Beach Vacation 2016

I usually don’t take vacations. Every year, the HR lady calls down to the sunken storage closet I work out of and tells me that my two weeks of vacation time will expire unless I use them right away. I always let them disappear, I have nowhere to go anyway.

This time was different. My mom’s side of the family (40ish people) got two houses at Sandbridge in Virginia last week. Instead of working, like a productive member of society, I spent the week swimming in the ocean, walking on the beach, eating good food, drinking responsibly, watching the olympics, and playing card games with my many relatives.

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It was great. Now, I want a beach house.

I didn’t get nearly enough reading done, and I’m not looking forward to the mountain of work waiting for me in the office, but overall, it was a great way to shake things up. I think that’s the point of vacations, not necessarily to relax, family trips can be more stressful than daily life, but just a change of pace. I’ll catch up with the workload and everything will be back to normal soon enough, so it’s always worth taking some time, and a few hundred dollars, to ride the waves, kick the sand, and re-connect with increasingly distant family members.

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Beach Vacation 2016

The Weasley Family

Long ago, when we were kids, it was my younger sister’s turn to pick a movie to watch on family night.  The four of us crowded around the old TV in our townhouse basement and ate pizza as we watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Not long after, I got the first four books, all that had been released at that time, and started reading.  Our parents used to pay my sister and I a penny per page for all the books we read.  This helped us learn to love reading, but the arrangement stopped since The Goblet of Fire was so thick.

Over the years I have read through the saga many times.  I pre-ordered books 5, 6, and 7 to ensure I had them in my hands as soon as possible.  Book 6 was released while I was out of the country.  A friend of mine somehow had a copy with her in Jamaica, so I avoided spoilers like the plague.  We have since fallen out, so I can’t look at The Half Blood Prince’s cover art without remembering a lot of drama and tense text messages.

My plan was to re-read them all again for the last time and then donate my hardcover set to someone for whom the magic would still be magical.  I plan on finishing the seventh book tomorrow and now I’m not sure if I can stick with my plan.  For one thing, my name is written in different handwriting inside the covers of 5, 6, and 7.  For another, this was the first story I really loved.  I grew up with Harry Potter.  No longer having these books, in varying states of spine damage, on a bookshelf for the rest of my life wouldn’t feel right.

So we arrive, finally, at the point: The Weasley Family troubles me.

I never wanted to get married, ever since I was a teenager, and I still don’t.  My reasons are ill-defined and wavering, but they are based on the theory that I don’t want to be married.  Long-time readers may remember when I went to a friend’s wedding, their love and joy was so palpable it rocked my worldview.  We can learn something new from every story, no matter how many times we’ve already turned that page.  This time around, the Weasleys have started changing my mind.  I found myself thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have a family.  Maybe it would be great, we’d be like a team.

The Weasleys are giving, just, and brave.  They’re also poor, because they have seven kids.  Even though they live in a rickety house and aren’t well respected by their bureaucratic peers, they seem to have no regrets.  They love and support one another and that’s enough.

Their example, combined with another lesson I heard recently (self sufficiency is the road to poverty) makes me think that there’s a good reason why most people pursue relationships.  It’s a flickering candle in the void where my love should be, but who knows, maybe that’s enough.

The Weasley Family

Eleven Shelves, One Marble Coaster

You can learn a lot about someone from their bookcase.  If someone does not have a bookcase, they’re a monster, and you should make a graceful exit.  Leave the wine where it is, just get out.

I don’t have a bookcase; I keep the books I’ve read in small white boxes in the basement.  I keep the books I haven’t read in my third dresser drawer.  The drawer’s almost full, so I need to read faster.

It’s an illogically temperate December 28 in Western New York and I’m looking over my laptop screen at two of my grandfather’s bookcases.  The shelves aren’t full, there’s always room for more.  He has photo albums covering almost every year since 1975.  He has naval academy yearbooks from the early 1980s.  He has american politician biographies, religious texts, and military history books.  He has a copy of The Art of War.  He has a black birdhouse with pink flowers painted all over sitting on the top shelf, but it’s not a book, so it doesn’t count.

My grandfather goes under for back surgery tomorrow.  A man who owns The Wars of the Roses, a revised edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, and a travel guide to Ireland should pull through.  If only to finish filling all these empty shelves.

Eleven Shelves, One Marble Coaster

My Father and My Father’s Father

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My grandfather was a forceful man, when he made a decision, that was the end of it.  My father’s parents divorced when he was in college.  Then my grandfather moved across the country to California and later across the Pacific to Vietnam.  His social security check went much further out there.  He upstaged his neighbors when he bought a washing machine and dryer.  A poor man in Oakland became a rich man in Vietnam.  He married a Vietnamese woman with her own grown children, they always smiled in the pictures they sent us.  My grandfather was 6 feet 4 inches tall, a veritable giant in Southeast Asia.

He’s dead now, cancer.

We’d talk on the phone once or twice a year.  He always asked how I was doing in school and told me to keep studying.  Whenever I said “yeah” he immediately corrected me, I quickly learned to say “yes” when I spoke to him.  I was the first on my father’s side of the family to earn a Bachelors degree, but my grandfather didn’t live to see me walk across the stage.

There’s so much I don’t know about him.  I don’t know what he did for a living, who his parents were, or where they came from.  I don’t know how he met my grandmother, what Buffalo – New York was like when he was younger, or what he wanted out of life.  I don’t know why he got divorced, why he moved to California, or why he moved to Vietnam.

But he was tall, decisive, and didn’t want me to say “yeah.”

My Father and My Father’s Father

Retirement Party

Yesterday after a very busy time at work I changed clothes, switched cars, and sat in traffic for nearly two hours on the way to the dressiest pool party I’ve ever attended.  My Dad’s cousin retired from the US Air Force as a Colonel after 26 years of service.  I couldn’t attend the ceremony since I had to work, but I joined about 250 people that evening for the house-party.

I parked a long way down the street and followed the noise to what I hoped was the right place.  There were no signs and I hadn’t been there before, so I just walked in and grinned at anyone who looked askance at my late arrival.  After a few minutes, I knew I was in the right house and hadn’t barged into someone else’s gathering.  It was a catered affair with a rather limited open bar.  The basement was full of people watching the World Cup, the pool was full of kids splashing around, the trampoline was full of kids flailing around, and the yard was full of hundreds of people.

That party alone was a great testament to her years of service, and to Emily Buckman as an individual.  To bring so many relatives, airmen, and friends together, and have a place big enough to accommodate all of them, was impressive.

Of course you can’t get so many people together without a few things going wrong.  I looked into the pool and wondered why a man was swimming with his oxford shirt on.  Turns out, a little girl had floated into the deep end and her brother tried to help her out of the water but he couldn’t swim well enough for both of them.  When they started to sink, this man and the child’s mother dove into the water and saved the day.  Two teenage lifeguards were chatting at the other end of the pool.

I also got the opportunity to talk with another relative-of-little-relation’s boyfriend about his time teaching English in China.  I learned a lot about China, Southeast Asia, teaching, travel, and professional considerations from that chat.  Most of which may not matter for the next few years, but it was edifying all the same.  Most importantly I need to know why I want to go, and have a plan in place.

Four relatives stayed here for the retirement festivities, which is why I’m typing this from my old desk in my sister’s old room / sewing room / office / temporary housing.

Congratulations Emily, and thank you for your many years of service.

Retirement Party

Garden Party Reception

My aunt hosted my cousin’s “wedding” reception yesterday.  While they have lots of space for the occasion, there were a few interesting caveats.  We weren’t supposed to park at the venue.  So we could either park a few streets down on the side of the road and walk, or park somewhere else entirely and get shuttled over.  Of course, people just parked there anyway, blocking everyone else in.  Also, the proceedings were outside, with nature.  If you haven’t heard, I don’t do well with nature.  I took four kinds of allergy medicine to get me through the first few hours so that it wasn’t catastrophic.  Finally, my aunt really didn’t want any of the guests going into the house at all.  The best port-a-potty I’ve ever seen was reserved for the occasion.

It was a temperate spring day without a cloud in the sky.  There was a massive tent with a dance floor, music, food, and most importantly, an open bar.  This was the only estate I’d visited outside of Victorian Literature, that had grounds.  The brief ceremony itself was held on the gazebo.  I had been asked to do a reading (the night before) so I was one of the lucky few that got a seat in the shade.

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(featuring the back of my head)

Dinner was served, pictures were taken, toasts were given, and the cake was cut.  I’m also allergic to dancing, so I watched my cousins alongside the couple’s friends from law school and the military, dance to Gangnam Style and Teach Me How To Dougie.  One of the kids had somehow acquired all the little bells that had previously been on the tables only to run around making an incredible jangling noise.  The pair of candles on one of the tables read “I love you” / “I know.”  Illustrating that Star Wars quotes have a place in every setting.  A cousin of mine wants to write a novel at some point, and may participate in NaNoWriMo.  Some cousins can’t wait to get out of college, others don’t want to bother at all.  A few brought their boyfriends and girlfriends to the reception, so I imagine there will be more weddings soon.

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This weekend was the first time I noticed how much my cousins had grown up.  I haven’t counted in a while, but I have around 25 cousins on my mother’s side, and nearly all of them were present.  This was the first wedding of any of the grandchildren.  Several have graduated college and moved on to become adults of varying responsibility.  A few younger cousins are taller than me now.  These days, we aren’t playing Pokemon cards in the basement at these events, we’re drinking with the adults.  We aren’t breaking pool cues, but breaking corkscrews instead (Chris).  And rather than running around the dance floor carrying dozens of bells, some of the older cousins felt we should get that kid to calm down.  Times have changed, but since we’re all (mostly) on good terms, we’ll change with them.

(photo credit: my sister)

Garden Party Reception

Rehearsal Dinner

Last night, extended family members from all over the east coast got into town for a “wedding.”  The reason for the quotes is my cousin eloped and then came back a year and a half later saying “I’m engaged!  And by ‘engaged’ I really mean ‘married for the last while.’”  My grandma nearly had a heart attack.  So here we all are for the festivities and vow ceremony, which is very close to their second anniversary.

We had a crowded dinner with around 30 of my closest cousins, aunts, uncles, and other ancillary relatives.  I was impressed that we didn’t run out of beer or wine, which was convenient.  I talked with my cousin who is a little bit older than me.  He had just returned from five months in Hawaii for work.  He does some sort of engineering for the military in some capacity and makes twice my salary while travelling the world.  When he said that Hawaii isn’t great after the first two months, and that he went skydiving while he was there, I looked upon my life in disappointment.  I’m glad things are going well for him (I really am), but perhaps I should have gone after a more lucrative field.  If I had stuck with my Business major, or changed to engineering, my life might make more sense now.  Instead, I got a degree in Criminal Justice only to decide that I didn’t want to be a cop.  So here we are.  At times, it does feel like relatives and peers are only there to achieve more, and I’m there to help them feel better about their lives.

Rehearsal Dinner