salutations and signatures

the truth is (#1)…

all families have their strange skeletons that dance and rattle in the closet.  no families are that perfect family from the 50’s.

And I’m finally okay with that.  We’re all broken, dysfunctional people, so why should our families be any different?  I still think a couple of my friends have really wonderful families, but I’m no longer arrogant enough to think I know what their families are really like, extended and all (but I still hope and pray that they are the Cleavers of our time 🙂  ).

the (unrelated)  second truth of this entry is that something as small as a  signature carries a lot of meaning.

In this season of writing cards to loved ones near and far, business coworkers/supervisors, and those friends that you only remember and hear from once a year when the scent of evergreen fills the air, it can be difficult to find the words to close the hallmark greeting.  How do you decide between a standard “Best Wishes”, a more festive “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” (although perhaps that should be a “Happy Holidays”, in our PC age of religious ambiguity?), or maybe they fall into the category of the close few who truly belong with “Love”?  Finally, when you’ve accurately assessed your relationship with a word, you have to decide how to write the names.  Just my dad’s name and our names?  My dad and my mom (though they’re divorced)?  The three letter word “and” defines a relationship as one to last a lifetime (or at least, a designation of the more serious youshouldgettoknowthispersonthey’llbehereforawhile relationship).

Every year that I go back to Hawaii for Christmas, there’s always a Christmas dinner at my (great) Aunty P’s house.  It’s the most awkward night of my vacation, although I think it’s getting a little bit better with age since I’m becoming an adult with a life (ideas, opinions, dreams included) of her own.  Considering we only see each other at most once a year, and sometimes once every other year, it’s understandable that the few hours we spend around the Christmas buffet helping ourselves to third servings aren’t quite enough to feel like family. Nevertheless, this dinner, accompanied by the tinkling sounds of holiday classics as Uncle Bruce tickles the ivories, is one of the only family traditions that we ascribe to, one of the only constants in a world where the chairs around the dinner table are slowly being emptied of their snow haired occupants and refilled with a younger generation.

Aunty P is my grandmother’s sister, and she had four children: my Aunty J, Uncle B, Uncle C, Uncle D, each of whom usually bring a friend to Christmas, with the exception of my Uncle D.  Aunty J always brings R; Uncle B, his friend R the priest; and Uncle C, his friend (and now White House politician) J.  When I was younger, I was happy and satisfied to think that R, the priest R, and the politician J were all simply family friends.  After all, other couples such as R and J, the baskin robbins couple, and now the boisterous and fabulous L and her daughter K, have all graced our table at one time or another.

But as a grew older, I was itching for definitions.  I had a small sneaking suspicion that all of my uncles were in fact, gay, since they never married and always brought a male friend (the same friend) to dinner.  But perhaps they were just lasting friendships, I told myself, the kind that we all hope and wish for in this life.  And so we continued to address our gifts only to Aunty J, and not her friend R, to Uncle B, and not to the priest R, and to Uncle C, and not the politician J.  Though they toed the fine line between family friend and just family, we had never had any strong indication that they fell firmly in the latter.  This year, however, I finally met my Uncle D’s new (new to me) wife and kids!  They’d married a couple years ago, but being at Urbana last year had prevented me from going to the annual Christmas dinner and meeting them.  Oops.  Definitely was off about him!

At the end of the night, after gifts were exchanged (always meticulously and beautifully wrapped by my Aunty J), we came home and tucked the presents under the first real tree we’ve had in years.  In the morning, I reached under the tree and started passing out all the gifts, checking the tags to see both the recipient and the sender.  And finally, this year, there were two confirmations–an “Uncle”, where there had previously never been one, and an “and”, where once only one name had stood.

Finally, some clarification!  I’d come to accept that my Aunty J’s R was most definitely thelongtermboyfriendthathascrossedthelineto family (though I don’t think they’ve ever walked the aisle), since his name began appearing on the card, but now it was official.  He is now Uncle R.  Secondly, my Uncle C had signed his card Uncle C AND the politician J.  They were officially an “and”.

The next day was my Aunty J’s 60th birthday party, for the first time, I felt like we were a family.  Aunty J sat at one table with Aunty P and Uncle D’s family, and the rest of us (all the Uncles, all their Friends, my family, and L and K) were all squished into one circular table.  Jokes were exchanged about how cozy it was, about how we’d all get to know each other real well by the end of the night, and the ease with which we could steal food off each others’ plates.  Going into it, I was a little wary.  We’d made all the small talk last night–the “oh, what are you doing now’s” and the “how is it working for the President?’s”, and so what would we have to talk about now?  Even by the end of last night we were stretching for topics of conversation.  And this would be a traditional 10 course Chinese dinner, with each course being brought out separately, with time between.

But as time progressed in this restaurant called “Little Village”, all of us  squished into a small round table, with two other tables of my aunt’s highschool/swimming buddies, the noise level began to rise, and it became increasingly harder and harder to hear each other.  Soon there was a cacophony of voices, the adults/brothers/cousins all talking together (us kids–K, my cousin C, and his girlfriend K were a different story, but I have theories for that), laughing and cousins making fun of my dad as he tried to serve the last course–the traditional longevity noodles.  “Don’t cut them!  You can’t cut the my longevity noodles!” (my now uncle!) J the politician cried as my dad, mom and brother tried all with spoons to serve this gravy laden, 3′ long noodles.  And J told hilarous stories of introducing his partner (yes, partner) C to Hilary Clinton, and spoke candidly to L about his thoughts on gay marriage (though with a voice as loud as his, half the table was listening!).  And finally, at one table together, I felt a sense of acceptance, and finally, a sense of family.

(and as I type this my mom, after an interaction with my dad, says “And that’s why we’re divorced.”  *sigh* Some things will never change, we’re always living in a world of both/and…)

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