Saturday, August 28, 2010

Grandpa's eyes

I spent the evening with my extended family as my gorgeous young cousin married her sweetheart. I almost chose not to go. I am sure I could have found a few other ways to occupy my time, but I needed to see these people again right now. There have been so many moments in my life that I have chosen to be consumed with my own life and have missed out on making real connections with those wacky people who share my gene pool. What a gift the night was to me. "Thanks, Jennette, for getting married!" (The photo is part of my family, just not from tonight).

A bit ago, I read a few books by a local author, Kevin Kling. He writes in a similar but much more Minnesotan style as David Sedaris. Kevin wrote a story in which he traveled to a country from his ancestry, and was shocked to see people walking around with what he told his mother "all had Grandpa's eyes". It brought tears to my eyes while reading, and does again as I think about this experience tonight.

My grandparents have all passed on, and their faces, stories and comments are but memories for me now. As I looked around at my family tonight, I was struck dumb by how so many of us had the same eyes. Slightly hooded (especially with age), light in color, piercing but framed in laughing wrinkles. No matter what I do, I will always look like my father's sisters, and I sound like them too. Tonight I realize that it's a precious gift. I can look into the faces of a whole crowd that look just like home.

My own father was there tonight. I am especially thankful for that, because he recently had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. His prognosis is very good, and the surgery was the only treatment needed. His own father died in his fifties. I don't know if he thinks of it often, but each day he breathes air is another gifted day he has outlived his own father's life. Selfishly, I would like to keep him around forever, of course. But I also understand that he will be out of reach for me at some point, so I cherish every day he's here and every moment I spend with him.

Both my parents have influenced my personality, and my tendency toward sharing my opinions possibly a bit too freely, with my dad having the stronger impact. Like my mother, he can take on a hard-edged, my way or the highway type attitude with those he's "debating" with, but most times I love how open he is to hearing me share my thoughts.

I am thankful for all those patient, kind people in my family who have given me the benefit of the doubt countless times. I am full of self-righteous, aggressively opinionated thoughts and actions that surely push people away. While I work on being more gracious, quiet and caring, I wonder if my personality quirks aren't also, in part, a product of my enormous family. We're all a bit out there (not in the same ways, of course) with what we hold sacred.

And now, as I look at my own body, all it's shortcomings (or overcomings, depending on what you focus on) seem a bit better. My short and wide feet look like my grandpa's. My small hands look just like my mom's. My voluptuous chest is a gift from my maternal grandmother (thanks for that, really I love it). My short stature comes from both sides, but the design of my face comes straight from my father. And that's wonderful. And my eyes must be a gift from the grandfather I never really got the chance to know. My dad's father died when I was very young, and I don't remember him at all. But as I looked out at all those people tonight, I saw his eyes all over the room.

Thanks, Grandpa. And all those other wacky people who just went along with the natural flow of life to help create me and all those people I call family in that room tonight. I do hope that those eyes keep passing along. It sure is nice to look out and see a piece of my family history. And it's a little easier to look out and see all those eyes, because they are all at about the same height as mine.

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