To celebrate Gram, many from our family flew to Sacramento for her party from Michigan, Nebraska and my husband and our little ones from Chicago. We're the kind of family that doesn't gather very often, because we're so spread out. The family I grew up with in Nebraska isn't into traditional family gatherings, so it's pretty exciting when there is a family party.
Gram was as beautiful as always. She's tiny -- not sure she measures up to 5 feet anymore -- with striking short white hair that always appears to be neatly attended to. She's been on her own since Grandpa died more than 20 years ago. She had to learn how to drive and still lives on her own in the house they bought when my mother and her siblings were young kids. I was a little intimidated by her as a kid, but her strength is something I've come to admire as an adult.
The day of her party, her garage and house were set up with plenty of food, drink and chairs and tables for guests. The sun played peek-a-boo, providing warmth on a slightly chilly day. (I love California winters.) Gram wore an emerald green shirt that set off her pretty fair skin and hair. She was nervous -- as we all get when hosting a party and hoping people show up. Her neighbor Jane made jello shots, which we sampled pre-party -- even Gram, daintily spooning hers out of a small cup and wryly noting that it could be tough to maneuver her walker after doing one of these.
I spent a lot of the party stage-managing my semi-tame children, so I got to observe and talk with people in spurts. It was a blast. Every time I saw Gram, she was smiling and talking to someone. My uncles were goofy and playful and loud. My normally cranky aunt was surprisingly cheerful, and my other aunt was her usual warm, friendly self -- the kind of person who makes you feel better when you're around her. My cousins -- all younger than me, the youngest one a senior in high school -- were super fun.
My sister was there, too. I was a little nervous to see her because our relationship, which has sometimes been complicated, has been strained in recent years. She was friendly, which relaxed me, and we had fun hanging out. I love her and her warmth meant a lot to me. We wished our mother -- Gram's oldest daughter -- could have been there. She would have loved the party. Unfortunately her health makes travel impossible. It's so unfair.
I've been thinking about the weekend all week, back in cold, gray Chicago. I wished I'd relaxed more and not fussed over my kids so much. I should have spent less time working on that 500-piece puzzle I bought "for the kids"while trying to belly-breathe and more time talking to Gram and my other family members.
There are points in our lives when our friends feel closer to us than our families -- for me, this isn't one of those times. While some friends are easy -- you know where you stand with them -- I find myself wondering about others, the ones who aren't honest and you feel like are talking behind your back.
I've got some stuff stuck in my brain I need to work out -- this too shall pass is what I'm telling myself. I've always been too thin-skinned and wish I could let this kind of stuff just roll off of me. I'm not good at that.
Watching Gram with the friends who came -- the ones who loved her enough to show up -- reminded me that those are the friends to watch for and to love and cherish.
What I also was reminded of was the enduring quality of family. A family can be like a pet -- too easy to ignore and take for granted and sometimes gives you a warning snap -- but is also loyal AF and will curl up next to you when you need it, their warm body pressed against yours, providing comfort and calm.
Thank you family for being you. And happy birthday, Gram. I hope to be half as fabulous as you when I turn 90. And I'm definitely having jello shots.