I saw my dad’s family last night for the first time, many of them, in 12 years. The five of us (my mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law) piled into my dad’s Pontiac and drove about an hour from the suburbs of Detroit to my aunt Nora’s house in Owosso, Mich. Along the way, we passed farms and large tracks of empty land. On one lawn, there was an 18-wheeler outlined with colored Christmas lights. My dad said “You don’t see that very often.” We played 20 questions and the alphabet game like we used to do when I was 10 years old and drove to Flint for Easter and Christmas.
My dad is the second of seven siblings (four brothers and two sisters), and his family lives in downtown Flint, Mich. where he grew up. He was the only one to go to college, live abroad (in Germany) and leave his hometown. My uncles are all married with children; my aunts are married with no children. A couple of my uncles deliver beer for a living (my cousin P. delivers Miller, so he rivals my uncle B. who delivers Bud). My dad is now an executive at the biggest hospital in Michigan based on in-patient beds.
When we arrived at Aunt Nora’s, three hours late because my brother, sister-in-law and I had flown from D.C. that afternoon, we gave everyone hugs, but it felt slightly awkward. We ate ham, macaroni and cheese, green beans and brussel sprouts. I drank a red Faygo. There was a chocolate fountain bubbling with creamy milk chocolate to put over lady fingers.
In the basement, my cousins played pool and darts in a cloud of smoke while a couple of my uncles took jaeger bombs. My cousin Stacy, who’s a sophomore at Michigan State University, sat on the stairwell and told my dad and me how she hates it and commutes twice a week from Flint. I could tell my dad was worried she might not finish school and tried to encourage her in a subtle way. She said she would if my dad runs a 5K with me in two years after he gets reconstructive knee surgery, which he needs after tearing both of his ACL ligaments years ago.
I spent much of the evening making faces at my 17-year-old cousin’s one-year-old baby Mihela. She’s learning to walk; she grasped her little hands around each of my pointer fingers and I walked her in her bouncing red lace dress around the house.
It was fun to chat with all of my dad’s brothers, they look so much like him. It was nice to reconnect with family and hear them bicker while laughing like siblings everywhere do. My aunt Nora told the story about how my dad threw her off the porch when she was seven or eight years old and accidentally broke her collarbone. She said it was because he wanted to watch American Bandstand and she wanted to watch cartoons, and he shook his head and said, “No, no, no.”