We just got back from making the annual 800-mile round-trip pilgrimage to the event that is known in our family as Hickfest. It's a chance for friends and family to eat, drink, and be merry or Mary (although, I don't think I saw any cross-dressing this year - unless dressing as Richard Simmons counts).
This year's event was, as always, graciously organized and hosted by my cousin. Each year for the last several, he has opened up his house, his freezers, his ice chests, and who knows what else to attendees. This was our third Hickfest, and, as with the first two, I wished it could have lasted longer.
A small part of that has to do with the distance we travel. Even though we stayed four days, it felt like we'd only just arrived and suddenly it was time to go back home.
The bigger reason for wishing this get together lasted longer is the fact that this is the only chance I get to see most of my family, so I try to make the most of it. This year was the first time in five years for seeing some members of the family. Even after all that time, it was amazing to me how quickly we fell into old conversation patterns - as if we'd seen each other just last week.
In our family, that familiarity is perhaps both good and bad. I honed my sarcasm skills in this family but never really learned to talk seriously about much with them. Our family can be volatile at times (that would be the Irish from our grandmother's side of the family), and grudges can last years. On the other hand, most of our family will bend over backward to help another member of the family in need. What we don't often do, especially the men in the family, is talk about how we feel.
Maybe we don't know how. Maybe they, like me, don't always know how they feel. In the past, I think it is safe to say I have loved and perhaps hated members of my family. Some, I suspect, may not know why I felt the need to pack up and move hundreds of miles away with only the occasional visit. I'm not sure I know why, except to say that I did it because of me and not because of them. Because our family is full of strong personalities, and I knew I would never find mine if I stayed. 30 years later, though, I think I'm still looking.
As I look back at the last few paragraphs of what I've written, I get the sense that I am still avoiding what I need and want to say to my family. So here goes. I love all of you. You are a part of my past, my present, and my future.
Bill and Sandy, it was great to see you again after all these years. Bill, I don't think I ever told you, but you were perhaps my best friend growing up. I just wish I could have kicked your butt a few more times in any of the athletic endeavors we tried. Sandy, 35 years later I still remember the conversations and cups of coffee we shared. Those times remain a treasured memory.
Although I'm not much good around children (I get that lack of talent from my mother), it was good to see so many kids enjoying themselves again this year. The next generation of this clan promises to be just as ornery, stubborn, and opinionated as the current and the previous generations. Which means future family gatherings should remain energetic and lots of fun.
Families can be a blessing or a curse. Over the years, I suspect my family has been a bit of each, which makes it in many ways an average family, I suppose. Personally, though, I don't think there is anything average about them. And, while there have been times a part of me wanted to kill one or two of them, I wouldn't trade my family for any other.