"Your friends you pick, your relatives are wished on you!"
I can't remember where I first heard this comment. Probably from one of those crusty and funky old uncles that populate every family. You know the kind that could audition for the curmudgeon role in one of those tacky community theater plays and land the part hands down. You wonder if there's a book of the crazy sayings he comes up with or does he just make the shit up on the fly.
I was surrounded by those embodied wishes the other night. The every-ten-years-or-so Cuyjet Family Reunion took place here in the DMV (District, Maryland, and Virginia, not the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles!) and we attended the Saturday night dinner at Levant on 19th Street NW in the District near DuPont Circle.
It was an interesting phenomenon to be both the head of a family and a cog in a large circle of cousins at the same time. It's "There's Chuck and his family," one second and the next me standing with my older and much taller brother-cousin Leon and feeling a little like when I was thirteen, all at the same time! And I don't know how many other families use that term, but Leon, Carl, and their sister Cecily were more like siblings growing up than first cousins to my sister and me.
I loved meeting and spending time with the adult versions of cousins I've known since they were infants or toddlers. One young lady, you know who you are, was messing with me by going from sharing stories with me from her 'tween years to saying, "Well now I'm gonna go order a drink from the bar!" I looked at her and still saw the teenager still in spite of her being a full blown, twenty-seven year old (and drop dead gorgeous) woman.
The smirk on her face while she read my attempt to cooly deal with my inner conflict was priceless!
And while I have mad love for all of my relatives, I love some more than others. I mean every family has members that are the universe's way of reminding you that it really 'takes all kinds', right? Suffice it to say that I remind myself that the things I don't like about others are a reflection of my own faults. Enough said, right?
But I do have a hierarchy and I reminded my favorite cousin that she was my favorite. I want to tell her every time I see her, which is never enough, and I probably rejoice as much as her dad in her successes and in her happiness. While I appreciate the time we got to spend with her over dinner I was warmed by the ebb and flow of family love all around me and my immediate family. I loved how my daughter opened up around my cousin and reconnected with her. I watched how she soaked in the praise directed towards her instead of her usual shy reluctance to accept any good words about her appearance or demeanor.
I witnessed my son's week long resistance to giving up time with his girl friend to do this one item on the reunion's jam packed three day agenda just melt away. He got to see his two favorite cousins, sisters, who love him to tears. He got to hear how amazed people were over how tall he's gotten and. after speaking with him, how intelligent they see him as being.
He got to spend time with his godfather, and sit between two men he finds inspiring and the look on his face while interacting with them during dinner was priceless. I don't know if he still sees me as a heartless dictator for insisting that he be there, but I know he'll always remember that night!
Isn't that what reunions are really about, generations mixing, love and stories being passed down, created, and shared? Two of my cousins are the unofficial keepers of the family's genealogy. They keep us all ordered and 'in line' in relation to who's who in the family. If there's a question about an ancestor, or our history, either of them can give the correct answer.
Another cousin is the keeper of the folklore of our clan. She also knows the roots and extended blood lines. I didn't know that my name, and my father's (I'm a Junior) comes from my grandmother's side of the family. Charles Jerome took on a totally different meaning for me when I found that out. She can talk your ear off and there are times one wishes for escape from her retold tales. But then there's always the unexpected moment in the middle of that sweet torture when she drops a precious jewel of a happening or relationship that you didn't know about. That makes it all worth while. She's updated her approach these days. Carries an iPad and her iPhone is LOADED with pictures from way back in the day.
Interesting to see the people you look like posing stiffly in nineteenth century garb.
But the best part is seeing those delicious young faces that are coming to these gatherings for the first time. A relative that lives in New Mexico brought her young toddler. When introduced to me I told her that I was the crazy uncle she'd have to get used to...she immediately started shaking her head. According to her, either I wasn't cut out to be the curmudgeon uncle or she just wasn't having any of it. Either way it was a moment I'll always cherish as the laughter from those who witnessed it still rings in my ears.