The instructions were simple: Don’t ask questions. Be ready by 1:30.
Since I left home at 18, “time with family” has usually meant a front-porch…and a telephone. But that’s how I was raised. Born a day apart in the same hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana, my mother and father left the Midwest in their young 20’s and never looked back. In ’72 and ’74, they added a pair of boys to the mix: A team of four; no extended family down the hall, up the street or the next town over. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – they were faces seen once a year on school vacations. Holidays, birthdays and special occasions were celebrated within our insular core; an occasional quick phone conversation with the bloodline. I knew no different.
It comes as no surprise that as I entered my late teens, a gut-instinct said to head-out and build a life on my own…somewhere else. So I did. Like my folks, I hop-scotched the country working hard, gaining valuable skills and experience with each new endeavor. Oddly enough, roots finally took hold in the Midwest, about 400-miles southwest of my parents’ hometown. After 15-plus years, I’m still here; still emulating the experience of my youth, geographically separated from the bloodline.
Without a doubt, the Midwest has rounded my character and built the man I’ve become. I met my wife here – though she was living in Germany at the time. By agreeing to marry me, she too became a willing participant in life removed from the bloodline; part of an insular core sharing ups-and-downs…over the telephone. It’s familiar territory, though. While growing up in Germany, Dionne spent years apart from her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Texas. Though we were raised an ocean apart, it’s pretty stunning how much she and I truly have in common.
Needless to say, for the both of us, “time with family” has become beyond valuable. So, when a random blue car came inching down the driveway shortly after 1:30 last week and my niece leaped from the back seat…it’s safe to say that my wife gave me the best of all possible 40th birthday gifts. The surprises didn’t end there, though! As we were catching up with my brother and his wife, another vehicle pulled into the drive, and out stepped my wife’s sister, her husband and their two kids. PARTY!
After a weekend of great conversation, playing with the kids in the RV and gorging on entirely too much home-cooking, we returned from an evening meal in Springfield to find over a dozen of our closest friends hanging-out on the front porch, ready to throw a few back with the old man. Very humbling. It was so great to reconnect with friends who have become family in the absence of those with whom we share DNA. Even better? We had a chance to blend these two “families” for the first time – all thanks to my cunning wife and her months of clever, secretive planning.
Now 40 years old, I can’t begin to describe how thankful I am for both families…for a wife who understands and endures…for an uncanny ability to turn-off any and all curiosity…and for being ready at 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon.
This was a birthday I will never forget.