Gather

This weekend we had a house full of people.  A party for about 30.  Good food, kids playing, a beautiful night, jazz, old fashioneds, a fire in the fire pit.  It was a lot of work, a mess afterward, and so much fun.

We moved into our new house in November with a huge sigh of relief over the space upgrade.  Exactly five people (one in a high chair, in the corner) fit into our old dining room.  In the warmer months we could host more outside, but heat and bugs made that less than ideal in late summer.  Which left us with about three months, maybe, of having-people-over possibilities.  Which sucked.  People are our thing.  Not just seeing them, or knowing them in an acquaintance way, but hearing their stories, sharing a good meal, hanging for hours on end.  That’s what we dig.

We were really good at it in our twenties.  Late nights of food and drink and talk when we lived in L.A. With good friends who we still treasure.  Then we had kids – we all did – and the parties changed.  Diaper duty, bedtimes to keep, kid disputes to diffuse – not as much hanging as grabbing snippets of conversation and connection.  It was a new kind of wonderful – family created and developed and shared with other families.  Deeper in some ways.  But certainly not as relaxing.

But now.  Yes.  There’s a glimmer of hope of hearing a full story again.  Of chillin.  While the kids get filthy running barefoot in the yard, sneak cookies, get out all the princess dolls upstairs, we can talk.  Have a glass of wine and discuss movies.  Or music.  Or politics.  Or laugh profusely.  It may seem a small matter, but those with kids will understand the significant shift.  The sudden combination of our children getting older and having more space.  We can gather people again.  We can create an inviting place for friends to get to know each other, and be known after that.  Like Cheers.  But at our house.  And with less alcoholics.

The party on Saturday helped me feel this switch, and I’m so glad.  I love my family.  Love movie nights with pizza – just us.  And weeknight dinners with third grade jokes, and our highs and lows of the day, and hearing only our stories.  That’s the meat of life.  The main, best part.  But I’m glad to know we can have the other, too.  Happy for a chance to be with family and friends at the same time, and get to experience it in full.

So yay for a larger house.  And the ability to gather.  And for people, who we dig.

It’s about time.

Celebrating that cute couple in the front.

Our Last Goodbye

The fields were black from being burned, or burning as we drove.  The wind was whipping that day, jiggling the back of the minivan so much that the kids began to feel sick.  We were headed to Nebraska for the viewing of my Grandmother’s body.  The funeral the next day.  The older kids tried to read, then lay on the seat moaning.  I reminded them that I felt that way for three straight months when they were in my belly.  Eyes wide, they imagined the horror and became distracted from their own misery for a moment.

I didn’t appreciate my grandma when I was a kid.  To be honest, I thought she was my boring grandma.  The one who bought me fake pearls from Wal-Mart for my birthday, who wore polyester pants, who didn’t care who Michael Jackson was.  I thought she was out of touch and uninteresting.  Bo-ring.  I, on the other hand, was with it, trying hard to be cool and caring very much about MJ.  Meanwhile she was mattering in people’s lives all around her.  She cared who they were.  And who I was.

I was an idiot.

As I got older I appreciated my grandma more.  When I had my first child I somehow felt a deeper connection to this woman who had done the same.  She’d had four – and one when she was forty, before that was a normal, “L.A.” thing to do.  And she’d gone back to school after that, getting her undergrad at 49.  She’d grown up in the depression, poor, on a farm in the middle of Kansas.  She was a preacher’s wife, with all the sacrifices and casseroles that entailed, and she put up with a lot from him.  As a grown-up I could see her as a person, a whole character with a backstory who’d faced obstacles I never would and had kept her sweet spirit.  Her giggles that bubbled up easily.

Grandma’s service was beautiful.  Full of anecdotes from her kids, songs sung by people who loved her, stories of the lives she impacted.  The summary of a life lived with gratitude and without expectation, full of quiet ambition and strength.  She mattered in the world.  This woman who loved people well and gave herself for others.  She lived a long, full life and remained humble and happy til the end.  Giggling even on her last day.  I want to be like that.  A Jenea version of the same character and hope.  I want to be like Orpha Hooge.

The drive home from Nebraska was less windy, but otherwise it felt the same.  No anxiety.  No sorrow.  No “oh poor Grandma”.  We were glad for her and proud to be part of her family.  I’d cried some tears, yes, but not really out of sadness.  More out of thankfulness for who she was.  But for her all was well.  She was free from a body that wouldn’t work and a mind whose synapses weren’t always firing.  Free from the loneliness of a nursing home.  Seeing the result of the hope she’d professed for so long.  We saw the same blackened fields, burned to allow  new grass to grow.  The same hills Grandma knew as a child.  And it made perfect sense.  The bookends of our last goodbye to my lovely grandmother.