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OtterSummer 8.10-FamilyGathering

Family gathers before we leave: Sisters, brother, in-laws, cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, and their children; a houseful. The Grand Otter’s passing through with just a few short hours to renew connections in this decade-straddling family where a single generation spans nearly forty years. Nobody calls anybody ‘once-removed,’ but cousin instead.

Donna slow roasts a brisket and broils green-lipped mussels. Food’s never in short supply. The little ones use the wrong door to enter and exit, tracking in pea gravel. The girls head for the corner where the farm cat protects her three tiny offspring. The boys ride bikes down the hill in back. Adults wander in and out, continuing a conversation that started before they were born and will certainly continue long after they’re gone from here.

Family might be best defined as a conversation where the content varies but the intent remains the same. Much of this back-and-forth might sound like so much clowning around. In The Muse’s birth family, sarcasm remains a competitive sport, with each participant in turn cast as the butt of some endless, but somehow loving and otherwise pointless joke. ’Twas always thus.

People pair off for whispered asides, airing otherwise unspeakables. The tiniest perform their roles, floating from pod to pod delighting and surprising and frustrating. The boys get into some kind of life-threatening trouble, of course, and mom inevitably catches them, tripping their mischief with the strategic invocation of middle names. “Mathius!”

The more distant relatives seem a bit ill at ease in the seeming chaos of roiling familiarity. They are of course welcome but clearly unprepared for the rigor of the engagement. Inside jokes fly unrecognized past them. This must seem like so much chaotic noise and I’m sure they wonder how such apparent anarchy could ever qualify as family. The adults decide to eat before feeding the kids, who are off on adventures to every end of the property, so the out-of-towners can get away before nightfall. Someone’s washing dishes non-stop to keep up with demand for clean forks and glassware.

By the time the moon finally rises, orange and outsized, private conversations have begun in earnest. Time grows short. The infrequent opportunities for face-to-face connecting have left unfinished business, and finally fed and properly lubricated, people pair off to share what they’ll otherwise regret not having said. Again, much of even this most intimate work happens between spoken lines, and the real meaning’s written in faces more than stated in so many words. It’s all so subtle, so meaningful, so very, very alive.

By this time next week, we’ll all be back in exile and far, far away from this infrequent locus of everything. Much of what exchanged here will thereafter forever remain unspoken, but the residue will sustain. The half-naked kids’ screaming will echo far beyond this early summer evening.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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