Friday, November 27, 2015

Thankful

I'm lying on an Aerobed in my brother's finished basement, listening to the sounds of my blissed out, over-fed, super-loved children's sleepy time breathing. Tomorrow we'll go home after a beautiful couple of days with my family. Bittersweet sleep.

This room itself contains bits and pieces of my childhood holiday memories scattered all around: a needlepoint acrostic of all our names that my mom stitched in the early 80s (before my little sister was born) displayed next to my mom's portrait; a photo collage of snapshots from the early 90s -- in one I'm shown holding a Sports Illustrated with Christian Laettner in the cover; a framed photograph of our entire Stock-Mello family snapped on a Thanksgiving perhaps 20-25 years ago -- that may have been the last time all the aunts and uncles and cousins were together before mom's illness changed us all; a crazy quilt on the Aerobed sewn by my great-grandmother -- she made one for every one of her grandkids, and now we three Mello kids each have one, miraculously saved and intact some 50 years later. The weight of this quilt calms me instantly. The sight of it floods my heart with warmth.
Great-Gramma's crazy quilt

We played tag with the kids at the playground yesterday before dinner, giggling and chasing one another until we all had stitches in our sides (and had to stop to stretch our creaky legs and backs). My boys are so lucky to have this uncle and aunties and grandfather in their lives.

It has occurred to me more than once this weekend how different this is from what most families know. There's no tension or forced togetherness at holidays. There's no need for booze just to get through the day (though a bottle of wine or two does make it more fun!). Nobody comes in at the last minute before dinner or bolts before dessert. Of course we carry wounds, but we've forgiven one another countless times over the years. And we are all here this weekend, hunkered down on a sectional sofa to watch the Macy's parade in our jammies because we love to spend time together. It's a rare gift.

As wacky and grumpy and snarky as we may be apart, we are amazing when we're together. My siblings and I have grown into fully complementary adults. Like this crazy quilt that's held up through decades. Or this needlepoint acrostic with our names woven together. Each of us equal parts serious and silly, with one providing balance for the others whenever necessary. We read each other well, knowing when levity is in order or when it's time to change a subject all together. And you know that little voice that tells you every now and then to call someone you love? It happens. Often when we need a calming voice or a sounding board. We just know.
The Mello Fam, circa 1992

We grew up in such a traditional family, with traditional values and traditional traditions. My father has never been one to stray comfortably from "this is how we've always done it." Yet remarkably, he does now. We all go with the flow now. It seems the only tradition that has stood the test of time is just being together. Such a blessing, really. 

Last night we sat around with guitars and a ukulele, humming and strumming and giggling over improv'ed thanksgiving songs. Hokey, goofy, warm. I glanced between my brother and sister at one point and thought "this is a perfect moment; stash it away." They both were smiling their matching brilliant white-toothed smile, eyes framed with a few barely visible lines that hint at years of joy and flashes of intense grief. I hope they felt it too, that perfect moment in our super sibling triangle. I want to always remember them this way, as the singing, smiling, tag-playing full-grown humans that my children adore.
My favorite turkeys
My mom admonished me long ago, during a particularly ugly spat with my brother, "These are the people who will know you best and ONLY ones who walk through life with you. Be good to each other." It's true. They are. And we are. 

That's a lot to be thankful for. 


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