much for me over the years that it's hard not to be thankful for my family. He put me, my dog and three cats up in his spare room while I looked for a place to live before my first stint in grad school...for two months. He pretty much single-handedly renovated the kitchen in my new house. And he's just a cool guy. We're both the youngest in our generations, and along with my cousin Cameron (also the youngest), we keep the rest of the family on their toes. We're our own flock of black sheep :) Just make sure to wash us in Woolite.

I'm staying with my Mom over Christmas and into the New Year. We've had our difficulties over the years. We're both really stubborn, alike in some ways, and different in ones that make it tough for us to get along sometimes. Well, difficult for me to get along with her sometimes...I admit, I'm not the easiest person to get along with. Too many years in charge I think: I don't like it when things don't go my way. But she's always been proud of me (embarrassingly so sometimes...you know moms). One of Mom and my sister's favorite stories about me is the time we were in the grocery store in Ellicott City, MD, getting some last minute supplies for dinner. Vicki and I were both home from college. The store was crowded, and we were walking in a little bit of a gaggle, politely making way for people and generally being conscious of the fact that we were not the only people in the store trying to finish errands. But there was this snooty woman with her grocery cart that pretty much plowed through us like we were invisible peasants in her own personal kingdom. Well, I don't mind being ignored...but for god's sake, don't disrespect me. I pushed my nose up in the air with my finger (not my middle one...my mom was there for heaven's sake) and snorted like a pig...loudly. The woman looked around, slightly mortified.

I'm glad that Mom's enjoying her retirement. And even though I'm still a punk sometimes, I love her a lot.

I've got a bunch more family members to be thankful for...Aunt Linda and Uncle Adam, cousins Karen, Jennie and Roy and family, Cameron, Nancy and Jim, Robin and Blaine and family, and Jane and Eddie. I don't talk to many of them often, and see them even less. But I know they care about me and support me.

I haven't mentioned my sister yet, though. She's joined conversations on the blog before, usually with insightful words of advice or thoughtful comments from a completely different perspective. The funny thing is that we used to *hate* each other. And that really is not too strong a word. When we were in grade school, and on into high school, I couldn't stand being around her. She was always such a damn goodie-two-shoes. She tattled on me for trying to learn how to spit when I was ten. She was way smarter than me (still is), and just complicated things unbearably. She kept her room neat, made her bed, had better handwriting (still does), didn't throw a fit about going to church, dated nice boys, and didn't wear holey jeans.

Aunt Linda told us both sometime, maybe about 20 years ago, that we'd end up really good friends once we got older. We both thought she was delusional. I was a snotty little punk, out to piss off the world, and Vicki made it clear she was so very, very far superior to me. In every way.

It's amazing the clarity gained from those 20 years. And thank goodness for it. Vicki was the first person I called during that kerfuffle over the Endangered Species Act last fall. And the first person I called when my boyfriend broke up with me. And the first person I called when I found out I was going to take command of a ship...in Bahrain. She edited my college application essay for me. She is always, always willing to listen and offer encouragement. I love the fact that she knew me as a punk kid, and saw me grow out most, but not all, of it. And I am so truly happy that she is happy.

So I am so very, very thankful for my family. All of them.