Monday, May 19, 2008

Family tree

Home from the Palouse. I was there to celebrate my mom's birthday, and to celebrate with my family the accomplishments of my youngest sister's children. And those three kids are accomplished, let me tell you. These are kids who have a strong rope tying them to the Palouse, not simply a thread like I have. They were raised right in the middle of a wheat field, rode horses before they could walk and tractors before they went to school, by a dad who lives with soil beneath his fingernails in the summer and cow dung under his boots in the winter on their wheat and cattle ranch, and they all learned those ropes that tie them as soon as they were house-broke, as they follow the footsteps of their father just like he's followed the footsteps of his.

But they were also raised by a mother who drives into a university town every single day, to the university where she's followed the footsteps of her father, for years even working in the same building. She is, as he was, committed to seeing students excel in college, and succeed in the world beyond. She's good at what she does--as good at what she does as her dad was before her. My sister keeps more plates in the air than anyone I know--a whole china cabinet of china, actually, and it baffles me how she does it, but there's always room for one more with her. One more person in her house, one more place set at the table, one more barbeque on the front patio. Just pull up a chair and a cold one and make yourself at home, and while you're at it, I'd be glad to sew you up a quilt or two for your baby, make a dress for your wedding, knit a sweater, a hat, a bag...Not to mention, shoulder the mostly unbearable job of caring for our mother.

These those young-adult children of hers are tied by a thick rope to my sister's world as well. They're all busy, plates-in-the-air kind of people, yes. But mostly they're tied by their investment in academia. By that genetic pool, and a whole lot of talking from their earliest age that made them determined to study and study well. Just this weekend, we celebrated the Master's Degree of my oldest niece from Kansas State University. I can't begin to tell you the title of her thesis--it's so far over my head, I couldn't even follow the abstract. About cows--er, beef--and a tracking system, and machines--that's about the best I can do, and now I'm showing off my ignorance. But it reminds me that she is a perfect blend of her family tree. She is wedded to the ranch, but is a very capable academician--and her maternal granddad would be every bit as proud as all those farmers sitting around her parents' patio yesterday, drinking beer.

And the second daughter, who's been my daughter's roommate for a couple years? She's working dawn up to midnight to finish university early. Early!!! That's the kind of student she is. She's always been so. Every thing she puts her hand to, she does with grace and beauty, whether it's sitting a horse or the fancy cake decorating she's so talented at. She's taking a class right now that could kill me. Literally kill me, I'm sure. But she stripped it (well, not completely) off for a while to help at the farm, to celebrate her brother and sister, to be her mom's greatest champion. To be my daughter's friend (well, both my daughters').

And the son stood up in front of over 3000 people, mostly his peers, Saturday night and gave a speech. I have to admit, when I walked into that convention Thursday night, I thought I'd taken a left turn into a foreign country. Surrounded by teens in blue corduroy jackets and black bottoms, all cheering and screaming, it seemed a little cult-like, to tell you the truth. But FFA is does some good things. OK, some great things. They're learning how to speak, and take care of the earth, and animals, and each other. Anyway, my nephew has been a state officer for the year so had to speak to the convention. Give an address. And I'm here to tell you, in my completely unbiased opinion, he wowed them. There were girls screaming that they loved him even!!! (OK, to be honest, SK started it, but that just took the finger out of the dike, so to speak.) The cool thing was, though, at one moment in the middle, when he was talking about how he was kind of dork when he was a little kid, his middle sister said, "I love you, M!" and he answered, without missing a beat, "Thanks, L!" That might have been my favorite moment. That she chose that moment to say those words, to reassure him, that he knew her voice. And it was a very good speech. (Well, I'd also liked it a couple nights before when he noticed that my son, the closest thing he has to a brother, was there. We got there a day early, and he was thrilled to see J!) This nephew loves the land. Loves farming, can spend all day alone in a field, but with equal joy, and ease, can hold a crowd of thousands in his hand. Pretty remarkable.

So these kids. They're impressive. All three of them. They didn't get that way on their own. They're branches on a family tree. And both sides has a hand in them, and equal hand. I saw that as clearly as I've ever seen it in them this week end. God knew what He was doing when He married the farm and the university. And He saw that it was good.

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