They made an odd pair, my uncle bearlike and gregarious, my aunt petite and thoughtful. They had a passel of kids, six to be precise. They might have had more, being practicing Catholics in a time when that meant eschewing birth control and wearing little frilly veils on your head when you went to weekly mass. I loved going to mass with them (they never ever missed it), and even snuck in a communion or two despite the fact that I was not of the faith. I rather perfected the little curtsy one did before the altar and felt very pious and could almost feel the little wings poking from my back.
They lived in the country on a rambling property complete with a horse barn. These were not your run of the mill horses, but rather show horses, and as such were pampered and groomed, walked and ridden only by the experts (my two older cousins) and certainly not by a girl like me. I ached to ride and the few times I did, usually on the retired mare who’d been relegated to the orchard, were like a dream.
I’d visit, usually once a year, flown in with my brother to spend Thanksgiving with them and my black-sheep father. Those Thanksgivings were, to me, the way they should be. A dozen and often more people gathered around several tables, all sharing a delicious meal. Eating and conversation would go on for hours, and we would all help serve and clean up. At the table were, besides family, several others depending on who was around and needed an invite. The groom from the barn, the neighbor who was alone for the holiday, the priest from the parish. Everyone was welcomed.
My cousins were a bit in awe of me as I flew in to meet my father, my little suitcase in tow and with an air of such sophistication, yet it was I who was more fascinated by their lives. They were part of a large (and intact) family, lived in a house with shared bedrooms with bunkbeds and had horses and fields and brothers and sisters with whom to play and tease. I cherished the time near my aunt whose generousity and kindness to me were unending. She was up at the crack of dawn in her barn coat and jeans to help work in the barn and then would gather up all the kids in the VW van to take them skating, or to school, or to a horse show. I loved to tag along.
They were wealthy, but you’d never know it. The kids were raised to be helpful and humble. Their lives were simple and structured, yet with a twist. We’d jump from the hay in the barn loft only when the golden Rolls Royce was not parked there (the one I threw up in once when the curvy road got the best of me). When they took vacation it was often to exotic places, Puerto Rico (they took me with them on that trip, which I’ll never forget), or Jamaica.
It was on one trip to Jamaica when they made some friends. Another family with kids who were vacationing in the same hotel. The kids played together on the beach and the adults would converse, enjoying one another’s company. One day, my uncle had this conversation with his new friend, as they lay in the sand and watched the kids splash in the water.
“So, what do you do when you’re not on a beach?” my uncle asked, with a wide smile, shading his eyes from the afternoon sun.
“I’m a musician.”
“A musician?” my uncle asked, leaning closer with interest. He had a way of making everyone he spoke with feel at ease.
“Yes, I have a band.”
“Really? That’s great.”
I don’t remember the rest of the story, as to how the conversation continued. What was clear was that my uncle was probably the only person on the planet at that time who didn’t recognize who his new friend was.
Go to the comments to see who. 🙂