Together with them again

1986 001

Yesterday was a remarkable day in several respects. The weather is first, as it was sunny and warm but not at all humid or hot. In August, it’s very likely to be 100 degrees or at least feel like it is. But there was none of that yesterday. It was all the summer that you want, and none of the summer that you don’t. I could not have ordered a better day if I controlled the weather.

But the day got even better from there. My sister moved to Colorado recently, and the distance between her family and mine makes it harder to see her than before. But she came to my parents house this week, and we drove the 200 miles plus in order to see them.  My two brothers, who live closer than Colorado, were there too, so it was a rare opportunity to have my parents–both of whom are still with us–and my siblings and I together in one place. And our collective children were all there too, meaning that everyone I’m directly related to by blood was there at my parents’ house. That would have been special enough on a miserable summer day, but the weather pushed it over into the  realm of something memorable. Days like yesterday are what can sustain us when the weather turns bad and you’re not with all of your family. So I’ll certainly take it.

I realized, after we pulled out of their driveway to begin the long drive back to Chicago, that for the first 18 years of my life, the people in the picture above (and my dad, who took the picture) were an everyday part of my life. I lived with them, I ate with them, I laughed with them, I put up with them, and everything else that I could do with them, I did.

And then in the late 1980s, after I graduated from high school and had the chance to go away, I did that. I was the first one out of the nest, and the others all followed in time. I never really thought of it as breaking up the band, so to speak, but as I drove back home yesterday that seemed like exactly what it was. My all-consuming need to get away and find something new at age 18 was the first breach in the family dam. Somebody had to go first, and as the oldest child it made sense that I was the one.

When I say “my family” today in 2013, I realize that it’s not what “my family” would have meant back in 1985. And being with “my family” from the 1970s and 1980s, if only for one afternoon, reminds me of how much I love them all, then and now. It also reminds me that one day, parts of my 2013 family will depart, just as I once did. And I have no doubt that letting go will be a whole lot harder than breaking away once was. But that will be a struggle for another day.

Yesterday proved that, when a family branches off and goes their separate ways, the bonds between them can never be torn apart, so as long as everyone is still walking the earth. Whatever small dose of family time can be squeezed out is more than worth the effort it takes to realize it.

As I drove down the highway, kicking these thoughts around inside my head, John Mellencamp’s “Cherry Bomb” came on the radio. I appreciated the song’s sentimentality, and its recognition that life does indeed move on. I didn’t live on the outskirts of town–come to think of it, I actually did that–and I didn’t grow up in an 8-room farmhouse, but 17 has indeed turned 35–and then some–for me. And all of the people who mattered the most to me at both of those stages in life were with me yesterday. It was even more perfect than the weather.

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