Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Love, Served with a Side of Flour Tortilla

The blogging world is a crazy-weird world. It can lead you all over the planet, introduce you to a million different viewpoints, expose you to incredible music, photos, and writing that takes your breath away.

Then, sometimes, it takes you across town. And sometimes "across town" steals your breath too.

One of the first sites I followed regularly was a photo comic (clearly NOT a blog), called "Surviving the World". All the way from the Great Northeast (Massachusetts, Connecticut, I don't know... somewhere up there), a scientific genius, replete with lab coat, who can dance like Charlie Brown and throw down a bitchin' raptor impersonation stands in front of a chalkboard covered with an always funny, many times thought provoking "lesson" for his followers. I totally heart Dante Shepard. Dante has only ONE blog that he recommends, so naturally as a follower, I began to follow her.

I read for months. Literally -- MONTHS -- before I came across a picture that made me go, "uhhh... wait. I KNOW that place!" So after a little backlog reading, I realized that this bright and insightful writer is not a world away; we share the same city limits. Uh.... weird. Anyway, for almost a year, I've risen each morning, pulled up her site and asked myself, "What will Sarahthe say today?" Her daily posts are as much a part of my morning routine as hitting the snooze button or stumbling for the first Diet Coke of the day. My best friend and I refer to her as our "Sort Of" Friend, and we openly discuss or worry or laugh about her as though she sat across the margarita-soaked table.

Through her writing, I feel like I've come to know her and her family (as much as you can know someone over the internet without being a total creep-out). Her readers download her music (many times recommended from her husband), giggle at her Dad and brother's continuing battle of how many times they can be mentioned on her site, cheer her triumphs in nursing school, and marvel at the beauty of her photographs. And we learn from her pain so honestly spoken, share in it as much as we can from afar, and then try to offer what sense we can muster about it. Last night, I happened to catch her latest post, fresh off the presses (or however it's deemed in the land of the interwebs), and it broke my heart. You need to read it now. Otherwise, you won't understand the next part. And let's face it, you're this deep in. Click the damn link.

The fear that stood out to me most was the fear that being unable to explain their connection would cause her and her family to drop from the lives of her beautiful nephews and their wonderful mother. That because they weren't "legally" family, somehow that love would simply fade away. That idea stuck with me all day. Nagged at me.

What makes a family anyway?

I was 12 before I fully understood that an entire side of my family was not related to me in any way whatsoever. No blood. No marriage. Just a simple friendship with my mom and dad led all of these wonderful people into my life, and they raised me. Not as the daughter of a best friend, but as a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin. School vacations were sometimes spent almost entirely there, and summers... oh summers. I can remember begging on the phone to spend even one more day. Just one. Even though I might have already spent weeks.

My Grandma Daniel was my grandmother, as much or more as my God-given grandmothers. She opened her house to me and my brother every summer. She gave me quarters for the ice cream man. She popped my backside with a rolled-up newspaper when I misbehaved. She taught me to bake a cake and introduced me the Wild West with all of her "stories" each afternoon. I think I was the only grade-schooler who knew the programming schedule for Bonanza, The Virginian, and Gunsmoke. Oh... and cable t.v. A child from the sticks will never forget the first time she laid eyes on MTV.

My Aunt Patti taught me about Elvis and eyeliner and how to care for animals. Her daughter, my cousin Jodi, introduced us to street football and allowed the whiny 8 year old to be the "all time Center" (i.e. hike the ball, get out of the way) instead of forcing me to sit out. Her husband and his family welcomed me with homemade tortillas and tales of the Chupacabra (Oh, Tia Wanda could weave a scary story about el cucuy). And movie marathons. Scary movie marathons. With Jiffy Pop drenched in butter. As a result, there is not a horror flick, no matter how dumb or horrifying, that I will not watch.

The first baby I ever held was my cousin Melissa. I was seven. She was precious. I'm not sure why anyone trusted me to hold her on my own, but I'm glad they did. That moment created a lifetime love of the feel of a sleeping baby snuggled against my neck.

They hauled my crying, carsick butt to California when I was seven. I cannot remember why, and I remember very little other than being sick in the van as we traveled through the mountains. I don't remember them complaining about it though.

Summer after summer, if I wasn't headed to their house, they were making the drive to mine. They'd gather the tents and firewood and coolers and head our direction to spend the weekend at the lake where my family lived. We'd float and fish and burn some marshmallows. Stories around the fire, burgers cooked over the coals, sleeping under the stars. As much as the smell of a campfire and sunscreen and mosquito repellent takes me to summer camp, it reminds me first of this family. My family. The family that never cared who I was or how I came to be a part of their lives.

One of my biggest regrets in life is that in growing up, I grew away from them. My visits became infrequent and then non-existent. We moved on. They moved on. Lives continued, interrupted only by the occasional phonecall and the sad reunions at both my grandmothers' funerals. But there are times, moments, on almost a weekly basis that bring any or all of them back into my heart. And through the miracle of the Facebook, I've managed to reconnect with some of them. One of my biggest laughs has come from the discovery that my cousin Chris and I share an addiction to the show Dexter. A darkly comedic show featuring a serial killer as its hero. I guess the Scary Movie Marathon gene did indeed pass down. Jodi posted the other day about making homemade tortillas. I can still taste those tortillas twenty-five years later.

Now, my best friend has a son. He doesn't know me as Aunt Deana, but he knows me. He lights up when I walk in. He pesters his mother to call me on the phone. He reads me upside down books and bakes me imaginary pies. He loves me, and I love him. Not because I'm genetically pre-disposed. Not because someone in my family decided to marry someone in his. But rather because a long time ago, someone taught me what it is to love your best friend's child. Unconditionally. Wholly. Because the more people to love and support your child, the better.

So today, when I checked back on my fellow readers' advice to our "Sort Of" friend, Sarahthe, I wanted to explain that sometimes life is about more than how we're tied to each other but rather WHY we're tied to one another. And I looked down the comments to see that best friend of mine telling her what I wanted to say all day. That love wins.

Love always wins.

And my hope is that one morning, as I sip my Diet Coke and dread the alarm clock, I will pull up a picture of Tia Sarah with her beautiful nephews sharing a moment. Maybe a burnt marshmallow or a game of catch. Or maybe even a homemade flour tortilla.

Because let's face it. Homemade tortillas always win too.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I Also Hope that Heaven Smells like Pipe Tobacco and Cinnamon Toast

On Friday, I took my class to the Scholastic Book Fair. Browsing among those titles, I couldn't help but flash back to all the days of walking in to Mrs. Stavenhagen's library (it was never the school library to me) with a fistful of cash. I can clearly remember studying the list of titles and prices ahead of time, planning my purchases and counting and re-counting my collected fortune until it was damp and crinkled from sweat of my greedy little palms. Nevertheless, the excitement for me at 35 was as palpable as when I was 10. My only regret on Friday was that I paid by check. Somehow, not having to sort out my nickels and dimes and beg my older brother for "just one more dollar" made the process seem almost too easy.

Ohh... books. There is nothing I don't adore about you.

All of my safest places, my most treasured moments, revolve around the weight of an open book in my hands. In the classroom, reading along with my beloved teacher. As a camp counselor, with the help of a cheap flashlight and a droning voice, lulling my Live Oakers to sleep. With my nephew's chubby fingers reaching to turn the page first or sitting on a porch swing with the lazy laughter of my dearest friends drifting through the screened windows.

Entering a library, I suspect my blood pressure drops a good 20 points.

There is a certain smell that lingers in my memory, the smell of my childhood library... dusty and warm, old paper and newsprint with an intermingling of the librarian's gardenia perfume and the graham crackers served as a snack. It's the smell of knowledge. Of opportunity. Of possibility. Lift a book to your nose. Ruffle the pages. It will take you to a place you forgot you ever knew.

I am a girl without a passport, but I have indeed traveled the world. I have awoken on the plains of an African Savannah and witnessed the sun setting in Italian vineyards. I shrimped the coastal waters of South Carolina and dipped my toes in the crystal blue of the Pacific. I sat upon Miss Maudie's Alabama porch, and I raced along the Congo River, fleeing an army of ants. I heard the Gestapo thundering up the hidden stairs; I held my breath as I stole from that pile of burning books. I have, with every page I turned, discovered a new adventure, and I met a new friend. Between two covers, I have held the hand of Death, laid my eyes upon the devil, felt the breath of God, chased the meaning of Life.

And to own a book? To run my hands upon its spine, feel its heft, and place it on my shelf? Heaven. The Afterlife most definitely has built-ins.

I'm fairly certain it will not have a Kindle.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

When Someone Says It Better, Let Them Speak

Slowly waking up from an afternoon nap today, I made a startling discovery. My pillow was completely soaked. For a moment, I thought that I had drooled, that my nose had bled, that the cat had peed. Anything. Anything but what I thought to be truth.

But I knew in my heart, before I even looked in the bathroom mirror, they were tears upon my pillow, that I had wept so violently in my sleep that I awoke in a puddle of regret and fear. It's been several years since I found the sodden pillow, and I am not anxious to return to those visions. I returned to the couch in an attempt to lay still, inhale the calm, and re-trace my dream paths when I saw this post:

Its timing was freakish and eerie and comforting somehow. I guess that it's that I am not alone in the puddle. I must have read it 20 times between then and now. Surely, I'll read it another 20 times or more.

I wanted to write something today. I tried all day, but I couldn't find the right words. So I'm borrowing his because I don't know how to say it any differently.