I have heard so many stories about Gary’s colorful and lively family that his relatives are like larger-than-life storybook characters to me. After five years together, though, I had never met them in person. It’s a bit of a drive to where Gary grew up, and every time he has gone back home, I haven’t been able to go.
Until this Thanksgiving, that is. I was actually nervous about going, because I know Gary’s family means the world to him. What if we didn’t get along?
I didn’t need to worry. Everyone I met, from aunts to uncles to cousins, was so welcoming and inviting, it was like they already knew me. Meeting everyone was like coming face-to-face with celebrities, since I had heard so much about all of them. I resisted the urge to ask for autographs.
It was easy to tell where Gary gets his sense of humor, loud laugh, and tell-it-like-it-is personality. One of his uncles had me laughing so hard, I was dangerously close to falling off the kitchen chair. I picked up a few smartass comments and jokes from him to use later on unsuspecting victims. Another uncle teased me about my nose piercing and just how many holes a person needs in one nose.
I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of sadness at all I have missed out on. Gary’s parents passed away before we met, so I have never shared time with them. Gary has told me I am a lot like his mom, and I take it as a hell of a compliment. Gary and the kids were quick to tell me, “You and Granny would have gotten into so much trouble together!” and laughed about us not being allowed to leave the house together unsupervised.
As we left one home, I told Gary’s uncle, “I have heard so much about you. It was good to finally meet you.”
He smiled mischieveously like he had a hunch exactly which stories I had heard, and like he was mighty proud of guest-starring in those tales, then hugged me tight and told me, “You consider yourself part of this family.”
I visited the town where Gary grew up, places he worked, places he got into trouble (there were a lot of those), all the landmarks of stories I have heard for years. I flipped through pages of photo albums with his family and laughed at the stories that sprang from the images, including some rather rocking haircuts of a teenage Gary! To finally be there with him, and especially with the kids, made this past Thanksgiving the best one I have ever had.
It was very evident the kids miss their grandparents. They wanted to walk up that driveway and see their granny and granddaddy on the porch, and more than one tear fell as they talked about them. They mourned losing them; Dove and I mourned having never met them.
One of the kids told me through tears, “I wish you could have known them.” I do too, very much. I have heard so much about them, though, that they live for me in their own way through Gary and the kids. I know they loved Gary and the kids fiercely, totally, and with all their hearts, and I know Gary and the kids loved them just as much. Watching Gary and the kids talking about them, remembering them, smiling and laughing at different stories, I feel like I am being invited into something intimate and beautiful, held close to their hearts.
This Thanksgiving was a reminder of all I have to be thankful for. I came home with a stack of photographs, including Gary’s baby pictures, and I am going to rearrange the living room to create a blank wall for a collection of picture frames.
When we dropped the kids off yesterday, one of them hugged me and thanked me for going on the trip with them. I could tell it meant a lot to the kids to be able to visit their father’s family. It’s definitely something we need to do again, sooner rather than later.