Thursday, July 25, 2013

Family Reunions

It is summer, and that means one thing, Family Gatherings. These come in a variety of types and purposes. There are the great big conclaves, in which family come from the four corners of the globe to attend; much planning is required to pull of such a large events. My wife’s family had one of those in the middle of the country a few years ago. It was such a large gathering and there was one gentleman in attendance who was suspected of not really being a family member and just wanting to partake in the delightful picnic. After many quiet conversations and questions to one another, it turns out, he was truly a family member.

Beloved’s family had a reunion of sorts at the beginning of the summer. It was a regional conclave, which are not quite as large and involved as the national ones. The young people at this reunion refer to themselves as “The Cousins” and range in age from 7 to 18. They played hard outside in the muddy, wet, sports fields. They gleefully splashed in the squishy mud that lay just below the green grass. There were organized games, but children simply use  organized games to make mud splashes.

My wife has an uncle, who was at this reunion. He can speak multiple languages. I pointed out, proudly, that Middlest is taking both Latin and Spanish in school. The two of them then began to make noises at each other for quite some time. I think they were speaking in Latin, but never having been to Latvia, I couldn’t be sure.

As I think back to the family reunions I attended as a child, a few memories stick out. First, is one particular grand Italian aunt, with hair piled sky high on top of her head, a pair of cat-eye glasses sliding down to the tip of her nose and held by a chain around her neck, and lips painted bright red with lipstick. This dear aunt would always grab my cheeks and marvel aloud at how much I had grown since the last time she had seen me. She finally ceased this practice when my beard got so thick she couldn’t grip my cheeks that well.

Another favorite memory of family reunions is the food. It seems there was always a cheese tray at family reunions and one of my favorite cheeses was the cubes of Jalapeño Jack, Monterey Jack with Jalapeño cheese. Oh, how I loved that tingling burn in my mouth after I ate a small cube. I was introduced to this dairy delicacy by a dear cousin.

To this day, that is one of my favorite cheeses. Littlest and I put that cheese, along with a myriad of other toppings, on our burgers. The flavor reminds me of happy family gatherings and my dear cousin.

This past winter, family gathered to mourn the passing of that cousin. It was a reunion that wasn’t as festive as the ones I remembered growing up, but it was a reunion and family reconnected.

And yes, we had food, including tripe. Which I ate with great enjoyment. I am not sure if I actually like tripe. (If you aren’t sure what tripe is, I suggest you Google it before you read any further.) My grandmother used to make tripe for special family gatherings, and I have a gut feeling that tripe just brings such warm memories that I am tricked into thinking I like it.

So, from my family to yours: Talk (in Latin if you can), Laugh (in any language), and Eat (tripe or Jalapeño Jack, whichever you prefer).

Friday, July 19, 2013

My First Phone Call to Beloved

This August, Beloved and I celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. For those of you keeping score, yes, I married her when I was one year old. I must also confess that Beloved was my first real girl friend, and that is probably why I was a little awkward while we were dating.

Who am I kidding? I am still awkward.

The first time I called her during our first summer of dating, I was staying on campus and she was living at home. I went down the hall to the pay phone with the proper coin in hand. For those who are unfamiliar with pay phones, they were large phones bolted to the wall. You inserted a coin and were able to make a phone call for an alloted number of minutes. They were replaced by cell phones.

I put in my coin and dialed her home number. Remember, there weren’t cell phones, I had to dial the number to her house and hope someone answered. Someone did answer; her father.

I really like Beloved’s father. He is a wonderful man, but I must admit back then I found him a little intimidating. It isn’t that he was big, or loud; he wasn’t. He did’nt have guns nor did he hunt.

He was a division chair at the college Beloved and I attended. He had a reputation for being a firm professor, who had high expectations. And most everyone had to take his class. I transferred into the college from another school and did not have to take his class, which was a relief.

But now I was on the phone, calling his daughter, and he answered. I responded with, “Hello, can I speak to...”

Then it happened. I forgot her name. I was so awkwardly nervous just dialing the phone number that when he answered, my brain did a complete memory dump. This was not only the professor from school, this was the father of the girl I liked. I was so nervous, I didn’t remember my name, and I for sure didn’t remember her name.

After a few moments, my memory was once again working and I was able to ask for Beloved by name.

“One moment,” he said and then I heard a chuckle: a chuckle I now know well and enjoy hearing. That chuckle was followed by the muffled sound of him calling to his daughter. “It’s a boy for you, and I think he forgot your name.”

I have forgotten many things since that time and I am sure I will forget many more things that have yet to happen. But, I am so thankful that despite the first awkward moment I spoke with my then future father-in-law, that he didn’t hold it against me and still approved of me marrying his daughter.

Friday, July 12, 2013

I Was Board This Week

This past week was the Free Methodist Bible Quizzing Final competition. Last year the competition was held in Seattle, Washington. That trip took us all the way across the country. This year, the competition was held right here in my hometown, at Roberts Wesleyan College, so our trip was far less.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with Bible Quizzing, it is a competition where the participants are asked questions from a predetermined section of scripture. They sit on chairs and jump into the air at the end of the question. Pads that sit on the chairs register the order in which each person stands.

The contestants then take turns answering the question in the order in which they jumped. Until, that is, someone gets the answer right; then a new question is asked and the entire jumping process is repeated.

You might think that Bible Quizzers are a jumpy lot, but that would be jumping to conclusions.
Since  this competition was held at my alma mater, I thought I would be quite comfortable. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The first night I found that the bunk I was sleeping on was quite hard and I awoke as stiff as a proverbial board.

Apparently, sleeping on hard mattresses does not affect young people. When they weren’t quizzing, I saw Quizzers, who range from 6th graders to seniors, out for early morning runs, playing Frisbee before dinner, and a few of them actually doing one-armed cartwheels, amongst just a few active endeavors. (When I was young I couldn’t even do a two- armed cart wheel. I tried a few times but found the results to be an embarrassment and a danger to my health.)

That was how my day went, watching these young people jumping, running, and, cartwheeling; all the while I worked on stretching out stiff muscles from sleeping on my hard mattress.

I thought and thought of a way to make my bunk more comfortable. And so in the middle of the day I broke the rules, and sneaked off campus and back to my house. I cut a piece of plywood the same size as my mattress. Then I covertly brought that board back to campus and up to my dorm room.
Putting that sheet of plywood over the mattress was amazing. It was almost like sleeping on a fluffy cloud.

But, I still didn’t try to do a cartwheel.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Children are Growing Older, Thankfully, I Am Not.

My health care professional, in this case a Nurse Practitioner, tells me I have to lose weight. I have a couple of problems with that; first, she is just a practitioner. Now if she were an Expert, or even a Highly Trained Professional, I would feel better. I am reluctant to let someone ‘practice’ on me.

Secondly, I think her scale is broken. I have no evidence to support this belief; I just think it is broken. And I value my opinion quite highly.

Either way, I have decided I need to exercise more. When I was first married, I used to run quite a bit. By ’quite a bit’ I mean often, although not necessarily far. That was the only way I could keep up with my wife; she moves like a bolt of lightning. When I got a bit older, and my knees started to file complaints with the labor relations board about how I abused them while running, I began swimming.

I remember swimming with my girls as they grew up. They would splash in the shallow end and come over between my laps to tell me of the amazing things that happened while they played in the water. Then they grew older and would swim a few laps with me, before wandering off to the deep end to dive from the diving board.

I remember the amazement the girls would express as they swam hard to keep up with me. I would slow down and swim leisurely, but they were little and it was still difficult for them to keep pace.

Then, about five years ago, I started working a few extra jobs, and swim time went away. At least for me. The girls got involved with the synchronized swim club at their school.  And Middlest just recently took, and passed, her class to be a life guard.

Now, this summer, I decided to swim again. It has been five or six years, and a few extra pounds, after I stopped swimming regularly. After three or so laps, Littlest comes along side me at one end of the pool and asks how I am doing. I tell her it feels good to be swimming again. She grins, “Yeah, fun, isn’t it.”

I nod and start off on my fourth lap. I get to the other end of the pool and prepare to turn around, when I realize that Littlest is hanging on the edge of the pool, awaiting my arrival. I stop abruptly and take off my goggles, just to be sure I am not seeing things.

I look back to the far end of the pool, then back at my daughter, then around the pool and finally back at my daughter, who looks at me innocently, but with that twinkle of merriment in her eye that says, “ooooo, this is gonna be so much fun.”

“Where did you come from?!” I ask.

“I swam here,” she replied in a calm, un-winded voice, as opposed to my heavy gasps for precious oxygen.

I searched for a snappy come back, but my oxygen-deprived braincells were not firing properly. I just shook my head.

Eldest has celebrated her last birthday as a teenager and is going to Guatemala soon. Middlest, at sixteen, has completed her training as a life guard and is ready to save lives. And Littlest, at halfway through her second decade, can swim way faster than I can.

I am thrilled my daughters are growing into such wonderful young women. And I am proud to be their father who is holding steady at twenty-five.