Just got home from a few days at the family cabin on Whidbey. I drove down Thursday afternoon, and the first 24 hours I was there marked the first time I've ever been alone on the property. I walked the perimeter trail, the long steep steps down to the beach, then sat in the sun exactly where I'm usually surrounded by assorted siblings, cousins and our kids. I'm one of 23 grandchildren in my dad's family, so when we get together, it's always a crowd. I'm fortunate that I really grew up with and know my extended family. And I suppose those 11 acres on Whidbey are the closest thing to a family homestead we have. So even when I was alone Thursday, I felt surrounded by the ghosts of summers long past, when we roamed the large meadow clad only in shorts, spent hours making up plays to put on for our parents, were told "If I have to come in one more time to tell you to pipe down and go to sleep...", piled into Carry-alls for I-c-e-c-ream runs (That was one of the first words I learned to spell because the adults were always trying to make that treat a surprise!).
Friday four of 'the girls' landed on the island and we began our marathan gab fest, talking about all manner of things, from our kids' current activities, remodeling catastrophes, the foods we love, the TV shows we are addicted to. We don't have to explain our childhoods as background to every conversation, because we were each other's childhoods. They know my parents: their names, their jobs. And I know theirs. They've been my friends since before my two youngest brothers were born, since before I wore my first bra, had my first period, my first date. And before the weekend was over, we'd revisited memories that make only us laugh--the slumber parties, the running around our home town when we were meant to be sleeping, the innocent mischief we got into. One of my friends reminded us that this specific subset of 'the girls' had comprised the wedding party at her wedding.
We went to a street fair in the picturesque town that sits on a bluff high above Puget Sound, the same town where my cousins and I, herded by our grandmother and aunts, visited the Star Store, which not only still exists but has now become a local chain--in three locations in that one small town! We wandered among the craft booths, watched a local band playing...and I was somewhat startled to see that the almost naked man dancing in front of said band was actually my cousin--the one who lives full-time on the family property. I watched him sway slowly in the sun, then shook my head and walked away.
As I think about this almost perfect weekend with my oldest friends, I am somewhat amazed at how alike we still are. We like the same kind of books, the same kind of movies. Our marriages are stable, our children well-educated. We're all pretty casual women, with daughters who love shoes, good make-up and think we could do with make-overs. Our political views don't align and our church preferences are diverse, but there's an acceptance of those differences between us. Before I left home, Beve warned me not to do all the work, but I knew that wouldn't be a problem. These women and I have an easy cadence in the kitchen, the kind of cadence that reminds me of my aunts and cousins and seemed fitting in that place. We give each other advice--whether it's been asked for or not; we have each other's backs--physically and emotionally.
I'm exhausted tonight, but it's a good tired. Lots of walking, lots of laughing, lots of confessions and even a few tears. They asked me about my writing--the one thing I'd dreaded having to answer. But I should have known. I should have known they'd tear up with me, that they'd care more about me than my accomplishments--or lack there of. If you want to know who I am, you could do well to look at these strong, solid women. We made each other, in no small way. They were the rock tumbler that began the polishing of my sharp edges. Sometimes it was painful, sometimes only a gentle rolling together. But for all of it--for all of them, those present this weekend, and those who couldn't join us this year--I am grateful!