Sunday, September 03, 2006

Family conversation

L and I spent the weekend in Virginia, attending a big party my mom organized to introduce L to the extended family. Since a lot of my mom's cousins and aunts and uncles weren't invited to the big show, she wanted to organize a family party to make sure there were no hard feelings. It was her first effort at a big multigenerational gathering, and she did quite well, so I was happy for her.

It has been a weird summer for the family. There were three big events: my mom's uncle had a major, $270-million dollar water treatment plant named after him (you know, standard stuff, really), so there was a big reception and party for that; then, my 40-year old cousin died after a long and horrible battle with cancer; and then I got married. I went home at the end of July for my cousin's funeral, but hadn't seen most of the attendees at my mom's party since then.

People were passing around a photo album with pictures from the water treatment plant party. There was one skinny, dark-skinned guy there who I didn't recognize; he had a mustache and was sitting in a large armchair for most of the shots, with people wrapping an arm around him or holding his hand. "Who's dating the Indian guy," is what I thought. Of course, this was my cousin -- I didn't recognize him with a mustache, and much more profoundly, his kidney failure (?) had lent a horrible yellowish tint to his skin color. He looked awful.

Well, this scenario provided the scene for a perfect storm of conversational awkwardness in our kitchen. My grandma was looking at the photo album, and chatting with someone about that, while a cousin of mine, balancing a toddler on her hip who was trying to clamber all over her, spoke about her kids. This is how it went down:

Grandma: These photos are hard to look at.

Cousin Whoever (with the kid): I tell you, this little guy loves food.

Grandma: I just can't believe anyone could look this awful. It's just awful.

Cousin Whoever: At Christmas, he dragged a chair in front of the food - he didn't even want to open presents!

Grandma: I think they should just keep these photos separate. You just with there was something you could do for him.

Cousin Whoever: I mean, take him to Old Country Buffet, or Sizzler! He just wants something to eat! Come on! [rueful laughter]

At this point, thankfully, the conversations veered away from each other, and the horrible conflation of cancer and hungry toddlers. But at this point I was also trying to figure out how I could unobtrusively light my mom's tablecloth on fire so that everyone would switch to a new topic.

As people were leaving, everyone was happy to meet L and glad that they family had reunited so often this last year. They all looked forward to seeing people more often, as the new generation (mine) started getting married, having kids, etc. Later that night we were opening gifts that people weren't supposed to bring, and the mother of my cousin who passed away had given us a Christmas ornament of his -- "a special delivery from Heaven," as the card said. Apparently she is spreading his belongings throughout the family, so that no one will forget him. But his absence this weekend was a current underlying the entire event, and there is no chance we would or could forget him.

I don't know, this is a rough topic. When this was all happening over the summer I thought about reflecting on everything here, but it was too much to get into, and I don't think now is the time either. Family is a whole mess o' stuff, though, ain't it?

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