The Good Life

I have a cousin named Ashley, who is almost 14 years younger than me.  She is the daughter of My Aunt P and my ex-uncle, G.  And, no, those are not blogging nicknames that I am giving out to provide anonymity.  I actually call them P and G; I always have.  Have you begun to sense my obsession with the alphabet?

When I was young and impressionable, they were the relatives who impressed me most.  They were cool and very hip, especially because I was a teenager with nerdy parents (really, who isn’t?).  They talked to me about things like sex and drugs (same “Just Say No” and “I learned it by watching YOU!” messages, but always in a fun and funny way).  G drove (and sometimes even let me drive) a Peugeot with a Blaupunkt stereo, on which he only listened to good, classic rock.  P was an incredibly talented artist and event planner who worked at Lord & Taylor in New York City.  P was the one who took me to my very first live concert in NYC (Shaun Cassidy, circa 1978, because we are talking about coolness that knows no bounds).  We ate nothing but McDonald’s (the best remedy for an 8-year-old’s concert hangover) and slept in her teeny, tiny studio apartment and window shopped all weekend.  G got my dad into sailing and when I was 15 they let me come with them on the boys’ weekend trips up the coast to Block Island, RI.  We played Risk and drank beers and smoked cigars and they gave me all sorts of rules and advice about dating boys and those are some of my absolute favorite teenage memories.

But by the time I started college, G had left P and the kids (they also had a son, Garrett, by then) and they eventually got a divorce.  I was all teenage angst and self-centeredness and was pretty confused and angry about it all, but I never really dealt with it because I was in college being an idiot.  Things at home just kept on keeping on, except now it was only P busting it out as a single mom.  G was persona non grata in our family and it was even too much for him to stay friends with my dad, so he just stopped coming to family events because it was awkward.

Most of my mom’s extended family lived in and around South Jersey at the time.  P and my mom are sisters, so we spent time with her and the kids a lot, and even more after the divorce because they moved down to be closer to everybody.  Kettle and 3 Pops (mom and dad to my mom, P and GMP – that’s Grand Master Pud, for those of you following along with the detailed Speed family tree) were also divorced, but always around to help out as well.  We are one, big, dysfunctional family.  But isn’t everybody?

Fast forward to April of 2011.  Kettle had died the summer before, but the rest of the family was all still alive and kicking and as dysfunctional as ever.  So, when the weekend of Ashley’s wedding to her fiancé Mike came around, everybody showed up to support them and celebrate.  Even G.

I hadn’t seen him in over 20 years.  When I got to the rehearsal dinner, I realized that he was standing over in the corner by the bar (exactly where you would expect an ex who has come back into the lion’s den to walk his daughter down the aisle.  My mom especially has made no bones about how much she dislikes him, so it was undoubtedly awkward).  I went over to talk to him anyway.  We spent parts of the weekend catching up on the past two decades of each other’s lives.

Ashley and Mike’s wedding was one of the most beautiful events I have ever been to.  Remember how I said P was an incredible event planner?  Well, she totally topped herself on this one.  The day was filled with love and laughter, meaning, thoughtfulness, candles, flowers, romance, and a moving acoustic version of the Beatles’ In My Life.  And what wedding would be complete without white people rapping, Elvis, a priest, and a leprechaun?

Do yourself a favor… take 18 minutes and watch this truly joyful video of Ashley and Mike’s Wedding.  It was produced by a Philadelphia company called Lucky Productions and they did such a fantastic job conveying the vibe of that wonderful day.

After the weekend was over, I got on a plane with my sisters and flew back to Georgia.  G and I had exchanged email addresses and we said we would continue to keep in touch.  We did, but only for a little while.

I realized shortly after we started emailing that I was mad at G.  Really, really mad.  And then I called him out on his shit.  We haven’t talked again since.

I just re-read my final email to him and it was pretty harsh.  In all honesty, Sheepdog told me at the time not to send it.  But I still believe that everything in that letter needed to be said because G was a very influential person in my life and one day he was just gone.  And not only was he gone, but P was around less and much less fun when she was because she was shouldering a bunch of crap on her own.  Now, two (or twenty-two, depending on how you’re counting) years later, here’s my take on everything…

Families are always going to be dysfunctional because they are made up of dysfunctional people.  Some people grow up in broken ones and some get still-intact ones that would be best if they were broken.  And a lucky few get in-house role models who are actually happily married.  But you have to study them carefully, because that doesn’t just happen all by itself.

The truth is that anybody can grow up and make a good life for themselves, no matter what your family looked like growing up.  Ashley and Mike are a great example of that.

Video by Lucky Productions Cinematography

Video by Lucky Productions Cinematography

You just have to work hard at fixing the things that are broken simply because they are not going to fix themselves.  New things break every day, so just get to work on fixing them.  Don’t let people in your life make excuses, and don’t you make excuses either.  It is not about money or stuff or any of the superficial things.  It is all about maintaining healthy relationships with all of the dysfunctional people (including you).  Fight hard for your good life.  Everyone deserves one.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Old People Are Dirty

The other day the kids and I all traveled to Vineland, New Jersey (the largest city in the state measured by total area – 69 square miles, home to the largest farmer’s cooperative on the east coast – the Vineland Produce Auction, and the birth place of Welch’s Grape Juice) to visit my maternal grandfather, Henry, who now lives in the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home there.

I have always called him “Pop Pop,” but my kids call him “Pop Pop Pop” or “3 Pops,” so as to differentiate between him (my only living grandparent) and my dad, who they call “Pop Pop.”  I don’t know why no one was able to come up with more unique nicknames in our family, but that’s what they are called so we just deal with it.  Although there was an attempt one time by Kid C to rename them, when she referred to my Pop Pop as “Pop Pop Fancy” (I guess from all of the Pop-ping) and my dad was (logically) “Pop Pop Plain.”  But those never stuck.

So we drove a little less than an hour to see 3 Pops, who is doing well health-wise for an 80-plus year-old man, except that he has circulation issues with his legs.  He is not a petite man by any stretch of the imagination – he was six feet, five inches tall at his tallest and I’d bet he was pushing three hundred pounds – so he can’t really walk on his own anymore.  Instead he drives around in a pimped-out, mac daddy electric wheelchair.

When we first got there he gave us a tour of the place.  No matter that we had been there several times before.  He just wanted to show off his visitors, which apparently is how you brag in the Home.  Imagine the sight of us in the halls… me and the five kids marching along with Pop Pop Fancy leading the parade in his Master of Ceremonies Hoveround.  He was a superstar!  We filed in and out of room after room, meeting friends and nurses and chatting them all up.  We shook everyone’s hands and many of them asked for and got hugs too.  I’m sure I got felt up a couple of times, but it was for the veterans so I wasn’t going to complain.

We took 3 Pops with us to a nice italian restaurant called Martino’s for some yummy lunch.  He is a regular there, so all of the waitresses came over to say hello and ask how he liked his spicy mussels (apparently a standing order for him).  Then we stopped at the store to pick up some fresh peaches, strawberries and navel oranges for him to keep in the fridge in his room.  He sure does love him some fruit!

Ernie and Pop Pop Fancy cruising the courtyard garden. Note that Ernie is wearing his favorite sombrero from The Awesome Hat Collection.

Back at the home we made another round of the halls to see if there was anybody who we might have missed on the first pass.  This was when we met my favorite couple of the day, Ernie and Mary Webber.  They had just recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary and they live in a room in the home together.  Mary is a little sicker and requires more care than her husband, but she still knew that she had some visitors and she just lit up when she talked with us.  I wondered to myself if they sometimes did it in their room.  How sweet would that be?  Ernie had an extensive hat collection that he insisted the kids all try on and he also had a beautiful vegetable and flower garden that he started in the courtyard that he showed us with immense pride.

It was clear that 3 Pops was ready for a nap, as it had been a busy and exciting day, and even his wheelchair was moving a little slower than usual.  We all hugged him and said our goodbyes, and the girls promised to write more letters (another way to get bragging rights in the home).  Kid E made me cry when he uncharacteristically climbed up into 3 Pop’s lap in the chair, grabbed both of his cheeks with his sweaty little hands, and gave him a giant smooch (you thought I was gonna say that he told him he wasn’t ugly, didn’t you?).

So we all piled into the car and headed back to the marina.  It was an all around great day and a really nice visit.  I was very proud of all of my kids that they did not even once stare, point, or ask embarrassing questions out loud when we were there.  No one mentioned that it smelled weird.  No one poked the people who were asleep in the hallways.  They were respectful and kind and interacted with everybody it made me very happy.

As we pulled into the driveway at my mom and dad’s house, I yelled out to the kids, “Now everybody should go to the bathroom and everybody should definitely wash their hands.”

Then Kid D replied, “Yeah, because we sure touched a lot of old people today!”

Wish me luck for tomorrow…