Returned on Monday night (four hour drive from Chicago, which still managed to get us home a few hours before the delayed Southwest flight would have) from a few days with the Eldest on the Left Coast (ha – my uncle Phil’s gate greeted us with a sign “Another family who proudly supports George Bush”) with the family. All in all, a great, much too short time. A few highlights:
1. Saw good friend E (see Fur Elise below). She is the epitome of grace under pressure, and also looks better than any cancer patient I’ve ever seen. The visit was way too short due to my terror of driving down her steep mountain road at night, but it was wonderful. I’m praying with her and a bunch of other people that this batch of chemo will shrink the two liver tumors to the degree that they can do a resection, which could buy her a lot of time. I really need that to not be my last visit. Meanwhile, I finally got to meet her beautiful youngest and her excellent spouse. One of those times it was completely worth facing my acrophobia.
2. Another great time had visiting my dad’s sibs at my uncle Phil’s estate (house doesn’t really cut it) on the way to Tahoe. The Bauers are universally skyscraping, lanky, and possessed of an odd but intriguing mix of bone-dry humor, German stoicism and practicality shot with erratic drama queenery (the Eldest attributes this to the generations raised in Russia prior to the migration west). They get their own subsections:
2a: My aunt Merry has long been a favorite. A retired nurse, she is recovering from the very recent death of her beloved husband, George, from a brain tumor that took him too quickly. Total shoutout to her and her daughter Christi for braving the crowd so soon after that loss. Hoping to get to Seattle soon to spend more time with them.
2b: Phil’s wife, Karen, and kids Sarah and Mike, were new to me, and all are a treat. Sarah and her husband Prachaun are both San Francisco chefs and made us a sushi feast, a blast to watch and a sure bringer-out of my inner pig. Mike’s wife, Lynn, is a delight; another person I hope to reconnect with soon.
2c: I haven’t seen my cousins, the Egloffs of Denver, since I was 3 (Rick) and 13 (Steve). Sons of my dad’s oldest sister, Elaine – still a force in mind, spirit, and body at age 86 – they instantly took me and the Eldest under their wings, and have invited us, the Youngest, and the spouse to their cabin in the Rockies next summer. I hope we can go; Rick played for the Raiders and the Broncos in the 70s and I imagine he and the spouse will hit it off right away between the sports and the mutual love of the absurd.
2d: Dad is tired and in a fair amount of pain, but eloquent, generous, and kind as ever. It’s always fascinating to see someone in the context of their immediate family, and I was struck by the fact that my dad had to grow up way too fast. The Bauers have turned up a remarkable amount of photos and film from the 30s and 40s, when Dad was a kid, and it is easy to see his bond with his brother Charlie, who died when Charlie was only 5 and Dad was 7. I don’t think Dad’s ever quite recovered from that loss; when he talks about getting to heaven, he always mentions seeing his dad and Charlie first. He’s waited a long time. On top of that, in a family of overachievers, he had to put all of his dreams on permanent hold to manage the farm when he had barely turned 18. But Dad doesn’t complain. More grace. And Mom continues to be her funny, down-to-earth, honest self. I am so thankful to have two people who truly love each other as my parents.
2e: My other uncles Rick, Dave, and Steve, and their wives, Donna, Ann, and Cat, were all great to connect with. I love seeing how unique each individual in the big brood is. The Eldest was particularly enthralled by Rick, who looks and sounds the most like Dad. It’s really comforting to know that, should Dad go first, we have that base of family to turn to for support and to remind us of our Big Guy. And vice versa.
2f: I think my most touching moment at the reunion came when we were leafing through a photo album that records all the sibs over the years. My aunt Elaine had a child at the age of 15, and couldn’t keep her – single motherhood was a long ways from chic at the time. Her aunt Lydia adopted the little girl, Alice, who was struck by lightning on the way to a birthday party when she was five (her dress was ripped in two by the force). Remarkably, there are several photos of Alice in the album. As I looked at them, I realized Elaine was behind me. I looked up at her and said, “Elaine, I’m sorry. These must be hard for you to look at.” She said very gently, “No. I like looking at her.” She put her hand on my shoulder.
3. Wrapped up by spending a perfect day in San Francisco with my niece Amanda and her husband Aziz. I have not often seen two people who are so right for each other and who consistently bring out the best in each other. We laughed a lot, and I don’t think there are many things more fun than having Amanda drive you around San Francisco with her stream of consciousness running commentary.
4. My sister Lisa is wonderful and close to pain free, and probably gets my sense of humor and bizarre references better than anyone else on the planet. There is much peace in her home, and her husband Dave is mellowing nicely. I wish they lived down the street. Sigh. Hope to see them and their kids again soon.
5. Had an absolutely spectacular time throughout with the Eldest. I’ll take you anywhere, kid.
Thanks to the spouse and Youngest for holding down the fort while I was gone, and welcoming us home with flowers. I am blessed.