I am in Texas for a couple of universal age-related-stage-of-life type things: my nephew Mark’s oldest son, Cody, is graduating from Wiley High School. (His younger son, Colton, will be a sophomore next year, and I am committed to coming back for his graduation too.) My nephew Mike’s son, John, and his wife Chantella just had a baby girl (Cadence) two weeks ago, which makes her the first grandchild to hit the generation behind me. How does this happen so fast??
Mike, Mark, and John all served in the Marine Corps and saw a fair amount of the world before returning to Texas. John, who did two tours of duty in Iraq, was able, thank God, to return there as well. I have missed out on most of their lives, as well as the lives of my niece Christine’s boys, Christopher and Jacob, now in junior high in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, and that makes me sad. I could never have imagined this would happen.
You have to understand, I adored being an aunt. Michael, my first nephew, was born when I was only 14. He was the first boy to enter our all-girl family in years, and I was bonkers over him. He looked exactly like the Gerber baby, coming in at 10 pounds, with a round, rosy face, big blue eyes, and a smile to die for. Everyone, not just me, said he looked like the baby on the baby food jars. I fell into my new role with gusto, and kept it going strong when Mark was born only 17 months later and when Christine was born four years after that. We had a certain kind of synergy I can’t quite put my finger on, and I developed into a cool, funny, fun kind of aunt, free and easy, spilling over with love and enthusiasm for them. I never had to do the hard stuff, as my sister was quick to point out, but I could buy them presents, take them to the park, babysit whenever I wanted, and spend a whole lot of time just trying to make them laugh. We all got very good at silly faces and wobbly walks, clumsy tripping across the floor, farm animal noises (especially pigs)— and gradually as they and I got older, moving into the world of comedy, starting with Steve Martin, SNL, and all the hot-selling albums of our favorite comedians. If there’s one primary gift we all got from the DNA, it would be wit.
Christine and I developed a strong bond as well, but in a different way. Following the doll and itty-bitty mice stage, I loved initiating her into the tween stage by giving her her first curling iron, first set of make-up with a million different shades of lipstick and eye shadow, first manicure set, and lots of stylish clothes. We eventually could make each other laugh until we cried and can still do it once in a while now and then when the right mood strikes.
We have sent each other several little piggies over the years, especially if they are particularly ugly or particularly cute. Can’t resist. When she heard I liked Asian things and had a Japanese teahouse in the backyard, she amazingly found a Zen Pig Farm on line, which arrived unannounced on my front porch one day, all wrapped up tightly in brown paper. There was no card. Who would send me this thing, I kept thinking as I unwrapped it, piece by piece. What am I going to say about it to the sender? I was still thinking along those lines until I unwrapped the last piece and found one of the ugliest little pigs I’d ever seen. And it was way out of proportion to every other piece in the set. Of course, I immediately knew who sent it. When I called her, I didn’t have to say a word: we just laughed until we cried. It is our version of a “high five”. The same things will strike us funny even if we haven’t seen each other in more years than I care to count.
Christine is married with two junior-high-aged boys and lives in South Carolina with her husband, Derrick, a retired career marine who has a great computer-related job with a company that works closely with the military. She couldn’t come to the graduation, but we’ve all been talking to her once every two or three hours since I got here. Whether we’re in the house, on the road visiting, or at the potluck at the Cowboy Church my sister attends, she is right there on the phone. She and my sister talk on the phone several times a day, and often watch the Food Channel at the same time and compare notes afterwards.
There she is on the phone just now, catching us up on the overnight progress of her cold; there she is again sending us a cell phone photo of her new tropical aquarium and newborn white catfish babies which she succeeded in breeding; there she is again letting us know that the jury verdict in the John Edwards case is going to be announced any minute. Susan and I will all emote loudly and longly about that verdict once we have it, trust me. We will go on and on. All of the women in our lineage go on and on about things. It’s just the way we are.
The thing is: these are my only blood relatives in the whole world that I know of, no matter what ancestry.com might come up with. You can see it clearly in our shared DNA, physically and otherwise. I’ll tell you more as the week goes on.
Stay tuned for Part III…