In the wake of a week-long visit from my mother, The Quartet’s Nonna, my sister, Katherine, just made a quick weekend trip up from the swamps of South Florida to meet GK. Let me say this first, my sister’s visit was a lot more expensive (for me) than my mother’s visit. We went to dinner at Central BBQ with Baskin-Robbins for dessert, a Memphis Redbirds baseball game, lunch at Café Ole and ordered pizza in. That was a Friday to Sunday visit. Let me also say that in lieu of another outing to AutoZone Park for a Redbirds game, I think next time I’ll simply turn a baseball game on the TV for the kids to ignore, pop some popcorn, take it out into the yard and dump it on the grass, then hand each kid a $20 bill and be done with it. But then, of course, I wouldn’t be able to see their smiling, cherubic faces as I hand money over to strangers simply for their enjoyment. But I digress. Katherine, as all good aunts should, came bearing gifts. She brought the older kids each a pair of Florida’s native footwear, flip-flops. She brought them noisy shoes. It’s funny watching them put them on, too. Funny or frustrating, depending on how soon you would like to leave the house. I think I could teach JP how to tie shoes blindfolded faster than it takes him to wedge those flip-flops between his toes.
Katherine’s visit, and our weekly dinners with my other sister and brother-in-law, are important to The Quartet, and they look forward to them no matter the frequency. The time I spent as a young person with my aunts and uncles are some of the best memories I have. I can remember looking forward to their visits from college just as my own kids looked forward to their Aunt Katherine coming from Florida. And I also remember when they’d leave and how I felt that there would never be anything as fun as a visit from them. C was upset last night when Katherine left and it brought it all back for me. My mother has six siblings – three brothers and three sisters – and though I was closer with some than others, they are all people I loved to be around then and people I look up to now.
A couple of these aunts and uncles, though, were instrumental in educating me on important life lessons, like how to be a good father, the importance of family, how not to drink a beer, how to grill a chicken and how to drive on ice (and that driving on that ice can be a lot of fun). A defining point in my adolescence was a road trip I took with Aunt Carol back to her home outside Chicago. She had come to Memphis for a visit and, for reasons still not clear to me, bought a Great Dane puppy while here. She didn’t want to drive back alone with the dog so I, all of 13-years-old at the time, rode back with her. I made her listen to The Big Chill soundtrack the entire way there – first one side of the cassette, then the other, repeat for eight hours – and she did it without complaint. While traveling through Arkansas, she was pulled over for speeding and told me to lie in the back seat and act sick while she explained to the trooper that she must have been paying more attention to her sick nephew than the speed limit. She got the ticket anyway. So I suppose she was also instrumental in teaching me to lie to the authorities, just not very well (in a brilliant display of karma the Great Dane became sick shortly after and threw up in the backseat). She told me stories about the seven of them growing up, including some stories I was probably still too young to hear, and I loved her for that. She treated me like a grown-up and it is one of the first times I recall being treated as such. She regarded me as so mature, in fact, that to get me back to Memphis she put me on an Amtrak train for a 12-hour trip alone, teaching me self-reliance and never to force Motown on anyone ever again.
Another memory is somewhat hazy because I was quite a bit younger, but I remember a Christmas when we were all at my grandparents’ house and Aunt Carol and Uncle Johnny had to run out for something. Naturally I wanted to go with them because where they went, fun was sure to follow. It was brutally cold and the purple Gremlin they all drove at one time or another broke down if you can believe that. We walked in the dark to the Market Basket, where Johnny worked, to use the phone. Johnny carried me and let me put my hands inside his coat to keep warm. When we got to the Market Basket he held me up to one of the giant overhead heaters to help fight the chill. It scared the hell out of me. It was like he was trying to grill me.
I hope my own kids have similar experiences with their aunts and uncles, without the beer, though, or the driving on ice, or the speeding through Arkansas or even being in a Gremlin…but you get the idea. If the week with their Nonnna and this weekend with Aunt Katherine are any indication, I know that they enjoy their time with family and that they anticipate more of it. I hope that they retain the appreciation for their immediate family and all of the things they’ll learn from them, skills and knowledge that might slip through the cracks at home and in school. I do hope they do a better job at grilling chicken, which I’m doing as I write this post, and which I fear is already burnt.