This is the first time I’ve been overseas that isn’t for work. I’m here with my parents, and my sister, and my brother and his wife. Right now, there’s someone playing piano in the inner square of Perugia, the capital of Umbria, and I can hear them from the hotel window four flights up. We’ve played Taboo, and gone swimming, and each waxed esoteric about the things we care about (My father: Indiana Law; my mother: the world’s largest incinerator they’re trying to put in our 20k populated hometown; my sister: fitness in food and in action; my sister-in-law: care for the elderly; my brother: wine and law).
The week we spent in the Umbrian countryside had this view. There, we played Taboo and went on adventures, traipsing through alleyways older than the start of the colonization of what has become known as my country.
We took a day to drive our tiny car to a Grappa tasting (Jacopo himself came out to say hello, tease my brother that he needed his bike tattoo to remind him how to get home, and my numbers because I must forget how to count), the stills cold but beautiful, the cellars pungent and cool. We continued on to Venice for a full 24 hours, canals and tourists and heat. A new favorite statue and the persistent graffiti of unaddressed unrest.
Seeing SJ online and playing cat-and-mouse with details of the statue, finding history and story threads from across the Atlantic. Community and structured knowledge winning out over algorithms.
Upon our return, coming to Perugia, our Garmins butchering the 7-word street names, the absurdity of robotic cadence winning out over the frustration of navigating streets not built for cars. Learning a city with walls like the rings of a tree, built up for the growing population and its needs, neon pizza signs on doorways built centuries ago, praxis winning out over awe of persistence. And the hours-long dinner as the sun set and we made our way through the wine list, talking about life and intent and memories.
Today, wandering streets and churches and walls. Cracks in painted ceilings blending seamlessly with the streaks in marble walls. A shaft of sunlight blessing the shoulders of an unaware tourist consulting a map before moving on. The fake shutters of camera phones and the true ring of a belled phone in the back. Statues and paintings fight, and bless, and seek. Seek seek seek some sign of god, whose house they are in, and in whose name they have been painted and chipped away at. The holy always never quite touching the not yet holy. Candles and sunlight and incandescent bulbs and flickering-quarter-to-light-votive-bulbs. The soft muttering of tourists in half a dozrn languages and beliefs.
And then this, which had us laughing to tears. Saint Whoa-Now. Saint Hold-on-Just-a-Minute. Saint I-didn’t-get-enough-sleep-last-night-and-really-can’t-handle-this-right-now.
Sometimes I wonder if writing about a family member or friend who has recently died is sort of like telling someone about your dreams – fascinating and useful to you, but completely without the same meaning from context for them. This entry is a celebration of someone who aged with incredibly good humor, and who has been a steady thread in my life. This is what it is to have deep roots spread wide.
Grandma Irene Murphy died yesterday. She’s been ready to go for years, but some subset of her eleven children weren’t. Which means she hung on, being revived when she slipped too far, living in the same house she had for 30 years, with a rotation of those children and their spouses taking shifts to care for her. We moved her bed down into the same room Mammy (her own mother, who was married to Pappy, and whose actual names I will never remember) had lived out her final days some twenty years previous, with notably less joy than Grandma. It was the third house Irene had taken the kids to, after the farm, the farm being after the house on Spear Street.
The house on Spear Street is now my Uncle Bill’s. Decades earlier, they had left it for the farm when my Grandmother had packed all the kids in the house out to it, fleeing her abusive husband Charlie. My grandfather Charlie, who taught me that assholes can be assholes to anyone, not just to their own kids, and not always behind closed doors. Charlie who used to sit at the kitchen table drinking Budweiser and smoking while basketball blared on the living room TV, taking up all the space in the house he could. Charlie who used to “take his kids out for the day,” leaving them to play in the car while he sat in the bar and drank. Charlie who could also be genuinely gentle in the strangest of moments, making it easy to forget. Charlie, whose children not only fought to protect each other and their mother from, but also their own children.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about these aspects of my grandfather, of the deep reasons behind the strange giddiness Irene’s children experienced upon his death. This amazing woman, their mother, my grandmother, was finally free to play and make space for herself in more than passing moments. I had always assumed the move to the farm, and later the move to their final house had been of choice or necessity, not of flight. Their last house, where they both lived out their lives, was two away from Peggy, proximity to family some sort of safety, at least a place for the kids to escape to. The house separating Peggy and Irene was later purchased by my parents, where they still live, and where I grew up, the house undergoing slow remodels around me as my own body and brain changed. But always, always, grandma next door. A door that was never locked, and a motorized easy chair, and saccharine pinwheel cookies, and electronic poker games.
Nine of their eleven adult children live in my home town, scattered in a radius around her home. The tenth lives beyond city limits, and the final is in California, buying grandma’s house from afar so she had income and so it would stay in the family. All the children’s kids live within a few hours’ drive, and Mary’s four children live in the state, and Theresa’s fourteen children have scattered across the country but stayed away from the coasts. In short, it was incredibly difficult to throw a party as a teenager. But grandma would sometimes look at me with this glint in her eye, and her laugh sounded like getting away with it.
She loved murder mysteries. We used to watch Columbo together – there was no TV in my parents’ house, but I was allowed an hour of television over at grandma’s on rare occasion. She was convinced John Edwards was legit, and that angels watched over us. She made curtains before her hands got bad, and would let me sketch child thought-scapes with chalk on scrap fabric, and examine how her sewing machines worked, and hunt for dropped pins with magnets. She liked my blue hair, and objectified my boyfriends, and missed my mohawk (but was glad I had grown it out). She told me I needed to give her a motorcycle ride, and if I wasn’t willing to take her, it wasn’t safe enough for me, either. She chose Baltimore when my parents offered to take her anywhere at all in the world. She laughed at herself when she had no idea what was going on, and she didn’t mind at all that she had heard the joke before but forgotten the punchline. As she slipped deeper into dementia, she cracked jokes that no one else got, that no one else had context for, and she still laughed like she was getting away with it. She aged with incredible good grace and humor. And when her children had finally gotten to see a mother they had only seen glimpses of while growing up, when they were at last ready to let her go, she gratefully and quietly died.
I just got off a plane to Indiana for the wake. A wake where so many Irish-Catholic family members will attend we simply call people a generation older “aunt” or “uncle,” anyone younger “niece” or “nephew,” and anyone your own age “cousin.” My Uncle Mike (not even a full year younger than my father) will point out the faint four-poke scar he claims is from my grandmother stabbing him with a fork when he wouldn’t shut up at the dinner table. (Mike who also once told my cousin RD that a lion had bitten his leg, rather than explain Vietnam and mines and what it is to have a toe tag replaced by a purple heart, so that’s the sort of trustworthy he is.) Her great-great-grandkids will still be in diapers, unless my sense of time is completely off. We’ll bring out albums and stories and track mud into the home for which we exhausted the local framing store in a vain attempt to keep up with the propagation of this family. The hodgepodge collection of folding chairs will be brought from every nearby house, nearly enough but why not pick up another mismatched set. Everyone will bring a casserole, spilling off the kitchen table and onto the nearby counters. Someone will turn on the TV, and someone else will mute it. Aunt Suzy will wonder why I insist on wearing a tie, and an endless line of nieces and nephews will insist on airplane and piggy-back rides. We will play with blocks and marbles and race matchbox cars. (And I, for the first time in years, will not hide myself away in front of the recently-emerged fireplace in my parents’ home with glass of Bailey’s, furious with myself for anxieties.)
As the night wears on, and the children go home, we’ll drink cheap beer and reminisce about a woman who brought so much joy despite everything in her path. We’ll remember sitting in our shared yards as night fell, lightning bugs flashing and the smell of a recent rain. We’ll remember how she protected as best she could with the beliefs she had. How she left Charlie’s presence but never his side. How she made what was never enough food or money or hours sustain so many. How each of her children coped with that upbringing. How some, my father included, got themselves out – and how that meant leaving others behind. The ties of family, and of love, and of dreams, and of responsibilities. What it is to protect your family from your family, and see those patterns repeat. What love is, no matter what, even if you don’t want it. Love without the need to understand. Love that sometimes lacks care, and the kind of love that combats that. In the morning, we’ll shine our shoes and go to church for her, albeit less begrudgingly and a little bit more hungover, one last time.
In short, it will be business as usual. Celebration of life, celebration of death, and the ever overwhelming presence of family.
TL;DR : My sister is in a voting thing, and it would mean a lot to her (and me) if you were to place your vote here.
I don’t know how many of you know this, but my family is *totally* awesome. Activist attorney father, artist jewelry-smith draftsman mother living in the town my dad grew up in. They’ve been married for quite awhile, and met when my half-sister was two. They spaced us kids so if we had gone to school like we were supposed to, they would have had padding to save back up and send another one out.
We are a physical family, hugging and leaning and playing. When I was young, we used to wrestle. I still toss my younger cousins around. The goal used to be stealing the hankie from my dad’s back pocket, him carefully laying aside his wire-frame glasses. It meant I was never scared to get into a fight – I’m comfortable in my own skin and know what it is to get into a tuss.
My brother is an oneophile with a love of words and deep study. He has the complete OED, and cherishes his rare copy of a reverse-etomological dictionary (broken out by roots, rather than listing roots after the words). He makes puns which much be explained via culture, historical events, and nuances of language. He wears bowties. And still, under it all, the understanding of what it is to be comfortable in your own body, not just as a thing to carry your head around, but as something that is a part of you.
And my sister! Despite having grown up only seeing each other once or twice a year, we are incredibly close. She is a story teller, a physical comedian, and feels the world with such passion I don’t know how her heart handles it. I attribute much of my adaptability and acceptance to visiting her home in NYC while young (and still today), seeing Off-Off-Broadway plays and the night life of the city. She does jazz and modern dance, clowning, and acting. I suppose they can all be the same thing.
She’s supported herself for years between her artistic endeavors and teaching people to be comfortable in their own skins through personal training. She’s moved from the stage to film, bouncing between LA and NYC. And now there’s this thing, Fit or Flop, for TV about the next personal trainer. Jessie has a good grasp of what is involved with the process of growing her business, and where the value in this competition lies. I think she should win. And while I usually don’t go for TV nor for popularity contests, this involves both. And I’m ok with that because it means so much to me that the world sees how awesome she is.
The brand management prize is hefty and would allow me to reach many people across the world with my comprehensive approach to overall health and fitness.
Please join me. At least vote once. If you’re zelous or feel like automation, it can take one vote a day per profile for two months.
My knees and upper arms are speckled with bruises: the sign of an abusive lover or a loving brother.
Here is what vacation with my family is like: mid-breakfast at B&O, Mom states that she would like 7 Element Soup at some point, which means we should probably go to The Wild Ginger for lunch. Dinner reservations have already been made. I actually got slightly nauseous at the sight of food when out at IHOP with friends at 1a.
Between meals, we sit around and tell stories. I try to explain tech, Seamus and Dad geek about etymology. Mom, Jessie, and Anita shop for clothes, try on jewelry, look at shoes.
Came out to my parents as queer, which went over much better than expected. Explaining that I still like boys was interesting. Later that same day mom glimpsed the tattoo, which I actually dreaded more (as getting a tattoo is a choice as opposed to sexuality (even though sexuality can be a choice as well, genetics definitely have a big say) and one that they were adamantly against until I was done with college). But after explaining what it meant, and how hex works, and why I got them mom said it was actually “pretty cool.”
Later that same night we went to the Can Can to see Maybe Manic? which has a bunch of different styles of dancing and such (and an extremely tastey male-due fan-dance. Good lord). Some bits were burlesque. Which would be kind of awkward watching it with your parents anyway, but especially after having come out that day? Good lord. Then my mom leaned over after the lovely Fuchsia Foxxx had shaken her lovely lady bumps (check it out) in our direction and said “so that’s what you go for?” and laughed quite a lot.
I register for the LSATS and prep classes this week. Guess it’s time to figure out what the hell I’m doing. I’m not going to hyperventilate. Really. It’s odd to do things for me instead of for other people.
Also probably start looking for a roommate sometime soon, for a new apartment, etc. I love where I live, and living on my own has been amazing, but I need to cut living costs down if I’m going to afford school.
From a link dear Matt posted the other day. I really like this guy, and what he has to say. Enough that the subject line will be my next tattoo (along with another choice I’ve made).
I like seeing people being fiery about their passions. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing anything? A habit is an action without the point, and I don’t have time to waste.
The family is visiting this weekend. I feel my sharpest when we’re mocking each other viciously, loving unconditionally, laughing at the absurdity of our darkest moments. I learn so much from them, am supported by them, but also inspired to bring new things to the table.
Sometimes I think it would be easier to believe in .one. higher power because then I’d have somewhere to focus all the gratitude, love, and joy that I feel sometimes. Instead I have to feel it towards the whole world. And it’s pretty big. You can’t even see all of it from the top of your roof, as Matt said this morning.