A little history - my mom is the middle child of seven, and my grandmother, who died in the 90s, was an iron fisted ruler who didn't really show very much mercy. All of her kids are marked by this in different ways. Heck, her husband, nay, the entire extended family probably, have at one time or another felt the effects of this possibly undiagnosed mental instability.
For example: one of my only memories of a visit to Kansas as a child includes me crying in the family dinning room because my grandmother was berating my mother - and then having my grandmother notice, point at me, and say to my mother "See, now you've made your daughter cry!" in a triumphant and condemning voice.
And even though she's been gone, it seemed to me for a while that she passed her legacy of anger onto one or another of her daughters (thankfully never my mother). First it was my aunt Sue, who began berating my mom long distance. Then, when Sue passed away too, it seemed like Lila was bucking for the title of evil matriarch.
But it seems as if age, time, and the removal of that personality have finally softened my Page-side of the family.
I learned that in Kansas, people eat heavily three times a day. And we're not talking about fresh fruit and salads all the time. No, the Abilene idea of a salad is some iceburg lettuce with some droopy tomatoes and onions smothered in ranch. Actually, the worst food we at was at the Best Western Buffet we made the mistake of stopping at on our way from Wichita to Abilene. We're talking salsbury steak that looked like it had been laying there for hours, great gobs of mashed potatoes, bbq chicken, and canned peach cobbler + canned apple cobbler for dessert. Actually, the cobbler fruit tasted pretty good. Oh, and biscuits. Can't forget the biscuits. Thankfully the place we ate at for the family lunch on Saturday had a vegetarian quiche (but of course it came with a cup of soup, and since i picked the potato, it also came with a topping of cheddar cheese and bacon bits). And dinner was at the bowling alley, where the safest choice was definitely the hamburger! Grandpa's birthday cake was the totally standard and unfussy white cake with white frosting (mmmmmm, frosting!) and I managed to resist having a second piece, thank goodness. The best part was definitely at the B&B, where even though we had to climb out of bed by 8 AM (ewwww - who likes that time of the morning? not me) we were served a lovely small bowl of fresh fruit (not cantaloupe or pineapple, but blueberries, kiwi, pears, etc) over yogurt and homemade granola, and then the first day a marvelous kind of sweet almost bread pudding, and on the second a yummy breakfast spinach and mushroom quiche and home made baby muffins. Yes, I almost wanted a second seat on the plane home.
Besides the food, though, there were the people. My schizophrenic Aunt Pam really only had one veer into the mildly creepy describing her dreams - and really, I was only a little freaked because I'd heard her move from dreams to voices at an earlier visit and didn't want to repeat the instruction that she didn't have to listen to the voices. No, that's not a fair picture of her - she was a trooper and really organized the entire party, making the reservations at lunch for us all and then setting up the community room at the complex where my grandpa lives in total style and without a fuss. And she was sweet and asked after both me and Neil and we talked a little bit about her job and my trip to Japan. I discovered my Uncle Cecil (who's also had some mental trouble since he was in Vietnam, but who seems to be doing pretty damn good these days) is not only helping with meals on wheels, but doing other volunteer work and is looking to recruit more young people because he's the youngest there and he knows he's no spring chicken. But he did tell us about this woman who's 80? 90? who still comes in every week to help them put together all of the meals even though she's got a walker and is so bent over she can't stand straight anymore. My Aunt Lila was fine - generally pretty nice and she gives good hugs. I kind of stayed away from her (note the warning label above) but it seems as if she didn't have any freak outs or worry fests either. This was the first time I'd seen my cousin Theresa since we were both practically pre-teens, and she's sweet if a little careless as a mom, and it was great to have someone our own age to grin at when the parents and grandparent did their thing. My Uncle Rick brought his girlfriend, and Neil managed to extract their partial history - apparently she'd met him at the gym, where he's now a certified trainer at 60-mumble, and she loves Karate and is older than him. They kidded each other, snarked and goofed around like two people who are really happy to hang out together.
As for the star of the weekend, my grandfather has become a really sweet man. He broke into a happy chuckle as we walked through the doors of the complex on Saturday, and when my mom asked what he was laughing for he said it was because he was so happy to see us. How cool is that? He had a great time, I think, at his birthday party and his birthday lunch. He suffered through ENDLESS pictures with good grace, although at one point he did say he was running out of smiles. It didn't look like it to me, though. Uncle Rick had created this family slideshow with pictures from Grandpa's childhood, high school years, and then pictures of all of his kids' families, and he watched every moment attentively. He told stories at every opportunity - telling Neil about his brother in World War II, and his childhood on the farm, what it was like in Abilene when the kids were little. At dinner on Sat night he even told me that he and the boys get together once a week at the bowling alley and talk over coffee. He grinned at Theresa's roudy kids - I think he likes the rambunctious boys as much as he likes handing out little puzzles for them to quiet down and concentrate on. He was surprised and pleased that three of his sister's kids came (with their wives, and in one case son - all the way from Virginia) to celebrate his 90th with him.
And since it was a pretty important birthday, he also showed off the two write articles that were published about him in the local paper. Check it out - my grandpa's got history!
If anyone could give a history lesson on genealogy and Dickinson County, 89-year-old Lee Page could be the man.
Page was born on a cold, rainy morning in 1917, in the Moonlight community. His mother, at the time of his birth, was deathly ill with Rubella Measles. Page was two months premature and not breathing when he was born, so the family thought he was stillborn and put him out on the back porch.
"They were anxious about my mother--her eyes had swollen shut and she had measles really bad--all of the anxiety was centered on her because there were no signs of life from me when I was born," Page said.
While tending to his mother, Page said his grandmother heard a noise on the back porch.
"It was me hollering," he said.
there's other stuff, to be sure - we met three real live retired racing dogs at the Greyhound Hall of Fame Museum, Abilene may be the only town in the US that doesn't have it's own Starbucks (ok, i know that's not true, but still... NO cafes, not a one!), my mom's plane delay meant that Neil and I wandered around down-town Wichita and discovered a ghost town, but ... I'm a little tired of typing and if you've made it this far gentle reader, you're probably tired of reading. All in all, it was a damn fine trip.