Family (hair-) ties

7 03 2013

“You have long hair like a girl,” Caleb said first, watching long fingers rapidly comb through and then twist up a waterfall of honey-amber into a loose ponytail bun. Reconsidering in light of the raised eyebrow look I’m sure was delivered next in this exchange (I was in the next room), he amended the claim quickly: “Long hair like a rock star!” Yep, my brother the rock star, Evanny’s uncle Brek, came to visit this past weekend. It was the second time he’d ever been to Syracuse, and the first was ten years ago, which is a long time when it’s the ten between 25 and 35. He also came last time with our mother, which made this visit all the more vivid–not that there’s anything wrong with my mother or her visits: Evvy’s Lola is one of her favourite people (we use FaceTime to keep that current). But it’s a universal fact that everybody automatically acts, and feels, more like a kid around his or her mother, which made that previous 25 more like 15 to my 18, and neither of us had much to say in that state. It’s different when we’re on our own. And, of course, different when one of us has a baby, because the kid-role is taken (Caleb helps with that too!), leaving grown-up-ness, or at least its reasonable approximations, up to us.


Spider-fingers on the bass and Matty playing front-man, deluged in blue light together.

The visit was a resounding success: Uncle Brek spent his first night in town at the Fusion Room with Matt, watching & playing in a Friday night gig with Matt’s band, his second day with the whole family, playing board games and eating barbecue with his step-nephew, and his third day hanging with just the adults and the infant, which gave us all a chance to converse instead of having to be set on “entertain.” Then, the last morning, it was just him & me & cups of tea while the little one babbled in puzzlement at the mostly empty room. It was a great sequence for me–plenty of time for both show and tell, and a totally days-seized weekend managed well enough that it felt like a “real” visit, not like “just a weekend.”

Creative Chess Un-Championship

Creative Chess Un-Championship

The biggest success, though, was getting to see, and getting to really know, that despite our fragmentation–both geographical and relational–over the years, and despite not having much in common as kids (except for the shared circumstance of being our family’s kids, which, it turns out, is a lot), my brother and I have both grown into people who really value, miss, and want our families around us. It also turns out that we have a lot in common now that we’re grown. Plus, we like each other. And even more magically, we really like each other’s partners; he and Matt had a blast on stage together and never seemed to have a moment lost for words, and my only complaint about his visit was that we didn’t get to see his girlfriend too (that’s only her technical designation, because he’s got his young-mannish resistance to institutionalization and a sense that way too many things have to be predictable and perfect. I tend to skip the technical and just call her my sister-in-law, which gets at the feel of it better, even though the “law” part isn’t true). And, on top of everything else, he was brilliant with Caleb.

He and I took a long walk around our neighborhood in the blowing snow, him bundled against his warm climate sensibilities in both his warmest “real” jacket and a puffy brightly colored ski jacket from the mid-90’s that he’d long since left behind in my mother’s closet, his long, thin hands in arctic gloves, me in just a fleece & scarf & my gloves fingerless, to talk about money and houses and the rental business and northern town aesthetics and Victorian architecture; he started it, this time, the fantasy we’ve tried out on every branch of family we get the chance to show around, that they move here where the houses are cheap, buy-and-rent to bring their mortgages down to pennies, and then don’t worry so much about whether there are any dream jobs left in this town, because the cost of living is low enough they wouldn’t need one. It’s a hard sell, especially in February, but we poured everything we had into it, our summer blueberries, a fresh lasagna, music-baby-love, because it’s the only way we’re ever going to have family around the way we dream of, for ourselves as much as for the kid(s): the housing/cost of living thing is a burden as much as a boon, in that even if Caleb didn’t tie us to here, money would. Selling our house here would barely net us enough to put a down payment on a car anywhere anyone else in our families lives (LA, NoVA, Austin, & freaking England).

I don’t, after folks leave, believe anything will come of these tours and conversations, but it keeps something alive in me to have them, to believe in them just long enough to talk them through and carry them around the neighborhood, wishful imaginings of kids and cousins and art studios and gel-lit stages and summer berrying expeditions alighting like intricate, slow-forged northern snowflakes along our sleeves.


Trying out “the gaze” on a newly met source of forever-love… both of them

When we were little kids with little-to-nothing in common, I had no idea that it would turn out that having been kids together was common enough: that we were so busy learning the entire world together, from the same people in the same places, the same soft southern drawls, the same fried catfish on our tongues, the same singer-songwriters in Daddy’s 8-track player, the same independence-training at Mommy’s granola alternative schools, the same 80s TV shows, the same early morning treks outside the city limits to watch the planets rise, that our later selves were being so closely cut from common cloth. I didn’t know that he would grow to look so much like my mother’s family and sound so much like my father (I can only wonder who he sees in me). I certainly didn’t know that our 30’s would crest and start to roll away with us starting families of our own on opposite sides of the country, or, even more surprising to the born-nostalgic kid I was, that the rueing would be mutual. I never would have guessed that he would show up one day trailing stinky California green “feet” tea, offer to help me bake a pie, and fall in love with my daughter (whom he calls “Buddy”; who has his-colored hair and his long feet with his longer middle toes and was born with one ear crumpled just like he was). But now that I do know, I’ll be spending all of my star- and necklace-clasp- and birthday-candle wishes trying to will their moving up here to come true.




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