I have been dying to write this blog. Life and football have kept me from getting at it. So far, I have carried the words and images with me through two W's and a half marathon. Finally, today, as I sit at my sister's house, sore from the race, loved and in between games... I have a moment.
I was a student of my father. Influenced by him. Molded by him. Lectured, tested and challenged into a twist by him. This is true and I carry that as a badge of honor. Yet, while my father did the character training, it was my mother and my aunt who shaped my sister and I in other ways. In ways I never fully understood, until now. My mother Joanne and my Aunt Kathleen-- my father's sister. Joanne and Kathleen. Their names roll together easily as habit and they wore them proudly on uncountable tags at PTA meetings, swim meets, football games, banquets, graduations-- you name it. Mr. and Mrs. Joanne and Kathleen.
I never thought to miss my dad at those events. I never knew to miss him on our family vacations--which is kind of funny when you think of it. He sent us off and we made the most of it. That's all I remember growing up. My Aunt Kath, my mother and their laughter. The buckle your knees - choke on your cigarette kind of humor that lit up our summer nights on the back patio and loosened up the mood of all of our escapades-- wakes and burials included. My dad would stay back and cook for us. We would come home to find him at the island with his newspaper and an old flick. My mother would put a pot of coffee on and they would start to tell my dad all about whatever it was. My dad would pull out the leftovers and the stories and the cackling would start. He'd patronize them for a bit and then look at them like they were both real jagoffs. That's when it really got funny.
It is mid September and I have just spent four days at my sister's (bayfront shore house) in Stone Harbor (that's a private joke). It is just the four of us, plus Jack. So many years have passed-- yet time stood still. From coffee on the back deck to beach chairs to the scrabble board, we told and retold stories, we pointed out all of our physical flaws because "if we don't tell each other who is going to". We fell over several times- laughing, of course. There and then I remembered why I loved coming home to them. There and then I understood why my sister and I are who we are.
Their body language while they talked paralleled the best of what they gave to us. They sat without vanity and spoke without pretense. Their thoughts, unedited. The ebb (two b's) and flow of their conversation, in sync. They had an invisible cue to bring it back up when they dug too deep in the sand. They catered to each other-- but not too much. They showed concern, but not sympathy. They bitched-- but only for a laugh. Perhaps, when I was too young, I didn't realize the qualities that were woven into their conversation. Laughter was the thread and in the end the fabric was rich in color, worn and durable.
I watched my sister, my mother and my aunt a lot this week. I took it all in. Their eyes. Their hands. The way they lit their cigarettes. I listened again. Once I packed up my Jetta, kissed my sister and hit the Stone Harbor bridge, I had a lump in my throat, for sure, but I never felt more complete. It was like I had a chance to go back. To be that little girl in the middle of all that insane fun.
As a drove the highway trek to State College, I knew what I was. A girl. Raised by girls. Raised to be strong, real, resilient and most important of all.. raised to find humor in a twisted, unpredictable world. I thought a lot about my daughter Aidan and my niece Julianna. Our girls. Mine and my sister's. We worry about the awesome responsibility we have in raising them to take the best of us. To be better than us. And then they walk in and light up the room- comfortable ease, careless beauty, so like us-- but so different. It makes me smile knowing there is some part of the four of us in each of them. It is exciting to watch them put their own spin on it and soar -- the four of us below, looking up, clapping a little too loudly. A crazed ensemble of bedazzled sandals and tinted sunglasses. Lipstick smiles and neon nail polish. I laugh at the sight of us. And warm at the thought of that incredible week, together.