Thirty years ago I spent Thanksgiving in an apartment in Georgetown with some old friends and some others who chose not to go home for the holiday.
In some ways I was the odd ball because I left my home to head East thinking it would be an adventure, a second or third trip to Georgetown.
I loved DC and found the East Coast as exotic as they found the kid from California who came from a school few recognized but also wore fraternity letters they recognized.
Those who know me best wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I asked the girl from the midwest if she was a farmer.
“You’re not from Ohio are you?”
“Nope, drove through Columbus last year on the drive from DC back to Los Angeles and met a few rednecks.”
It didn’t take her long to figure out I was yanking her chain nor to realize that she was going to a more prestigious school than I was.
“You know that I am not a farmer and that there are big cities in Ohio, famous cities.”
She recognized the smile and cut me off before I could make a crack.
“They don’t like it when you make fun of the Akron-Cleveland area. People everywhere know that area, no one knows Northridge.”
“That is because they spend so much time living in igloos they don’t get a chance to learn all the different parts and places of LA.”
It is surreal to realize that 30 years isn’t my entire life and that it doesn’t take me into my high school years.
I remember standing in my parent’s house talking with my dad and grandfathers about our adventures driving across country. Both of my grandfathers had spent time as traveling salesmen and both had spent significant chunks of their lives living in Chicago.
When I would try to tease them about life in Chicago they would tell me how much I missed out by not living there.
Grandpa Wilner would shake his head and tell me that if you ever needed work Chicago was a great place to be. “If you can’t find a job there you better take a good look at yourself.”
Truth is Chicago was a mythological place to me, somewhere I heard about my entire life but had no experience with. Mom grew up there and dad had spent significant amounts of time there and Pittsburgh.
Thirty years later I wonder how much of my upbringing had a midwestern touch and how much was a mix of things.
Sixteen or seventeen years ago I walked down the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and tried to take it all in. It was my third or fourth time there, but this time I was on a business trip.
I stared at the ceiling in my hotel room and thought about all the places mom and dad had told me about or suggested I check out.
Had it been now I would have had to go silent on Facebook because there wouldn’t have been time to see family and there are still quite a few on both sides of the family.
Of course time has its way with you because now I am more interested in hearing some of the stories and seeing some of the places from those who were there.
Now all I have are memories of my grandparents arguing about the best place to go to eat in 1934.
The stories my grandfathers would tell about traveling from city to city and state to state are locked in memory but who can say if time has added or subtracted from them.
And dad, well now he is gone too.
It is strange because Mom turned 75 today and I didn’t realize how I had become accustomed to the rhythm of birthdays.
Dad’s birthday would roll out in September and then my paternal grandfather, and uncle would finish out the year. We’d wait until March for my maternal grandfather’s birthday and then April was packed with almost every woman I am/was related to by blood. Mom, grandma, twins and middle sister.
Since my birthday falls in May I never had to share it with family, but I did get stuck with it falling right around Mother’s Day.
This year the rhythm is slightly off, dad fell short of 75. Didn’t get the usual phone call from him this year.
“Call your mother.”
“Dad, I have never missed her birthday. What are you worried about?”
“You are not the one who will have to hear about it. Yeah dad, I know the drill. Unhappy wife, unhappy life. Does Mom know you are talking like this. Wait, don’t answer I can hear her talking so I know she knows.”
I didn’t have to see him to feel his glare.
“Hey old man, you remember all those times you sent me from the table or grounded me. Did you really think I would forget.”
I miss being able to tease him about that stuff.
Teenage daughters don’t always appreciate the million and one things their fathers learned from having had sisters.
They don’t want to hear that dad might have learned a thing or two about women from girls they don’t call mom. Hell, they don’t really want to know much about that either.
I never say much about it but occasionally have reminded my baby girl that I have been privileged to live a very rich life and that there are many stories about family she may not know.
When she tells me she is going to do a book report on Ruth Bader Ginsburg and I mention one of our relatives clerked for her she rolls her eyes and tells me not to make up one of my stories.
So I pull up his bio and show her the internet proof pointing out this is a legitimate site.
“Abba, is this a real cousin? Does he really know you?”
I laugh, say yes and pull out the email he sent me after dad died.
“Why didn’t I know this?”
“Why did you need to. It is like some of the other stories you have heard and then asked why you didn’t know. Sometimes it is because these things happened decades before you were born. I am 35 years older than you and sometimes it is because you were too little to be involved.”
I appreciate her position and her frustration, at 15 I often felt like I was old enough to do so much more and to be treated like an adult.
Now I wish I could be 15 again…well not completely. I don’t miss homework or sitting in a classroom with kids who were more interested in screwing off than learning.
Thirty years ago I figured if I wasn’t living in LA it was because I had made aliyah and was living in Israel. It was four years before my first trip to Dallas and I couldn’t have pictured the life I am living today.
The idea that by the time I was 50 I would be the oldest Wilner male was inconceivable but so was a million other things.
Life is a hell of a ride sometimes, isn’t it.