This both an apology and an explanation to my family outside of Michigan. Twenty two years ago I left the place where I was born and raised. It was the final resolution of a growing dissatisfaction. A feeling that has been with me since childhood. And it had nothing to do with my large sprawling family. When mom and her first husband, Raymond, stopped being gypsies to put down roots, the sisters followed. She was the heart of a growing clan of family and friends anchoring them to one place. Before it was the wartime shipyards in LA or the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. Trips back home to Tulsa or early Vegas or next door to New Orleans. Where they both collected memories and people like seashells.
When He died at an early age, the gypsy life called once again. Into this void stepped the man who would become my father. This formed the backdrop to my life. A chaotic confusion of loud cousins. Aunts, uncles and grandparents who weren’t by blood. Friends of friends or from church. Epic Christmas celebration quickly followed by the appearance of the Nut Sisters on New Year’s eve. Summer get togethers because the drive was short. And those shopping trips to Mexican border towns for pots and wrought iron my Aunt Sharon loved. My Uncle Boyd would always led the caravan to the border inspection every time. It became another piece of family lore. Woven into to all this were my mom’s stories of people and places.
Travel shifts perspective. For some it temporary. A brief escape from an ordinary seeming life. For others it’s permanent. Life is a framework of streets where we live or work. People. Landmarks were we turn if there’s traffic. Short cuts and long drives in spring. This is the movie you star in. Write and direct. That reel stopped when I was on a Naval supply ship stationed out of Guam. Forward deployed supply ship never stay in port for very long. Gypsies of the fleet. Three years of collecting memories and friends. No one knew I was leaving the Navy until the phone call from Houston Hobby. Could someone come pick me up please. My first choice was the train. The land Navy couldn’t understand taking the slow way home.
The film was turned back on for my family. But I had become an Expat. Problem being an expat is only others, who have some of that inside them, understand. Swimming against the stream. Dated. Got married. Moved to a different coast. Close along the shores of the Great Lakes with neither of us having jobs waiting. To a place settled before America expanded out of the colonies. What I found was silence. The insistent nagging voice was gone. Where my body fit the seasons.
Regrets? No. Do I wish my kids could meet their relatives in Texas? Sure. But my memories don’t reflect the reality either. Growing up both of my uncles lived in Oklahoma. Uncle Lawrence had a large family I never met. By now it could be in the hundreds. My mom died 5 years ago. A was an alien in a strange new world. An illusion of returning, gone. By then another generation had grown up in their version of my family. Names on FB without any context. That’s what I am to them. . She was the keeper of the family pictures. That role is now mine. The outlier in the north.
Why is it I’m compelled to write about this? Uncle Boyd has a chronic lung problem from years of working around asbestos. He and Aunt Jo are the last Elders. My last real connection to my past. And I had not thought of them until yesterday. A suggestion for a FB like from Uncle Boyd brought it into sharp focus.
Words are all I have to offer. Historians study the intimate mundane words sent on scraps of paper of the long dead. A temporary fragile medium carried the weight of hope, love and thoughts to those far away. Now it’s 140 character shorthand that are forever stored somewhere. But only if there’s power. This is a letter from where a river flows into the wide bay of a Great Lake.
I hope this letter finds everyone in good health. Surrounded by people who love and care about them. And lastly that I haven’t forgotten you.