Dad and Professor Teen went camping yesterday, so the two youngest and I huddled under blankets in our basement bedroom and watched Stardust. SuperTween declared it her new favorite movie. Since the answer to “what was your previous favorite” was The Hobbit, I suspect that whatever she watched most recently is her favorite. I’ll have to test that theory with a viewing of something super boring like, Antz.
Tonight’s schedule might include a movie in bed, but it definitely will include games. New Year’s Eve is not the only night for board and card games, but it is the night when we let the children stay up late playing them. Several years ago, the youngest children were sound asleep in sleeping bags on the living room floor while we sat beside them playing a board game with the teens. At midnight, someone announced the time and a teen replied, “Happy New Year, now roll the dice.” That was a perfect New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t the hour on the clock that made the evening special. It was everything else. It was everyone in the room. It was the good stuff.
No matter who you spend tonight with or how you spend it, may it be your version of perfect.
In an attempt to create a grocery list for Thursday, I have been looking through cookbooks and my pile of hand written family recipes. In an even greater attempt to procrastinate from actually making progress on Thanksgiving plans, I have been geezing. Remembering. Pondering.
While she was a woman of many talents, cooking was my grandmother’s art. Something in her kitchen was always baking, frying, marinating or cooling. Until retirement, she taught high school home economics. She taught pregnant teenagers about nutrition and cooking. She grew food. She cooked the food my grandfather hunted. My grandmother could seriously cook.
Because I wasn’t allowed in my mother’s kitchen and my high school didn’t believe in home economics, I never learned to cook with the skill of someone who grew up cooking. Despite that, I have my grandmother’s recipes. I’ve seen the notes that my grandmother made in cookbooks as she changed recipes over the years. What I don’t have, is a single recipe from my grandmother’s mother.
I know that when my grandmother’s mother moved to TN sometime around 1917, she married a Protestant and the fact that she was Jewish somehow ceased to exist. It’s logistically impossible to understand why my great-grandmother made that choice. I remain puzzled how, even if it was something that was deliberately hidden, she could avoid teaching family recipes to her daughter. Even more puzzling is the fact that my grandmother was twelve when her mother died and her Aunt, who also ceased to be Jewish when she moved to TN with her sister, married my grandmother’s father and parented her dead sister’s children. Two Jewish sisters raised my grandmother to love cooking and yet managed not to hand down a single family recipe. None.
How does that happen?
When my father had CABG surgery, every single clipboard attached to his bed had “no family medical history” written in letters so large that it was impossible not to see it. It didn’t stop doctors, nurses and social workers from asking him repeatedly why he had no family medical history.
Among the many, many revelations in the genealogy saga are multiple relatives who had strokes in their fifties. I consider this knowledge a win. It’s too late for my father’s doctors to know and fight this enemy before it attacks, but it will be written in every grandchild’s medical records. Yay for a family medical history. Adoptees should not have to spend two decades paying fees and sending notarized letters to get medical records.
Medical history is the gold medal in adoption record searching, but the silver medal is an old photograph, an image that allows vivid imaginations to see familiar eyes, noses and body types. The medical records feed the brain, but photographs feed the heart. My brother and I were prepared to make the trek to middle TN to search the boxes of ancient records in two church basements in our quest for photographs. The funeral home that nearly everyone uses would have been on our schedule too. Funeral home directors know more family stories than bartenders, but they are better at keeping secrets. When the funeral home director is yet another fraternity brother, there is the possibility of seeing an old photograph from a funeral program that predates online archives. Nothing in life is simple or risk-free. Life is messy. Our quest for photographs has become difficult and dangerous, because…
both of my father’s birth parents are alive.
Long ago and not very far away, two Phi Sigma Kappas with a long history of rivalry decided that the winner of a coin toss would be the one who got to ask out the sorority girl from California. The winner of the toss was my father and obviously, the girl was my mother. The story has been told dozens of times, but yesterday, a familiar name from the story, appeared in a pile of paperwork. Paperwork that we have been trying to get since the 1980s. Paperwork that revealed for the first time in his sixty something years on this earth, my father’s actual birth date.
Never knowing your birthday is a hard concept to grasp. Sure, there were home births in my Mother’s family that have mistakes on the birth certificates because of the passage of time between the arrival of the official who did paperwork and the illiteracy of everyone involved, but that was several generations ago. My FATHER didn’t know when he was born.
He knows now. He also knows that his college rival
was is his first cousin. His rival’s father was my father’s birth father’s brother. My father probably looked his Uncle in the eyes and never knew it. He still wouldn’t know it if my brother hadn’t spent decades playing detective. My father was very happy with the family that chose him. He only agreed to search because his children wanted answers. We are extremely aware that any and all pain that my father suffers from the enormous amounts of information that have been revealed in the past twenty-four hours is our responsibility.
Several times at the beginning of this quest, my father tried to explain that he didn’t need answers and I always responded with overly dramatic scenarios that involved my brothers or I accidentally dating an unknown relative. My father would begin a long lecture about the number of people in the world and statistical improbabilities. “Bring me a pencil and paper so we can do the math together.” He was working from the wrong set of numbers.
Whenever people ask where my family is from, I answer that my Mother’s family is in Natchez Trace and my Father’s family is in Martin, but add that since my father is adopted, we have bonus family somewhere. Never ever, in my wildest histrionic scenario, would I have placed my father’s birth relatives in Martin and Union City. He really could have interacted with his birth parents or grandparents. As I try to sort all of this into something that my mind can accept, I find the facts that we have learned… comforting. My father really did grow up with both of his families. The rivalry between my father and his fraternity brother was like me fighting with my brothers. We only fought about the things that were really nothing. I can see that parallel because my father made a phone call today to someone he hasn’t spoken to since college. A call of love for a fraternity brother and to laugh at immature rivalries. In a few weeks, they will see each other again. Just the thought of that meeting takes my breath away and leaves me speechless.
“Dad, I really can’t chat about bathtub drains right now.”
“What’s so important that you won’t stop and talk to me?”
“I’m on someone else’s clock. Can we do this later?”
“Whose clock? What are you doing?”
“I’m just cleaning up some messy code.”
“I thought you just posted in chat rooms all day. When did you learn to actually use computers?”
“Several decades ago.”
“Wow. I had no idea that you know how to do something.”
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After several years of ignoring my hair except for the occasional bang trim that I did myself, I got six inches of length chopped off my hair today. Nobody noticed.
Doug: “There’s an air advisory today, so try to keep the dogs inside as much as possible.”
Me: “I don’t think it’s that hot outside.”
Doug: “It’s not a heat advisory. It’s an air quality advisory. It’s dangerous for people with asthma or health problems. That can’t be good for dogs.”
Me: “Or people with asthma. Like me.”
Doug: “Huh? Yeah, you can do whatever you want, but I don’t want the dogs out in it.”
- – - – - – - – - –
Grandaddy: “You and Doug are really starting to look your age. You’re not young anymore.”
Two things to move me toward my unintentional evolution into a laundry blogger:
First, I would like my spouse and children to be admitted into the Justice League based on their ability to dematerialize and materialize at will. Evidence of this power is the daily pile of “Night of the Comet” clothing with no evidence of deliberate removal. Socks and undergarments are in the exact location inside the exterior garments that they were when on their bodies. There is no scrunching or rolling, just a neat pile that could only have occurred by the wearer dematerializing. I guess they could be transmutating, but I think that would leave evidence behind, so I’m sticking with the original super power estimation. Just have Superman contact me and we’ll work out details about their admission.
Second, there are now three adult sized males in this house. I have no trouble telling the individuals apart, but their clothing is becoming increasingly indistinguishable. Do you know what makes males act like pre-adolescent girls? Putting the wrong person’s clothing in their closet. “This isn’t mine! Why couldn’t you tell whose it is? Eww, gross. I can’t wear someone else’s socks/pajamas/shirts.” Comparing them to pre-adolescent girls was a bad example, because girls have no problem swapping/sharing clothing. Apparently males consider the possibility of wearing someone else’s clothing an insult. Maybe they’re just worried that their clothing went to another person. I don’t know. I don’t understand either. In my next life, we will have one clothing closet and everything will be sorted by size instead of person. It will make things much easier.
Over the weekend, we took the youngest children to a place in middle TN that was an integral part of my childhood. A place that I haven’t visited in over a decade and an area that I told goodbye during my grandmother’s funeral. A place where time stands still. Oh, wait. The trees are taller now. Also, the basement game room was sacrificed to install a much needed elevator. Other than that . . . same guy in charge, same humidity, same last names and same, same, same. Did I mention the humidity?
There’s a reason I never successfully had a frizz-free day until I moved to East TN. West and middle TN have fungus seasons when the muggy heat saps away the energy and desire to do anything except sit, nap or read. The recent TN monsoons have transformed the normally humid weather into the mosquito coast. The lush green illusion that was the park’s septic field is now a foul-smelling, toxic wasteland. The bugs are growing and multiplying into rain forest monsters. The hotel room was physically soggy. The carpet squished with every step and the clothes in our suitcase absorbed water so rapidly that I expected them to smell like the nasty kitchen sponge I threw away last week.
When the room temperature was higher than the outside temperature and the pages of books started to curl, Doug walked to the hotel desk to see if all the rooms were a swamp or just the ones that overlooked the lake. A few minutes later, we were switched to a room with dry carpeting and a temperature below 80 degrees. It was like moving from the cave to the hatch. With no phone signal, I settled in to use the Internet to call the teenagers we left at home. Doug went to report the room change to the rest of the family.
An hour later, Doug returned from telling my brother our new location. It took some work to find my brother, since he had also switched rooms. His preschooler flushed a wrapped bar of soap, overflowed the toilet and flooded their room. My mother’s careful placement of the entire family in a nice row of rooms turned into a middle of the night Chinese fire drill. Everyone settled in and slept without the distractions of absolutely anything resembling civilization nearby.
Unbeknown to us, at some time in the night, Amy came down with stomach plague. We didn’t know, because Amy switched rooms to be with her cousins. While she did her imitation of Eyjafjallajokull, her Aunt pounded on our hotel room door. The empty hotel room with soggy carpet. The room that Doug told my OTHER brother we were no longer using. The Aunt gave up and sent the uninformed brother to pound on our door. When this failed, they tried calling the empty hotel room. Maybe they called our signal-less cell phones. I’m certain they called us some choice names. If I had known we were playing the world’s meanest practical joke, I would have moved our car to the employee parking lot.