My dad is impossible to buy presents for. His favorite hobby is napping, and there’s only so many times you can give someone good pillows. If you ask what he wants, he always says, “Save your money. Spend it on yourself,” which is not terribly helpful when you actually want to buy someone a present. So after I realized that a planned reunion of his family coincided with his birthday, I decided that his present would be a visit from me.
Honestly, I was expecting to have a very quiet visit. This part of the family was important to my dad when he was growing up, but I didn’t know most of them. Ted and I had been to on previous reunion and hadn’t really connected all that much to most of the people there, for whatever reason.
This was one of those times when it’s good to be wrong. Maybe we just didn’t manage to find the right common topics last time, somehow. This time I got to hang out with people of all ages and talk about everything from hair care to the topological aspects of knitting to politics to family stories to travel, and I had a really great time. I got lots of time with my baby nephew, but also got to play with an adorable four-year-old and talk to some very interesting people approaching, just in and recently out of their teens. I got to catch up with the one great-aunt I do know and her kids, whom I barely remember (we used to visit a lot, but I think they were either in college or just old enough to be out with friends in the evenings). I also got to put faces to a couple of names my parents have mentioned a lot over the years.
I figured out why I didn’t know most of them: I grew up at just the wrong time. The ones a little older than I am remember when everyone lived close and got together frequently, and the ones who were a bit younger or who stayed around longer, like my brother, were there when they started having reunions every few years. I must have slotted in just after the informal gatherings dropped off due to distance and before the planned ones started. (There is one cousin my age who seems to be more connected, but she’s got older siblings.) As it turns out, there are really some fascinating people in that branch of the family – artists, architects, activists, and people who have done the work to build a family that, as one first-cousin-once-removed said, “just keeps including people, and really like each other. It sounds like there will be a reunion in Austin in two years, and we’ll definitely try to get to that one.
These are some of the pictures (click on any one to see it bigger); the rest are on Flickr.
In addition to extended family, I got to spend plenty of time with my immediate family, including my baby nephew. What a difference from last October; back then he was basically an adorable, snuggly, little lump. Now he’s pulling himself up on anything he can reach and standing for whole seconds at a time, babbling like he’s invented a whole new language, smiling and laughing, and eating like he’s afraid there won’t be enough. (It takes a good thirty seconds to make him a bottle; the wait is apparently a terrible form of child torture in his opinion.) He’s not at all afraid of strangers, but by the end of my visit I had clearly been added to his list of Approved Big People – too bad he won’t remember me by the next time we meet. (They show him my picture, but I’m not sure he can recognize the link from 2D picture to 3D person.) He did some damage though; I have a small bruise and as many scratches as if I’d been playing with a cat – he’s very strong and has razor fingernails, and of course, no conception that he can hurt other people. I think that takes a couple of years, which should be interesting for everyone around him. He also likes to play trapeze artist on my hair, which if I remember right is par for the course with ten-month-olds (at least I don’t wear glasses these days, except to drive). He has the attention span of a mayfly right now, and can’t crawl more than about five feet without getting distracted (which also probably has to do with having a bunch of people around talking to him). This has major advantages, because he also doesn’t generally cry for more than a minute before starting to smile and gurgle again. Now that he’s crawling he’s slimmed down a lot; he used to look exactly like my brother in his baby-sumo-wrestler days, but now he’s looking more like Dad as a kid, which is fascinating.
To top off the whole trip, on Monday I headed downtown, got re-acquainted with Old Town Philadelphia, walked miles, and met up with old friends – and also patronized independent Center City businesses. I took a bus and train to 5th and Market, wandered around Independence Hall area, then visited my newly-met cousin’s jewelry store at 8th and Walnut, which is tiny but filled with beautiful things. After talking to him for a bit and buying some jewelry (a necklace because it was gorgeous and two pair of earrings to go with necklaces I never know how to match), I was going to go meet my friend Natalie at Cake and the Beanstalk, but I was over an hour early. I hadn’t directly contacted my friend Suzanne who lives and works downtown, but decided to drop by in case she was there. So I hiked up to 16th and Spruce to her place. She wasn’t there, but her assistant called her for me, and we talked about options to meet later. (So I can’t vouch for how Rittenhouse Laser Aesthetics treatments are, but the service is great and the office is very nice.)
I trudged back to 11th and Locust, getting there half an hour early, on purpose. The owner is an old friend and former baby-sittee of mine, so it feels a little funny to see him all grown up and running his own restaurant. It’s a great place to eat lunch or dessert, with light and bright indoor seating and an outdoor area next to a community. I had a delicate mint iced tea and Jewish Apple Cake; I honestly think mine is just a titch better – sorry, Daniel! I’m biased – but this was the real deal, not a bland and soulless restaurant cake. The menu was bigger than I expected, and there were a bunch of lunch options as well as lots of other kinds of cakes for people deluded enough not to go for the apple cake (or who like variety).
Natalie showed up right on time; we’d never met in person, but we’ve known each other since literally the early days of the World Wide Web (it went live in 1993; we met in 1998) and had no trouble talking for hours. After eating cake (me) and hummus (her) we walked over to Rosie’s Yarn Cellar on 20th and Locust. It’s a small store, but has good selection, though we were strong-willed and restricted ourselves to a skein or two each. (Well…. she restricted herself to a skein; I bought three. But it should really count as two, since two of them were sock yarn sized for one sock per skein.) While we were there my friend Suzanne dropped by, with her daughter, who is now a big girl! When I last saw her she was a toddler; now she’s a child. SO at least I got to see her for a few minutes. I felt a little guilty leaving Natalie in the store while I talked to them, but being left for a few minutes in a yarn store is generally not much of a hardship to a knitter.
On the flight home, there was some weirdness going on that made it hard for Delta to print me a boarding pass, but that finally got resolved. I hadn’t been able to upgrade earlier, but they were asking at the gate if anyone wanted to so I did, which means I got a fair bit of sleep on the flight home. It was too short to sleep much, though, just under 7 hours (compared to the 9-12 hour flights to Asia or the Pacific NW I’m used to). Hopefully that means working tomorrow won’t be too painful.