This finishes up my post about my family reunion. It is part 3: laughter.
The family reunion had been going on for a few hours. Dinner and dessert was behind us. Photo books were open, stories exchanged, Italian spoken, songs sung.... as I stood back, the laughter percolated the atmosphere like a faint, delicious scent. It was the laughter that filled the room. It connected the past and present and I felt secure. The memories of my grandparents were vivid; it was as if they were in the room with us - in the laughter.
In this room, sat my aunt who talked about her two conversations with President Kennedy while my uncle talked about what it was like to be among the first of the liberation forces to come across concentration camp victims in WWII under Hitler's regime. My two daughters absorbed stories of growing up in Italy, New York and Oakland, Ca. The room was filled with people representing the entire world, of different ages and backgrounds, joined through family, friendship, history and travel - but most of all, it was the laughter that connected them.
"Children are said to laugh a great deal more than adults; an average baby laughing 300-400 times a day to an average adult laughing 15-20 times a day, however the cited article, written by one of the two top humor researchers in the world, establishes there is no real basis to this claim". Despite the exact number, it seems laughter is constant and early but diminishes the older we get. Laughter was a constant ingredient in my grandparents home.
In my post about Robert Redford from February of this year, Redford talks about the laughter after President Kennedy was assassinated. He described it as a harsh, lost innocence-type of laughter. The laughter in Nana and Papa's home was a release of the pressures of growing up. Each of the grandkids grew up in broken, tense homes where the pressures of life weighed heavily on our parents. Our summers spent there provided a respite from the turbulent seas. Impersonations and an on-stage presence where laughter bubbled up from deep within our souls. That is what calmed us - laughter.
I married someone funny and all three of our children are hilarious. They each have ventured out beyond their homes, and therefore have great stories to tell. It really is a wonderful gift. Although, I have learned to "run with the big-dogs" in terms of a sense of humor, it isn't my natural "go-to" approach to life. It must be cultivated and encouraged. Where I am an introvert at heart, there are people around me that get re-engergized by people. Each of us know people like that and although we can't all be the same, we can learn and grow from their innate ability to laugh.
So- last week i made pork chops for dinner. I automatically thought to buy apples to make applesauce.. Naturally, when my husband got home from work he started in with "pork chops and applesauce" and reminded me it came from the "Brady Bunch". We laughed.
We may not all be a Humphrey Bogart (like Peter's Brady's impersonation) but we might be the Lauren Bacall to Bogart's swag or a Robin to Batman's caped crusader. The point is each of us are unique and bring to the table eclectic qualities. Our stories have not yet been finished. We are in the process of "becoming". The question is, who are you? Are you comfortable in who you are? If not, take the challenge and change. Feel at home in your own shoes.
In a final wrap-up, I'm glad I took the time to initiate a family reunion. Yes- it took time and money but in it, I walked away with something greater than money, relationships. The challenge? Have the eyes to notice people around you and then invest your time in those people. Have hands to make a difference. And finally, laugh. Life is too short not to.
Connect, love and be loved.
Information regarding laughter found in wikipedia. See link.
Last month I helped host a family reunion. This is part 2 of a 3 part post on my observations. Where the first talked about eyes, this one talks about hands.
"You are only as happy as your least happy child" I remember a friend saying. The older I get, the truer that statement seems. As I looked at the pictures from the reunion, I was struck by one where eighty year old hands were holding a book about life - the triumphs and losses. I thought of the courage it must have taken these past few years to remain a pillar of strength.
Hands.. when I was young, I was told I should play the piano. People said my long slender fingers would lend themselves to the beauty of playing music. Hopeful, I imagined myself playing an instrument. As a teenager, "Moles" (See under reflections: Impact of other people on you) would tell me, I should be a hand model because the shape of my nails was delicate and pretty. I imagined my life to be grand and important. In my early twenties, because of my sheer determination to be financially independent, I worked as a certified nurse's assistant in private home healthcare. Staying with a husband and wife until their gradual death over a two year period, my hands bore the weight of that responsibility. Each wrinkle became cracked and sore. Only cortisone shots could stop my hands from bleeding. In my thirties and forties, my hands helped to raise our three children; now at fifty, my hands have aged.
As I was caught up in the details of planning and then pulling together my three children from different parts of California to attend the family reunion, I was so tuned into the details, that I forgot about the emotion. So much so, that it felt as though I was standing at the edge of the Pacific Ocean when an unexpected wave knocked me over. That wave was seeing Nana's sister. My eyes filled with tears. Seeing her brought back memories; they flooded my soul like oxygen to breathing.
In October 2005, Billy Crystal released his book, 700 Sundays. It was so popular, the book was converted to a play on Broadway and most recently an HBO special. Having read the book and then seeing the production, I remember I loved both the book and play and decided to read about Crystal to see if it was an appropriate addition to this post.
I stumbled upon this interview between Billy Crystal and Ellen DeGeneres which talks about 700 Sundays becoming an HBO special. In his usual funny approach, Crystal describes growing up in a Jewish family and the characters that surrounded him. My Italian family was not unlike his Jewish one. Ours was a vibrant Italian family rich in culture, characters and quotes. Immigrating from Italy to New York and eventually to Calif, there were always great stories to hear.
Every summer, I went to Nana and Papa's house for at least one week. Although we saw them on a regular basis, it was this one-on-one time I enjoyed so dearly. I sometimes helped Nana volunteer at the hospital or sometimes we went into San Francisco to see a play or go to the movies. I always got $100 for "back to school" shopping where I managed to stretch every penny and "modeled" my purchases for Papa at the end of the day - but mostly, we stayed around the house. I swung in the outside swing, listened to music, worked on crafts or helped with the cooking or chores.
Regardless of what we did early in the day, by 4:00 pm, it was time to rest. Sitting in her favorite spot, feet up on a pillow and the current talk show on in the background, Nana took a rest. It was the only time in the day where I had to be quiet. She woke up early, stayed up late; the house was always impeccably clean, dinner prepared and she even freshened up her make-up before Papa got home. Listening to this interview on the Ellen Show for this post even brought back memories of those early days for me. In a way, that is what family reunions are all about.
My son, at the age of 3 would take his father's face in his hands and boldly proclaim, "dad-listen to me". The great thing about kids is their total abandonment to emotion. They have not been jaded with the protocol of anything or anyone. Their communication is innocent, honest and true. Whether it was me standing in the crib yelling or him with his desire to be heard, a voice is all we have.
As I was working with the older couple in my twenties, I had saved a poem about hands. In writing this post, I searched for that poem. I didn't find it but instead came across a bunch of poems, journals and notes I had written. One was from a class I had taken in college. It was about the book Don Quixote. As the class filled a requirement, my expectations were low. Stepping into that book, accompanied with the symbolism, humor and passion taught by a little, soft-spoken man in his 70's, the book came alive.
Don Quixote was written in 1605 (part I) and 1615 (part 2) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra who was born on Sept 29, 1547 and died the same day as William Shakespeare on April 22, 1616 (later disputed to April 23rd). In this class, two men that changed the literary world, writing of everyday tragedies and loves, were transforming my world and challenging me to think more keenly about my own life. As I thought about Nana, Papa and Terri, their tortoise (Terri who lived more than 50 years of their 64 years of married life ), I thought of the characters of Don Quixote. Ordinary, every day people, a turtle and an extraordinary amount of love.
Helping hands, praying hands, working hands and hopeful hands - whatever your story says.... say it in love.
"There cannot be change without challenge". The gym where I work out recently changed their format. The voice on the video shouts this as I feebly attempt push-ups.
No.. this is not a picture of me. Last month I co-hosted a family reunion in Northern California. It was the result of attending too many funerals in a three year period. I began assembling "My Publisher" album books. My daughter took this picture; for me, it captured the spirit of the day.
As I did in March for "March Madness", I will assemble this as three-part blog post. This time the theme will be a family reunion through my perspective. It will be divided into three parts: eyes, hands and laughter.
There was one cousin I hadn't seen in many years. She is a UC Berkeley graduate and a few years older than me. In high school, she invited me to visit her in San Francisco. She was bright and funny and I appreciated her willingness to reach out to me. I believe she was one person in a bouquet of many that encouraged me to venture out beyond the bubble in which I grew up.
Fast forward thirty years and I can count the times I have since spent any time with her. What made this reunion potentially awkward is the death of her son only a few years prior to this event. She, her mom and sisters are quiet, reserved and extremely private. Being a bit of an "introvert" myself, I didn't have the words to express my condolences.
She had two grown sons living in Lake Tahoe, CA where I grew up. Her boys were close friends. On a freak motorcycle accident, her son hit a rock and flew off. Having no external injuries, it was his internal injuries that caused a quick bleed and his passing away in his twenties. I didn't hear about the specifics of his funeral until after it happened. Reaching out to his friends through social media, she quickly assembled a gathering of family and friends in Tahoe.
Now, in a sea of fifty people which included my immediate and extended family, I walked up to her and a gathering of people around her. The first thing I noticed... profound and telling... were her eyes. I cannot adequately describe them. Maybe the wrinkles or maybe the color but I knew those eyes because I had seen them in someone else I knew.
I now live in the home of my beloved, 89 year old neighbor that passed away two years ago. She and I enjoyed each other's company- going to estate sales, Costco and numerous shopping excursions and lunch. She had one grandson and several grand-daughters. She loved my son and because he and her grandson were about the same age, she thought it would be fun to introduce them on his next visit to California.
That time never came. It was in the mountains of Wyoming. It was late. There was a party and although her grandson had not been drinking, his friend had been and was worried he would be in trouble with his mom if he was not home. Along a dark, windy road the car slid off the road. Disoriented and injured, the two boys managed to get out of the car, only to be hit by a passing truck. They were killed instantly.
Those eyes I mentioned that I had seen before where the eyes of a mother in pain. Two people in my life not only sharing the same name but sharing the same loss - a son killed tragically. There were no words to adequately take away the pain. Only a remembrance of their names.
Love and friendship is all I had to offer.
There were two other things that stood out to me about the conversation: One was a cherished memory she had as a teenager in my home in Lake Tahoe. The gift I received that day was the realization that we shared the same wonderful memory. I have often thought of that day as one of my most prized memories growing up. I just didn't realize the extend of that prized memory for her.
It was Christmas. It was the first and last holiday in the home I helped build. I loved that home and it took many years in the building. We had the entire extended family come stay with us for for the holidays; there were about twenty of us. We began the day snow skiing at Ski Incline (now Diamond Peak). We followed it up with an evening of good food, dancing to the "Doobie Brothers", Christmas caroling with mugs of hot chocolate (something stronger for those older) and what to me now is a blur of love and good memories.
She never forgot that day and neither did I. I just had forgotten that family reunions mean a shared history of a different sort. Awkward- yes but in another Pinterest quote, "be brave enough to start a conversation that matters". Dau Voire In this atmosphere of a family reunion, was the beginning of a new friendship. Now it requires the action of one or both of us. It is not enough to pour the corn kernels into the popcorn popper, it requires turning on the heat and adding the seasoning.
The second thing she said was, "It is time to make new memories". That is where my initial quote about working out comes in. "Change does not come without Challenge" Jillian Michaels Although the quote was expressed in terms of a work-out video, it can also loosely be related to change in our lives. Anything that requires action on our parts. I think it is a challenge for each and every one of us. If you want people and experiences in your life, you have to put the work in to make it happen.
I know there are people who read this blog that have lost their mothers, family and friends. It takes courage to keep moving forward to "make new memories" and to allow friendships to flourish and grow. It takes bravery to keep walking, adding people and positive experiences to your life. In fact, any change requires challenge.
Aside from creating the time, it sometimes takes money to reach people outside your home, like flying in for a family reunion. We had one family member that flew in from Paris, France to spend time with us as well as her aging parents. This challenge is where grace begins. Allow love to penetrate your hard exterior of pride and self-preservation. We, as a people, are really more alike than you might think.
The Doobie Brothers was a popular American rock band selling more than 40 million albums. Drummer, John Hartman arrived in CA in 1969 determined to meet Skip Spence of Moby Grape. Spence introduced Hartman to singer, guitarist and songwriter, Tom Johnston who along with bassist, Greg Murphy became a "power trio" performing around San Jose in 1970. Those early years attracted bikers such as the Hells Angels. So much so, they began playing at a regular biker venue, Chateau Liberte in the Santa Cruz Mtns. Although there was a first album called "Introducing the Dobbie Brothers", it was their second album, "Toulouse Street", featuring the songs "Listen to the Music" and "Jesus is Just Alright" that brought their band breakthrough success in 1972. Hits, "Long Train Runnin'" and "China Grove" followed on their third album, "The Captain and Me" in 1973.
Huge success lead to rigorous touring schedules. The demands of the road took a toll on Johnston, who was eventually hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer in 1975. The year before, Steely Dan's co-lead guitarist, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter learned his band was retiring from the road. Needing a steady gig, he joined the Doobie Brothers. It was Baxter that brought co-musician, Michael McDonald from Steely Dan to the Doobie Brothers. McDonald filled the hole of singer, songwriter and keyboardist. In 1976, while still under contract to release another album, the band turned to McDonald (and Porter) since Johnston was still unavailable. The resulting album, "Takin It to the Streets" transformed the sound of the Doobie Brothers to a more soft-rock genre. That again began a long string of albums and tours. Despite the "revolving door" of musicians coming and going (See the bottom of my Wiki link for a listing of musicians), the Doobie Brothers continues to enjoy worldwide success while continuing to tour extensively.
In Nov, 2012, the Doobie Brothers released a documentary, "Let the Music Play: The Story of the Doobie Brothers". The above link is a trailer to the movie.
Information from Wikipedia and Doobie Brothers- Official Site at www.doobiebros.com
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.