Monday, June 16, 2008

The Family Visit

The decision to visit the NW this year when we did was so that I could attend my nephew's graduation. It's hard to believe that they would allow a ten year old kid to graduate from high school. But time flies, and I guess he's not ten anymore. We drove from Molalla, Oregon to Portland, to Olympia to Elma, Washington. It's a small town about 30 minutes West of Olympia. As rushed as I felt getting there, it was a really pretty drive. The graduation was like most - a lot of talking by people I didn't know, trying to be inspirational, but really just kind of droning on and making inside jokes that only the students get. But a lot of my family was there from all over Washington and Idaho. I always have a lot of anxiety when I go to visit my family. It's not that I don't love them, I do. But I don't share their religious views, which I can see past, but they really can't (although, my mom seems to be pretty good about that). It really bothers me that I want to just visit with them, but that always seems to insert itself in some way. So, as a result, I don't see them much. And when I do, it's only briefly. (The pic is my nephew, Seth, my brother, Tom, my dad and me.) My mom said once that "family is important, in the end, it's all you got." I didn't really understand that at the time. I think she said it at some sort of family gathering surrounding a funeral, so I chalked it up to that. Family seems to get tight when they loose a member. But, maybe it's a part of getting older. We start to feel our mortality, yearning for younger days when everything felt safe. The safest place was always at home with your family. Now that I'm getting older, those days seem to be a little dream-like, maybe a little idealistic. Of course I do remember the times I was unhappy and down-right miserable too, but somehow in hindsight it seems so manageable. One thing we always hear is that we eventually turn into our parents. It horrifies all of us I know, and in the end it's true to a point. I still remember that first time I looked in the mirror and just for a second - as quickly as you could think about it - I saw my dad. Kinda freaked me out. Now I find it interesting because I see other members of my family too. Sometimes my dad, sometimes my mom, my uncle, or even my grandfather.

I've been thinking of my grandfather a lot lately. He passed away years ago. He wasn't the "climb into his lap and fall asleep" grandpa most people visualize. He was quiet, but loving. Aloof, but there. He was always a bit of a mystery to me as a kid. Not very gregarious - I don't think he liked kids much, and barely tolerated most people. That's always been my version of him. He liked to spend a lot of time gardening. They had a double lot, and the back half was all vegetables and berry gardens. He also did a lot of ornamental gardening - roses, tiger lilies, peonies... just about anything. He was an avid camper, hiker, and fisherman. He loved being in the mountains. I remember that sometimes he would come home from a long camping or fishing trip just long enough to pack up and go again. I was lucky enough to go with him once when I was in high school. It sounds strange, but it is one of those special memories I shared with just him and me. He was also an incredible photographer. He played the guitar in church and at family functions. Even "taught" me as a kid. He had boxes and boxes of pictures and slides. Many of his pictures were of scenery from his camping trips or of different flowers in bloom. He had his own printing press, and printed all kinds of graphics on business cards, brochures, announcements, I think he even printed napkins for someone's wedding once. All of this is starting to sound personally familiar to me. I like spending time in my garden, I miss hiking and camping in the northwest, and I have tons of photos of things in bloom, and I've been attempting to learn how to play my guitar, and have been working in print and online media for years.

A few years ago, my mom came to visit. We were walking around the back yard and I had my camera in hand. I stopped to take a picture of a bromeliad that had just started to display this spectacular bloom. I smiled and chuckled and said, "I'm starting to feel like grandpa." My mom's smile faded a little. We both got quiet as those words slowly sank in. We both missed him.

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