I walk in the back door of my aunt's house and scan the crammed room. I quickly spot my sister in the corner, squeeze past a dozen relatives and friends and grab her from behind. "Amy! You're here!!" Suddenly the whole room turns my way and erupts in greeting.
My uncle Don shuffles his seventy-something self my way like a ship honing in on the harbor. "Hi, Sweetie,' he says, relieved. He and I have the common bond of being introverts trapped in a huge family of manic extroverts. He's always quick to find me at family gatherings.
Here comes Aunt Sara. "There's my Mimi!" She is relentless with her nicknames. So much so, that sometimes I wonder if she remembers my real name. I would call Sara - eccentric, if not a little crazy. "Mimi, do you realize you're the last of your cousins not to have a baby?" Sara had her daughter married by age thirteen. She doesn't waste any time getting to the point, and this year she's using scare tactics. I diffuse her by listing off a few other childless cousins and reminding her that I'm still young.
My family is all about Family. We marry young and have lots of kids. My grandmother had six children (two sets of twins). I'm the youngest of her twenty-two grandchildren. In addition, she has twenty-eight great grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren in diapers. When my sister decided she was stopping at two girls, it was hotly contended among the family. All of this to say, I'm sure to hear the "why-aren't-you-married-yet?" shpeal, complete with the "you're-wasting-your-good-birthing-years" glare, several more times before the day's over.
"Is that you, Amy? John's girl?"
"Yes!" I turn around and am met with total strangers. My family collects people. Probably a dozen show up every year to Thanksgiving or Christmas who fall into the 'friends of the family' category. This couple did some landscaping on my parents house twenty years ago, and remember me at age two. This isn't unusual. People come out of the woodworks to join our family for holidays.
I think they're drawn to the stability. It's certainly not to the 'got-it-together-ness'. We're a family full of lunatics, ranchers, alcoholics, divorcees, adulterers, good ol' boys, and ex-cons. But we're also living proof that 'love covers a multitude of sins.'
Chip just pulled up in his truck, pulling a trailer, which in turn is pulling a covered wagon. I think, 'Wow. Have we officially joined the circus?' His dogs lean over the bed of his truck. They live in the truck... seriously. They sleep and eat there. They have puppies there. Never in my life have I seen those dogs outside of that truck. Incredible.
It's time for lunch, so we all circle up for a prayer. This is my favorite part. Probably only a quarter of the people there still go to church, but this is how we've always done it, so nobody puts up a fuss. Everybody grabs a hand. We can't all fit in one room, so the circle winds through doorways and around the house. Somewhere near the kitchen, Uncle Bob shouts a prayer while the great-great grandkids dart between our legs and giggle.
After lunch, Aunt Sara finds me again to show me a painting she just discovered at a local auction. "You're an artist, Mimi. See the detail? Isn't it wonderful?" I'm looking up at a picture of a beautiful table cloth, piled high with rabbit carcuses and a dead rooster. "Look how real the fur looks! And the tablecloth is almost translucent!"
This is my family. They're absolutely insane... I think that's what I like about them.