Sunday, August 10, 2008

Family matters

At the breakfast table yesterday, my 13-year-old nephew asked my father, "Read any good books lately, Grampa?"

I don't know what tickled me more--the fact that my 13-year-old nephew loves to read or the fact that my 13-year-old nephew thinks it would be neat to talk to his grampa about books. The same table was the scene of an earlier conversation in which my daughter's boyfriend grilled my brother about his new solar panels, eliciting information about, for instance, wattage.

The nerdiness level was running a little high at that point, but at the same time the artistry was running high in the living room, where my 21-year-old daughter and my 9-year-old nephew were lying on the floor drawing their favorite comic-book villains. Later, my son the pilot quizzed my older brother on his work on the Airbus engine, and my 13-year-old nephew, who is slated to give a special message at his church one Sunday this fall, got some pointers from his two uncles who are preachers.

We spent most of yesterday outside in the sunshine, where my 10-year-old niece (who is apparently part mermaid) spent hours chasing minnows in the creek and catching a pink pail full of crawdads, which she promptly released again. Her brother and cousins very politely took turns riding the four-wheeler in careful circles around the meadow, sharing the only helmet one at a time. We all looked at a lot of photographs, and at some point we determined that last month my older brother's family encountered my daughter's college roommate at the national park lodge where she is working out west this summer. We never know how our lives intersect until we put our heads together, and then we never know where the conversation will take us--but we certainly enjoy the journey.

It has been 10 years since my parents have had all three children and six grandchildren gathered in one place, and this time they had an extra bonus: my daughter's boyfriend, who fit into the family as if he'd known them all his life. We celebrated my parents' 50th anniversary with a weekend of casual fun, featuring a lot of goofing off, some memorable walks, and some really good food. Our house was a bit more active than usual with 15 people staying here, but no one seemed to mind the occasional chaos, even the kids who slept outside in tents through last night's thunderstorm. This morning at the breakfast table we determined that at one point most of the parents were lying in our warm beds thinking the same thoughts: Should we go out and rescue the kids from the storm or let them tough it out in the tents?

They stayed out in the rain. Only one tent leaked; the other two stayed dry and comfortable, and my youngest nephew slept right through the storm. No one complained. It was neat.

Moments like that make me realize how important it is to have the family together in one place once in a while. We don't all think alike, but it's nice to have the chance to bring all our differences into conversation and see what happens. I only hope we don't have to wait another 10 years to make it happen again.

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