You can make me be here (but you can't make me smile)
You see, that first year away from Wyoming, Thanksgiving was miserable. No family in a thousand miles and no friends yet. The two of us tried being cheerful at the community Thanksgiving dinner but the sense of being disconnected from family really hurt. We knew we needed to create our own traditions. So when we found a little cabin clustered on the beach, with firewood stacked on the porch and a fireplace inside as the only heat source and no phones – we thought it was the perfect place to rent for the long weekend. It became our tradition to cook Turkeys in the kitchen and watch the sunset over the Pacific as we ate.
Over the years, everyone came to join us. My parents were there a couple times, my brothers, my brothers-in-law and nephews and sisters-in-law and friends from Germany and friends from Wyoming and Ashland. We were in one of the cabins when we got a knock on the door from the office manager giving us a message to call and discover that our son’s birth mom was in labor and later we were there when Mom called and a knock sent us to the payphone to fid out that my Dad had died at 8 minutes after midnight. We came with out youngest son, straight out of the Neonatal intensive care unit for some uninterrupted family recovery time. We painted rocks with the boys and their cousins and left them in the flower garden, and we were there when my husband’s sister came back from Africa and gave all 4 nephews spears which they brandished around the cabin while making forts of the couch cushions and twin size mattresses.
This picture was about the last time we were there, maybe the last time. The cabins were sold to the neighboring motel and the fireplaces came out, a hot tub went in, electric heat was added and the boys began having their own separate lives where a long weekend couldn’t interrupt the jobs they needed to pay their rent. There was a bit of loss of amusement at Mom and Dad’s sense of humor going on in those last high school years, and a resentment at having to leave girlfriend’s even overnight. There were scrabble games and beach walks and a sense that there would be a few years before the appeal of family Thanksgivings returned to the boys, but I already anticipate bringing a granddaughter here, and painting rocks and baking pies.
My husband’s family has spread world wide and at various times had jobs and lives in The Netherlands, Aruba, China, India, Hawaii, Boston and so on. They don’t get together often enough but on the tens anniversary of the parents they make a huge deal. 2010 was the 60th anniversary and we rented a campground, usually used by scouting or church groups, in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I am not topless. Unfortunately the light beige top I had on photographs very much like skin tone for me.
The Goode family is rowdier and louder by far than the family I grew up in, and when they do get together it becomes a party. We had a lake and kayaks, we had a lot of cabins and a big camp kitchen and hiking and a big fish fry and one night a string banjo band came with dancing and it was mostly fun. We were about 40 miles from the parents home and my MIL was in a nursing home by then. So my FIL came up in the days but when home at night and we all went in at various times to visit Mimi. It was wonderful except when it got bad and then it got bad very fast. You could say it turned bad like “lightning.”
On top of the highest hill was a group fire ring with a knee high stone wall around the fire pit. It was probably 10 feet across, and a lot of large wooden benches circled it. Near-by was a large group hall that we had keys to but had never accessed. Thin but tall evergreens towered above the clearing. Some of the adults had been drinking and everyone was relaxed and happy. The granddaughter brought out her guitar and the grandsons were mostly talking and playing with hand held games or phones. A couple family dogs had joined us. There was a light flurry of rain but not heavy enough to dampen the spirits of anyone. Then suddenly an explosion as lightning concussed the air only feet above our heads. A dead silent moment as the hair on our arms and heads sizzled and eyeglass frames grew hot. Then screams and running, dogs vanishing into the woods, people diving for cars or running to the empty hall. We stood inside listening to the storm grow heavy and then hail splatted around us ad then a calm. We hesitated but moved back out to the fire ring, reluctant to head to the cabins just yet.
One of the childless uncles, drunk and scared and irritated all at once climbed into the stone wall and kept turning to dry his clothing over the bonfire and staggering a bit and snapping as various people tried to tell him to get out. Then a nephew came close, texting his girlfriend, and the uncle thought he’d had too much time wired in. The Uncle kicked at the hand holding the phone, and fell, reaching out to break his fall and jamming the hand between two burning logs. As everyone moved at once, he was pulled out and stared at the blistering and peeling skin and swore it didn’t hurt. Emergency room, 20 miles away with him insisting he didn’t need it.
Anyway, it was a reunion we haven’t forgotten, four years after the oldest sister died of heat stroke in the Grand Canyon, and 6 months before the oldest nephew died walking home from the grocery store when he stepped in front of a train. MIL and FIL were still doing ok when we saw them again this summer and the burned hand has recovered and life, it goes on.