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"a stop just about halfway between there and somewhere else"

Families don't happen in an instant. They are the oldest and most permanent part of our lives. They predate any particular member and so far, for The Muse and I, have always succeeded in outliving any individual member. The Muse and I have never grown accustomed to living separate from family, though it seems as if the last twenty years have been for us an extended exercise in living separate from family. We hold family in our hearts much more often than we ever hold them physically near. When we come into now rare proximity with our family, our hearts sing.

The Muse's brother Carl, his wife Louise, and five of their eight kids stopped for lunch yesterday on their way to Arizona to visit her ailing parents. They'd left the evening before in their shiny new Suburban Subdivision
, overnighting in some small Sandhill town, bucking thunder and heavy rain much of the way. Yesterday morning looked daunting, with a wide line of thundershowers separating them from us, but Carl is undeterred. He'll zoot right through to arrive at The Villa around twelve thirty. They arrived at twelve twenty nine, emerging out of fog and drizzle, then five kids quickly overtook the house.

The morning before they arrived felt like Christmas. The Muse and I hit the shops in an amended Saturday morning provisioning ritual ending at Grateful Bread where we brought babka, sliced sourdough, and jalapeno/ Tillamook cheese pretzels. I was making soup for lunch, two caldrons of it. One Cannellini bean and the other a chicken soup featuring bone-in chunks of chicken. The Muse prepped the grilled cheese sandwiches after reorganizing the dining room to accommodate nine. While she moved furniture and laid table linen, I stayed at my station hovering over the chopping board, reducing a long line of veg into small chunks and slices while frequently, increasingly frantically, stirring the bean soup pot. Beans take forever to cook up here at altitude and I feared (this is not just a trite description, I was truly afraid) they would never properly reduce.

By the time the kids took over the place, lunch was completely prepped, except, The Muse later conceded, for the pitcher of water for the table. The kids very quickly made themselves at home after receiving greeting hugs. They'd never been to this "new" place, so we gave the grand tour. The youngest decided that she wanted to stay while luxuriating on the guest bed. The others quickly discovered the toy box and Andrew came down the stairs wearing giant Mickey Mouse hands. Lunch was the usual cacophony of nine distinct personalities trying to cram triangle sandwiches into more or less round holes. Matthew quickly declared himself full, which prompted Louise to enter what seemed to be the usual negotiations: five more bites. He quickly relents before mom ups the bid by defining what constituted a valid bite. Nick admits that he loves my pasta fagioli after his mom disclosed his 'tell.' "If he hums to himself while eating it, he loves it. He was quietly humming. Nick goes for seconds, asking if he could have a second ginger ale, too.

So many distinct perspectives, all related, all still, surprisingly, somewhat the same. Carl, the patriarch of The Muse's family, sits at the other end of the elongated table, tucked in between his big sister and his second smallest daughter. The boys arrayed along the opposite side, with Chris struggling to disassemble his bone-in chicken chunk with a knife and fork. I watch this grand display, hardly noticing my own supper. Such joyful, utterly common noise. I eat the rest of Andrew's chicken soup while The Muse fetches the babka to introduce it to her family. Almost everyone declares in terrific, but only because it is.

After food came the ritual sitting around in the living room, kids romping in and out carrying one or another newly discovered toy box toy. Two of them settle on the carpet with a tin full of marbles, one wanting to wage a sort of marble war while the other just wanting to sort them by color and size. Someone finds the rubber band gun and I disclose where I store my motherlode of rubber bands. Andrew almost lands one in the open pot of bean soup. Us adults chat about almost nothing at all, the most significant sort of family conversation. We've previously engaged in many, much more difficult conversations. We have a long past so we have instant close proximity, the content of any conversation hardly matters. Nick sure seems grown up, as if suddenly, but I recognize that this effect is only sporadic observation talking. These kids, this family, we only see in slow-motion kinetoscopic clarity, where the action skips many months and sometimes even many years between views. The individual spirits and personalities seem somehow eternal to me. Christopher seems little changed from our first encounter when he was hardly a toddler, and so it is with all the family.

To Carl's credit, and perhaps that Spring storm's raging on top of the Continental Divide, the after lunch languor lasted much longer than we'd suspected it might. The kids start a series of forays out into the yard to bring back souvenirs: pine cones and quartz-y rock fragments, locking each other out of the sliding door, shoes off with each reentry and back on when heading back out again, except for Andrew, who early on stepped out onto the sopping deck in his stocking feet. After that, he figured it didn't matter anymore. He became a stocking-footed explorer inside and out.

The dirty dishes exactly filled up the dishwasher, a full load from one meal. We had the kitchen about cleaned up by the time the crew re-entered their burgundy time machine to head further West, up into and through the clouds. A round of final hugs and sideways high fives and the house settled into a long hush again. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat, hiding in her basement lair for most of the visitation, finally re-entered the world. I retreated to the master bedroom to read and nap through the balance of the afternoon while The Muse posted pictures, a post-holiday sort of solitude suddenly overtaking the place, though it seemed somehow still filled with family energy. The nest seemed even emptier after family left, emptier yet somehow satisfied. We're fairly settled in here. We're a visitable place, a stop just about halfway between there and somewhere else, still on the map after all.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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