Back in Clifton, Nova Scotia, in the company of relations, neighbors, friends, guests in their grandparents’ home, my kids exhibited a refreshing lack of conflict–I heard no arguments, criticisms, conflicts over resources, even didn’t have to monitor internet use, as there was none, not even email, at the house. Everyone was on their best behavior, respectful, helpful, courteous. One daughter had made it her goal to improve her reputation from last time, when she remembered with shame her spoiled and ungrateful behavior toward Grandma. My husband and I too made a special effort too, avoiding difficult, unresolved topics, taking it easy together. No pressure to get things accomplished, no tight schedule, my parents having the wisdom to keep things loose. My husband and I had time to take walks, just sit and talk. My withdrawal from my garden duties was cured by helping in theirs–picking red currants, weeding the beans, pulling amaranth for dinner.
On the way to town for an outing in the car with the three youngest, I commented on how pleasant it was to have them all get along, but daughter replied, “Are you kidding? We’re fighting all the time–just not in front of other people.” Which shows how naive I am. And I didn’t really take the news in stride, but sighed and went quiet. Still, I had seen twosomes making special connections–in almost every combination of siblings. Swinging on the porch swing, taking a walk, playing a game,. Yes, I can take the words of this daughter with a grain of salt, as she has lately tended to be pessimistic and combative. Doesn’t want me to set overly high expectations for the future, maybe.
Another pleasure was the revolving door that brought visits in turn from my youngest sister, her husband and their two year old daughter (the later and us meeting for the first time), my childhood best friend’s father (who was like an uncle to me), my uncle, my cousin with her new husband, and two of my three brothers, one younger, one older. With some fun, some conversation, and quiet times between to be with my parents or have some time alone.
My new niece was delightful, sensibly and sensitively raised to trust her instincts, be herself, take what time she needed, come up with her own ideas and ways of communicating, and go around without a diaper. My manner was to simply greet, allow her to observe, not talk about her as if she wasn’t there, make periodic conversation of type that might interest her–things to look at, thoughts and feelings she might have, and later, doing a few things together–a puzzle, a hand up the stairs to find her mum. Trust and friendship did not take long. But her first connections were with my children, my youngest son first, who was given a toy and invted to play. He soon slipped away when he tired of his cousin’s attentions. My daughters also soon had her trust, then my oldest son–not one to seek out children’s company, but sought out by them. He has a way of communicating that is straightforward, natural, sufficiently intelligent for a small child–that is, not dumbed down. At my sister and brother-in-law’s cottage, she asked him to push her on the swing.
My brothers being men of action, rather than sitting around in porch swings swatting mosquitoes and reading book excerpts, we played croquet and bocce afternoons all over the lumpy lawn.
These brothers are very different from one another, and though only a few years apart on either side of me, they hardly seem related. The older one organized and won all the races with the neighbor boys and his younger brother, was very social, a leader, excelled in volleyball despite his lack of height, did well in college, completed his masters and went on to become a school teacher. Mom says the high school girls are lined up to get into his biology and environmental science classes, but mothers will say such things. Still, I don’t doubt it’s close to the truth, because of the way girls flocked around him when we were counselors at the same church camp, and the way my daughters quickly came to regard him as their favorite uncle. He’s just as captivating to them in their teen years and they can hardly wait to visit him and his wife, a vet, the Christmas after next. He’s full of fun–knows when to tease, when to teach, when to say come on let’s go do something. They live on a small farm, with a few horses, goats, chickens, and a large garden. He does woodwork, artwork, and cooks. He’s driven and strong willed, but very generous–loves to make gifts, give his time, his goods. No children of his own, so pours all that fatherhood out on others. Guaranteed snow at Christmas at his house. And he always has a spare bat or two on hand, that being one of his research specialties in college. Our visit was no exception. He brought out an injured little brown, fed it meal worms and big beetle larvae, and we listened to its expressions with a sonar detector.
My younger brother took the role, growing up, of the kid who didn’t get it–struggled in school, got teased and picked on there and at home (for which I am ashamed and have apologized), was overtended by my mother–we didn’t need her enough, so she turned to him, who couldn’t button up his shirt right or eat breakfast without getting jam on his face. She would lovingly scold and do things for him. I wondered why he didn’t seem with it, whether he had any actual disability–thought maybe it was the measles Mom had when pregnant with him, but then maybe mostly a dynamic that kept him from believing in his own capability. He graduated and went on to complete a history degree, and we were all very proud, maybe some of us even surprised. But although he’s a voracious reader and a writer of some talent (his struggles being some rich subject matter, his writing blunt, humorous, and ironic in tone), he lacks confidence and never found a job where he could develop his talents. He supports himself as a parking attendant at a hospital. “Lot’s of time to read,” he says. As an uncle, he is also a highlight–plays chess without always winning, enjoys a good, intense discussion, treats my kids as intelligent equals. He even challenged my oldest to an arm wrestling match. It was a draw.
My little brother sees life in fewer shades of gray, has a quick wit. Never married, says he doesn’t have the patience to build a relationship. Or the discipline to write seriously, though he does readings sometimes at the open mic events my sister hosts.
My brother-in-law is a real gem, treats my sister with tenderness and courtesy, and since he did well in the tech industry when Microsoft rose to power, he’s now able to do work he enjoys more, as a bicycle courier and drumming teacher, and they have no financial troubles.
He gave me a bag of dark chocolate, which I’m still enjoying. Very thoughtful. My sister invited us to their cottage on his family’s island in Musquodoboit Harbor, where we kayaked, swam, played more bocce, and ate fish and chips. I talked a little with my sister, but I think the time was too short and she felt the need to make sure we had a nice lunch, and seemed distracted by her duties. She was obviously finding her daughter a blessing, a balm. When my sister was younger, after I was away to college and various things, she struggled with undefined illness that included a serious bout of candidiasis and depression, discovered that she fits into the “highly sensitive person” category and found physical and emotional healing through diet, essential oils, my parents’ nurture, and music. I had an idea of staying longer, just me, so we could play and sing together and I could hear her performing, which I sadly did not manage. See this post for some music links to her work.
I also had a lovely visit from a significant high school friend. She was from town, I from the sticks, so we didn’t meet for the first time until our senior year, but became good friends. She’s a treasure of a woman, seemed hardly changed at all, though I hadn’t seen her for about twenty-five years. We had found one another on FaceBook through mutual friends a few months before and learned we’d be in the home town at the same time. I looked her up (even her phone number was familiar), her mother remembered me, and put her on. She offered to come out (my parents’ house being a special destination, a different world from town). Later I heard she’d arrived and went around the side of the house to find her talking with my brother and children. She teared up when she saw me. Takes that for me to go tender, too–I was moved that she was moved. It always surprises me when someone shows that kind of attachment to me–I don’t expect it, but it’s precious, others’ capacity to love. A quality I saw in all her friendships. We spoke of her renewed love life, the refreshing gift of a man who was crazy about her after years with a too stoic German engineer.
This friend and I went to the senior prom with two boys in the friend category and to the beach bash afterwards (sensibly sober, as I recall). I’d been a wall flower in 10th and 11th grade, hanging out with the nerdy academics, then suddenly was noticed by others and was asked to that prom by no fewer than five fellows, but turned them all down because there were rumors that a certain strong silent type was interested in asking me. He didn’t, so I asked him, but it was too late to get a tux and things, he said. Commiserating with some friends in the cafeteria over lunch, I found a classmate who’d also been turned down, and we decided to go as friends. I’d already mostly finished sewing my dress, after all, and I think he’d already got a tux. Good thing, as my friend had a good head on her shoulders and if I’d gone with the football player and associates, it might not have turned out so well, as I later discovered in his behavior toward me at a different party.
So we reminisced, and I told her my older brother had always liked her. “Now you tell me!” she said. Caught up on old friends, our lives, she being a physiotherapist and doing doctorate research, me trying to write and going back to teaching this fall, children, no children, life, where from here.
My father gave me Steve Solomon’s Gardening When it Counts, which I read in quiet times. He taught archery techniques to the kids and showed up the food garden project in town he’s piloting with the food bank. The hardest part is getting people to harvest and eat the food, he said.
Every day he changed out the paintings on the walls, to show us what he’s been doing, and for fun. Mom fixed meals and washed dishes with a few breaks for her reading time and tea with her granddaughter, held a gingersnap slicing contest among the men (you have to get at least fifty from a doll of dough), and gave me a tour of her wild and unkempt garden, bursting with strawberries, tomatoes, herbs and flowers.
Twice we played telepictionary with the whole family, one of the few (two) games I actually initiate, rather than merely consent to. It’s lighthearted, strange, flexible, and perfect game for all ages. (Instructions here.)
Endings are the hardest. I can’t end things worth a darn. Blog posts, visits…