Tuesday, January 01, 2008


I just returned from a trip back home that I would best characterize – surprisingly -- as calm and orderly. Normally you would think a visit to a family of many dozens would involve a good amount of confusion and disorder, but the opposite was true. I took a methodical flight to St. Louis on Wednesday, went from gathering to gathering for five wonderful days, and took an on-time, no-problem flight back home yesterday. Each day seemed as shipshape and unruffled as the one before it.

I started with a quiet evening at Al and Mary Anne’s home – a beer, a hearty dinner, and a renewing of good friendships. After a restful sleep in their snug basement suite, I enjoyed my usual breakfast at a coffee shop called Einsteins and then drove to see my neice Stephanie and her handsome, bouncing boys. It was inspiring to hang out with Wolfie and Hammie for a few minutes, just taking pleasure in their natural passion for nearly everything.

I enjoyed a whopping, old-school steakburger lunch at Steak ‘n’ Shake, and then paid a happy visit to my Mom at the hospital where she’s been recovering for a few days. She was in relatively cheery spirits, and we spent a pleasant hour together. In the evening, Mary Anne cooked a delicious meal of fried catfish, potatoes, and spinach, and the three of us relaxed and brought the good day to a quiet end.

On Friday, I joined brother Pete and Barbara for lunch at the Missouri Botannical Garden. The lunch was perfectly dreadful (I thought), but the companionship was delightful. It was a treat to talk with my cherished oldest brother and his wife, and after lunch Pete and I had a further chance to talk as we walked through the grounds of the dormant gardens. That night, after another good visit with my Mom, I joined Pete and Barbara at their home for a splendid evening of food and conversation. Being very much a candle person myself, I loved the soft look of Barbara’s many glowing candles as we talked and enjoyed the perfectly prepared dinner.

On Saturday, I met my four brothers and nephews Peter III and Neil at a local pub for our biannual “brothers lunch”. The food was delicious and the beer frosty, but of course the main treat was the stirring conversation. There were laughs, jokes, toasts, and old and new stories as we replenished our friendships. The same sort of renewal occurred later that afternoon when I met an old high school buddy at a small “dive” near his house. Surrounded by the swirling cigarette smoke and rowdy laughter of patrons, we spent an hour on memory lane, reliving our unruly but cheerful high school and college days.

That night I attended my family’s annual Christmas Party, hosted by my sister Susie and her husband Kent at Glen Echo Country Club. This year, because the family has grown so large, we limited attendance to people 15 and older, and I think it was a good move. Of course, we love having the young ones around, but it was wonderful to have one night when just the adults could mingle and converse and get to know each other better. The club was decorated beautifully for the season, the food was the best ever, and the friendliness was bountiful. It’s hard to recall a Saturday evening I enjoyed more.

The next morning I had a wonderful breakfast at my sister Mary’s house. Her husband Don cooked some splendid omelets for us, which we enjoyed as we rambled down many paths in our conversation. It was one of the best two hours of my visit back home. However, it was no better than the gathering that evening out at my sister Barb and her husband Mike’s vacation home on a lake in the country about an hour west of St. Louis. There, in a perfectly elegant and comfortable setting, three of my sisters (Cat, from Brooklyn, NY, couldn’t make it this time), my four brothers, their spouses, and I put the ideal finishing touch on my visit back home. For four hours, we were just simply brothers, sisters, and friends in the best possible way.

The next morning Al, Mary Anne, and I said our goodbyes and I took a picture perfect flight back to New England -- back to my four grown children, four grandchildren, the lovely woods and beaches, and the best teaching job a person could possibly have.

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