August 29, 2015
So I had a birthday this past Sunday. And I met my brother for the first time on Tuesday. Momentous occasions all crammed into a couple of days worth of living. Fortunately I was on vacation at my wonderful little home-away-from-home on the Umpqua River in Oregon so that I didn’t have the stresses of my regular life to intrude but it was still a little mind-blowing.
Birthdays before the big 21 are exciting. I remember turning 10–first double-digit birthday. Then there was 13–first teen birthday. Then of course Sweet Sixteen. I don’t recall doing anything special for it–we went camping every year on my birthday, since it falls at the end of summer vacation, so I am sure I spent it at Pinecrest in a tent and hung out at the lake for the day.
I remember my 19th birthday very well however. I was at Pinecrest–gee, go figure–and I was out on the lake with my dad in our little 12 foot aluminum Gregor fishing boat trolling for trout. I was not happy that I was on a boat fishing for my last teen birthday. By this age I was the only child left at home–my siblings were either married or living out of the house by then–so it was just Mom and Dad and me. This was also my last birthday at home–I walked out of the house shortly after this vacation never to return after a very heated argument with my dad–but I had no way of knowing this at the time. I look back at this memory now and I wish deep down that I could go back to that idyllic day and spend one more day on the water with my dad. He passed away a couple of years ago now and though we were never close I think this is probably one of my best memories of him…
My 21st birthday was also memorable, though not for the reasons most people remember their 21st. Oh, I was sick alright–I remember spending plenty of times worshiping at the porcelain god–but it was due to the fact that I had gotten a particularly virulent flu virus that had gone through the church camp I was working at for the summer like wildfire. Everyone who stayed in Maverick, one of the cabins reserved for staff–came down with this malady. I tried to get them to leave me in my cabin, but they said they had to shut it down and moved me there anyway. By the next day I was delirious and was in bed for three straight days. I do remember one of the other staff coming to me and asking if I wanted to go home–I was in the wilds of Wisconsin and “home” was my dorm at college near Chicago. I remember opening one eye and I believe I may have said a few things that were not very Christian but they got the idea that no, I did not want to ride in the back of a station wagon for 8 hours so I could be sick in Chicago as well… I finally crawled out of my bed on the evening of my 21st birthday, shaky and pale, and was immeasurably cheered up by one of my favorite guys who told me he had wanted to make me a cake but figured I was too sick to enjoy it. Just the fact that he thought of me was enough to make me smile, but it didn’t bring back my “big” birthday…
I have had many birthdays since then. 40 was a tough one–I spent a week at the beach with my girls and my dog and managed to let it slip by without too much trauma. 50… I barely acknowledged it. This year I am 53 and there sticks in my head the fact that my mother had a stroke at 53 due to high blood pressure and diabetes that had gone untreated for many years. My mother never took care of herself and she is one of the reasons I chose to have gastric bypass surgery several years ago.What did Jenny Crusie say in one of her books? “If you can’t be a good example at least be a horrible warning.” (Faking It, Gwenni…. I think lol) My mother was that horrible warning and as I watched her try to deny her illnesses I decided I didn’t want to end up like her so I had the surgery, lost the weight, and have never regretted it.
As for meeting my brother for the first time. Wow. I told you about finding out I had five brothers and sisters I had never met, let alone even knew existed, until a couple of years ago when we discovered each other through the social media phenomenon called Facebook. Since then I have met my little sister a couple of times and it was love at first sight. Her children are delightful, her husband is a quiet, solid man who adores his family, and my sister and I discovered the fact that time and distance means nothing when it comes to family. We never run out of things to talk about–it may be our Italian heritage–and when we are together it doesn’t matter that we were not raised together. Our hearts recognized each other and she is my best friend. I just regret not having met her until we were adults–we missed out on so much!
My brother Jim is four months younger than me. We are the odd-man out. Our other sibs grew up in pairs–boy/girl each–but Jim and I were singles. He was adopted out and I was fostered by my mother’s cousin and her family. Finding out we had “real” family was one of the best days of our lives but getting to meet each other has been a bit of a challenge geographically. When we first connected our younger bother and sister both lived in Washington state, Jim lives in Oregon, and myself and our one sister live here in Central California while our other brother lives in LA. Jim managed to make a trip up north to visit with our youngest brother and sister but until this week we had no way to see each other.
I had wanted to make a big swing this vacation–my little sister and her family just bought a house in Idaho so I wanted to drive up to see them then swing back down through Washington to meet our little brother then go on down into Oregon and meet my other brother but financially it was going to be too expensive. Then the fires started up in Idaho and we decided it would not be prudent to try to drive through that area. Instead we decided to go to my favorite little hideaway in Elkton Oregon and stay there for our vacation. We could run up to Springfield and meet my brother and spend the rest of the time just lounging around and relaxing.
My brother was not raised the same as myself. His life has not been easy and he has made some poor choices in female companionship over the years. He has two sons but we only got to meet the oldest since the youngest has chosen to live with his mother in another city. The woman he lives with… Well, let’s just say I disliked her immediately and all the things my little sister and brother told me about her were right on the money. She is younger than he is and very controlling and abusive and I would have happily ran her over with my bus…
It was an interesting experience spending time with them. My husband talked with the girlfriend and my nephew and I and my girlfriend, who went on vacation with us, talked to my brother. I liked my brother but it was not the instantaneous connection I felt for my sister. I felt sorry for him and realized he is just one of those people who will never make much of themselves in life–that the key to happiness is always going to be just out of his reach. We visited and laughed and talked at the pizza parlor we had decided to meet at, then they invited us to their house for a bit. I felt it would be rude to decline so we went… Yeah. It was dirty and the furniture was rag-tag. He had two motorcycles in the back yard that he was rebuilding but of course neither ran. My nephew slept in a small closet-like tool room off the garage that was barely big enough to fit a twin bed. My husband said there were no sheets on the bed or blankets–just a pile of clothes, a small TV and a game station of some sort. I noticed he packed a big backpack with him at all times and realized that everything he valued must be in the pack…
My cousin saw the picture of my brother and I on Facebook and remarked that he looks exactly like our father did at his age. All I know is that though I am glad I met my brother he wasn’t the kind of person I could spend a lot of time with one-on-one. Our next meet will be the family reunion we are trying to plan and I am good with that.
I am now back home again. My little boy dogs are very happy to have me home. The kids are also happy to have Mom home since apparently meals were sketchy and not always abundant. My oldest had to try to cook for herself, her siblings, and all the babies (we have six toddlers in the house a few days a week as she now babysits ALL the grandchildren plus a great-nephew) and since she never cooks when I am at home I guess the results were–interesting! She did her best but was very happy to turn the kitchen back over to me when I got home!
So I am a year older and met a brother that it took over 50 years to find. It was an eventful week. How was your week? I see everyone is talking about sending children off to college and all the other rites of passage that the end of summer brings. My youngest is also back in college. She is stressed because this year she is taking two classes, working pretty much full-time, and trying to split her time between her god-daughter that she is raising, her boyfriend, and homework. My oldest is juggling her niece going back to school now on our visitation days and she also has her nephews a couple of times a week while their mom is back in college as well as the two live-ins–the great-nephew seems to be here now indefinitely. Somehow she and her brother managed to get six car seats into my Yukon so she can transport all the littles as needed… I don’t envy her at all!!
Have a great end-of-summer. I’m looking forward to fall myself. Crisp air, cool evenings, and hoodies. Can’t wait!