Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Funeral and Family

My abstention from writing yesterday was due to spending the day in Troy for a funeral.

First off, let's get the familial explanations out of the way, so I can proceed without running around in circles trying to explain exactly how everyone is or is not related. Frankie Vanover, the deceased, is not actually my grandmother, but I've called her "Grandma" all my life. Her daughters are Billie and Louise, who are known to me as Aunt Bill and Aunt Lou. Aunt Bill is married to my Uncle Mike, who is my dad's brother, so she actually is my aunt. Aunt Lou, being her sister, is not technically a relation, since the connection is by marriage. However, Aunt Bill is the one who took care of me when I was younger while my parents were at work, and she and Aunt Lou are very close, so I spent a lot of time with both of them. Aunt Lou and her husband (Uncle Clarence) have a daughter (Rachel) who is a just a few years older than I am, and we grew up together. The point I'm trying to get across is this: technically, I'm not related to Aunt Lou, Uncle Clarence, and/or Rachel, but they are all family, in the more important sense of the word. Also, Uncle Mike and Aunt Bill have a son named Mike, who also has a son named Mike. For clarity's sake, although he isn't nearly as crazy as he used to be, the middle Mike will henceforth be referred to by his old nickname, "Crazy Mike," and his son Mike, who is only a few years younger than me and is a close friend as well as an actual blood relative, will just be known as Mike.

Now that we're all clear on that (sure we are), a story. A couple of years ago, my mom and I went with Aunt Bill and Aunt Lou to go visit Grandma at the nursing home. She had Alzheimer's disease, and it had been a while since I had seen her. They told me she probably wouldn't recognize me, as she often didn't recognize people, even the people she saw frequently. So we went in and walked into her room, and she got a big smile on her face and said, "Well, there's Jon!"

Being around that side of the family as much as I was when I was younger, I was one of her favorites. Spending so much time with Rachel, who actually was her granddaughter, I was like one of the grandchildren. In fact, I found out yesterday that I was actually counted among the grandchildren. That made me feel pretty good.

At any rate, I took the day off from work and drove down to Troy for the funeral. I'm really glad I did. I wanted to be there for my family, and I could tell it meant a lot to them that I made it. We get together only rarely, and it was good to see a lot of people I hadn't seen in a long time. It just sucks that someone had to die for it to happen.

I make it into Troy only infrequently now, so I don't see Aunt Bill and Uncle Mike or Aunt Lou and Uncle Clarence and Rachel nearly as much as I used to. Crazy Mike lives in Pennsylvania now, I think, so I definitely don't see him very often. Also present was my cousin Dave (another son of Uncle Mike and Aunt Bill), who lives in the area but is mostly MIA. These guys are quite a bit older than I am, and because of the age difference, this was the first time I can recall that I could sit down and talk to them and actually relate to them. Rachel, Mike, and I used to play Atari games with Dave years ago, but that wasn't quite the same.

Another person I saw for the first time in quite a while was Rachel's cousin Tonia. Tonia and I are exactly one week apart in age (she being the older), and as she was also around fairly often when we were younger, we were always teased about having crushes on each other. I can't speak for Tonia (although I do think it was true at one point or another), but as for myself, I think enough time has passed now that I feel comfortable admitting that it was true through junior high and into the early part of high school. Nothing ever came of it, but we were close friends while we were in high school. I hadn't seen her since Rachel got married a few years ago, and now she's married and pregnant.

I'm glad I could be there for everyone, and I did enjoy seeing them, despite the circumstances. Being with everyone brought back a lot of good memories of my youth, and the time I spent with Uncle Mike and Aunt Bill, and with Uncle Clarence, Aunt Lou, and Rachel, often with Mike and Tonia. It's really amazing to think back on times like that and think about how much stuff has changed, and how much has stayed the same. At one point I saw Crazy Mike and Dave exchange a private joke, and just look at each other and laugh, and it reminded me so much of how it is now between me, Rachel, and Mike. We don't see each other often, but we shared so much growing up and have so many common experiences that even now we can just exchange glances and private jokes and be right back on the same wavelength.

It all made me feel really lucky for the circumstances that allowed me to be so close to these people and consider them family even when they aren't all blood relations. Blood is overrated. It's shared experiences and love that makes a real family, and nothing else. All of these people have meant so much to my life, and I'm grateful for that. I didn't always feel lucky as a kid, but that's the nature of youth. Now that I can look back on it I realize how great it was to be surrounded by such wonderful people.

Being there, surrounded by these people and memories for my childhood, I spent a good portion of the afternoon just cruising the streets of Troy, visiting old haunts and revisiting old times. More on that later.

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