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Archive for December, 2011

3000 Miles

“There are reasons I live 3000 miles from my family…”

A friend of mine caught me up while I was repeating my oft stated and unkind mantra. What do you mean? she asked. Your sister and your son live relatively nearby. I started arguing that I meant my parents, and my siblings to a lesser degree, and then stopped cold. I realized that what I was saying was no longer true, if it ever had been.

At least, not true in meaning that I was glad to be shut of them, couldn’t get along with them, did not want to be related to them. And looking back at my younger self, the self that thought she felt that way to some small degree, I was saddened.

Samples of Smith DNA, circa 1999

Yes, as eldest of six I did a lot of babysitting. Yes, the second and third of six children, who were four and seven years younger than I, were rivals, victims of my bad temper and general pains in the butt. They did not bow willingly to my superior authority. Yes, my parents failed to provide me with the horse I so desperately desired at 12, and instead presented the family with child number four, five and then six instead. I insisted on going away to a college 90 miles from home, and then beat feet to California when I was 20.

That much younger me had all sorts of adventures, made lasting friendships, moved to Alaska which was about as far as I could travel from my roots and still remain in North America. And once there, so far from kin, I started “making” family. Sisters-of-the-heart, surrogate nieces and nephews, I adopted them eagerly. You see, there was this void, and I refused to move back to the boring old Midwest. After all, I was an Alaskan woman now, bold, adventuresome, exotic.

That played well on my rare visits home. Alaska! Almost no one I’d grown up with had made it so far. Is it always dark? Is there always snow and ice? Do you live in an igloo? I dined out often on the strength of my zip code.

My friend’s question had abruptly shattered a cherished image, that of a supremely confident 22-year-old, too self-sufficient to need troublesome siblings, boringly middle class parents. It took me many years to realize just what I’d missed.

My parents celebrated their 40th anniversary at home, and all of us children attended, with spouses, significant others and our children. My word! Those bratty brothers and sisters had become such fun, intelligent and fascinating adults! The cousins got along so well, and wasn’t it a pity that they didn’t live closer to each other and their grandparents? Everyone but me and one sister lived within 300 miles, and gathered often to celebrate holidays, birthdays or nothing in particular. For the first time, I felt left out.

I am newly returned after a prolonged absence from my Alaska home. We were fortunate to visit brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles and parents while on our journey. My family is now scattered from Alaska to Florida, Milwaukee to Portland to Palm Springs. All the cousins are grown and gone, some with children of their own, and I realize I know almost nothing of the lives of those with whom I share the most intimate of connections. Perhaps the appreciation of blood kin is something you need a little distance from to appreciate.

Or perhaps not, as evidenced by my friend, whose immediate family all lives within 30 miles. We often spend noisy holidays with her enjoying the fireworks displays, both indoors and out. Oh the sparks that fly when sharp wits rub up against each other!

I don’t regret the nearly 40 years living 3000 miles from my family. But I realize now that while there may very well be reasons to do so, they certainly aren’t the ones implied by my unexamined remark. I believe it’s time to adopt a new mantra.

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Pearls beyond price

One of the things I most looked forward to, and that made more tolerable the certain cold and dark of home in Alaska in December, was the thought of three months of the Adventure Cyclist magazine waiting next to my most comfy chair. MMMMM…hot coffee with Bailey’s, wood stove cranking out the heat, no job to interfere and a stack of publications celebrating my favorite activity. Not quite as engaging as a three month bicycle trip down the Mississippi River, but given the circumstances of said trip, a tolerable if distant second best. Devoured cover-to-cover, these missives from Missoula nourish a soul that pines for spring.

Alas , ’twas not to be! Somehow, some way our several magazines have gone astray. In late August, before we commenced our odyssey I had temporarily forwarded our mail from the P.O. box to our physical address, which is actually a several unit lockbox at the corner of our subdivision. A friend had agreed to pick up our mail there, as she also has a box in the kiosk. But there must be conditions on what is forwarded that I was unaware of, because not only did all our many magazines get consigned to a black hole, but two packages have also failed to arrive, including one with all the bike tools inside my seat post bag, and my swimsuit. Nothing else in that package is even remotely important.

Not actually my bike, but you get the idea!

Lovely. I can’t put my bike back together, not that I would be able to ride in the cold dark slipperiness anyway; now I can’t even drag my unexercised white butt down to the pool to make up for it, without a rather large capital outlay for a new suit!

Mostly I’m just depressed about the Adventure Cyclist magazine. Some months it is the candle in the cursed darkness. The vicarious experience it provides is like a siren song, and I must lash myself to home and husband in order not to leap overboard. Winter in Alaska can be brutal. In the dark months, when Adventure Cyclist arrives I almost can’t bear to read it. I have a nearly irresistible urge to fling responsibility to the wind, hop on a plane and go romance the open road.

It’s a bad case of “let’s leave tonight”.

Today I received the December/January issue. Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my face. Time to go find the Bailey’s.

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