PART III: The Reunion:
Anyway Amy, when I opened my eyes the next morning, I gazed upon Maria's oh-so-familiar photographs and all the knick knack paddy whack that she has had since I was little. We were really there. And in two short hours we would be immersed in Wilhelms. I sprang from her bed and jerked on my children as if it were christmas morning. Quinn and Reilly and my mom are the quintessential sleeper-inners, which I can scarcely tolerate in real life, but on this day, it was simply not to be borne.
(Interjection: christmas eve, 2008, the kids and I slept in the living room, wiggling with excitement over, I am proud to say, the gifts we were giving. Around 7:00am my text notifier went off so many times my phone practically burst into flames. Everyone on earth was wishing us merry christmas, and by 8:00, most people's kids had opened their toys and my mama friends were trying to nestle into the wrapping paper wasteland to steal a nap. But not my kids. They slept until almost noon. Since when does a mom have to wake her kids up on christmas??? My brother was calling to say, "Um, are you guys coming?" Even my mom, who is practically a vampire, began calling, anxious. So that gives a little broader landscape of trying to do anything in the morning.)
I decided to eat most of Maria's avocados and take a shower. You know how other people's showers make absolutely no sense? Well they're geniuses compared to her shower. She has one of those claw-footed tubs (ooh la la right?) with this odd visqueen curtain separated into like 75 strips, but no opening where you need to actually enter the shower, nor so much as a slit allowing a person to reach the five-tiered rack just outside the shower, which holds shampoo, something I feel is vital when showering. Both knobs dispersed hot and cold water, and by knobs I mean knob, since one was missing. Maria was in the mansion, where I assumed the shower was voice activated, so there I was, naked, alone, trying to scratch my way into a spray that could only be scalding or frigid. But what care I for comfort when there are Wilhelms to be had? After my shower I gave another futile shout to my slumbering brood and set about to rifle through my suitcase and see if any of my clothes had magically transformed in the night into something that would make me seem thin. The closest I came to realizing that fantasy was my beautiful, shocking red blouse from Torrid that my mom bought me for $7,900 a few months before I lost 50 lbs. It's way too big now. I wondered, "Will that suffice for looking thinner?" Maria later said no, with a bit of a chortle. B had come the night before we left and packed my outfits because packing causes paralysis for me. If she says, "Hey, come this weekend and help us paint, and only paint, and go nowhere, bring paint clothes!" I stand at my closet, fondling my cashmere sweater "just in case," trying to justify packing jeans, imagining which eye shimmer will match the brand new shirt I was specifically ordered not to bring. Seriously, it's agony. I just know if I pack some grimy-ass painting frock, I will be pulled over, covered in paint, unshowered, with no bra, and my infamous crack whore circles under my eyes, pleading with the officer to believe that I am not on drugs, nor a battered wife, working in that I have a 4.0 GPA in college. Also, we never just stay at the Kinch Compound (where they bind and torture me, Mom, hee hee). Someone always breaks the pact and I end up in some ill-fitting gypsy relic, splattered with could-be-puke, could-be-anything, at Safeway, where we run into Heather, in her size 2-ness, glowing skin, rich, vibrant hair, trademark smile. No this really happened, and she literally gasped, and squeezed her husband's arm. I'm so not kidding. But Jesus, is this a post about Salem or Santa Cruz? No matter, it's all for Amy, so suck it.
I don't remember what I wore because I donned my cop-out new white pea coat that B made me buy, and due to two unforeseen circumstances, to be specified later, I wore it until bedtime. Finally my ridiculous mother and children were up and moving. At one point, while traversing the dollhouse-sized footprint of my cousin's house, Mom and I ended up in the kitchen, facing each other, and we sort of locked eyes and realized that telling your guests you have no coffee maker at 9pm, is really different than those guests waking up to the bleak reality of there actually being no coffee maker. Suddenly Mom was herding my kids with a cattle prod because damn, if we didn't find a Starbucks soon, well, this needn't be a horror story. Mind you, we can barely find the driveway in Santa Cruz, so I had to rely on Maria to lead us to Starbucks, wait for (I'm not kidding) 42 minutes, and then onto my uncle Eric's to see everyone! I realize I am embarrassingly prone to tangents, but in the interest of being informative, can I just say that everything in California costs quadruple what we pay in Oregon? And not just houses (they're quintuple). On the trip, we ordered the same four drinks at every stop and it came to ten dollars every time. But at the 41st Street Mall on Soquel Drive, between Gottschalk's and the bus depot, an Americano, a house coffee, and two small kid drinks cost $24.00. And the fuckers were out of half and half too, and by the time I got back to the car, which was practically parked in Capitola, my family were octogenarians, and I was bitter as hell. Thankfully, my hostility and threatening anti-corporation rant gave way to a state of physical excitement I can only liken to a Pomeranian, maybe when it's humping your leg.
Let me just say I am so tired of hearing my own narrative in my head, I am going to try to wrap this segment up succinctly yet without causing you (Amy) whiplash.
We arrived at Eric's, there was nowhere to park, no obvious entrance, and not a relative in sight. I pretty much said 'fuck it,' killed the engine, and trembled through the wheelchair-strewn garage to the long-awaited door (eek!).
(Santa Cruz was having, literally, an historic torrential rain storm that weekend, so, yeah, my hair...)
We burst through the door and my eyes can barely scan the number people before me. I was at once frozen and rushing the crowd, so eager to throw my arms arms around each and every one of them (and later eat them of course), I don't even remember how the hugging began. I believe I was greeted first by my supremely beloved aunt Caci, whom I had not seen in ten years. I love her beyond words, and being face-to-face with her didn't last long. I enveloped her (she's one of the shorter Wilhelms) for hours and hours, making up for ten long years of unbearable distance. She's the sort of person whose love is so strong if you stand still you can feel it all the way in Oregon. Next I glimpsed my uncles Eric, David, and Raj (Caci's husband--I'll explain the names shortly), along with my brother Sky and aunt Virginia, sitting around the dining room table. I would have slid onto the table as if it were home base, and been grasped and mauled by loving arms, but alas, these were the men folk, so I went around and hugged each one in the traditional manner. It had been seven years since seeing my mom's younger brothers David and Eric, eleven years since seeing Raj, and a year and a half since seeing Sky. (But don't be fooled, his was the best and most coveted hug. I'm kind of a loudmouth, and there's something about being embraced by my towering big brother that words can't describe.) Next up was David's wife Virginia, beloved, amazing mama of four, whose talents and drive make me look like an invalid. Three people said I looked amazing, an opinion which, even if true, absolutely never translates to photographs, so you will just have to take their word for it. Someone said "stunning," Caci said "movie star," and I also heard "oh my god, all grown up!" Later I found out the white coat created a sort of smoke and mirrors effect, but you know, whatever bitches, it's my praise and I'm keeping it.
My mom with her four gradkids: Oren, Quinn, Reilly, and Wyatt:
Reilly and Oren (7)--here comes trouble!
Quinn in a racing wheelchair:
Mom and Wyatt (6):
Donna, Cat, and Maria:
Just like Wink and Spoons, it wouldn't be a reunion without acupuncture (my cousin Jonah was teaching the littler kids how to kill themselves on some ramp and broke his ankle or something):
Sky, Mom, and me:
Sky and me:
Somehow Reilly in the wheelchair looked more like a chariot (with Quinn, Oren, and Gabriela):
Spoons finalists Maria, Maria's thong, Raj, and Cat:
Our magnificent hosts, Eric and Francisca:
Some of the womenfolk I managed to wrangle into a photo, including myself (l-r: Reilly, me, Caci, Virginia, Francisca, Cat, Gabriela, Emilie, Mom):
I got more men to cooperate than I expected to (l-r: Joe, Eric, Raj, Oren, Sky, Wyatt, David, the twins, up top, Jacob and Zach, and Joshua):
The siblings, minus Daniel (in order of birth: Donna, Caci, Mom, David, and Eric):
Here's some insight: Caci's given name was Catherine Rose, but when she became a Krsna devotee in her 20's she was renamed Catura (pronounced Cha-TU-ra), which somehow became Caci (CHA-chee). Her husband was born Raymond, and his devotee name is (god help me spell this) Rajendrenendrene, which, fucking of course became Raj in three seconds. No disprespect you know, I'm just saying, I don't really have time to be all, "Hey Rajendrenendrene." My brain gets stuck and I want to say Rajendrenendrenendrenendrenen..." You get it. So they're Caci and Raj, and their son is Aja.
When I had caught my breath from man handling the adults, it was time to ferret out all the cousins I knew were lurking about. Eric's house is a bit of a labyrinth so I set out to find my boys. Within moments I was wrapped around Nik like a boa constrictor, and shockingly, I was taller than he. His dad is Eric, the tallest member of the family at 6'6" I think, so I was surprised that 22 year old Nik didn't get the crazy height. But in walked Jonah, Nik's younger brother, who um, did get the height. All of it. A strapping, shy, 6'4", Jonah hugged me and smiled, like they all did, remembering how I kissed them within inches of their lives until I had my own babies. Suddenly my eyes locked on my precious, wonderful Joseph. I spent the most time with him as a baby/toddler/kid/young man, and my heart almost couldn't contain the emotion I felt. To be sure, I hadn't totally floated off the earth, for I did notice immediately that Jo-fus (as he used to call himself at age one) hadn't grown much at all since I saw him when he was 15. Interesting. So Eric's and David's eldest sons are pretty average but both their second-borns are 6'4". This was fascinating for me because a) I was changing all their diapers yesterday, and b) height is sort of a sense of pride for us. Eric is the king and I am the queen. I talked to Jo-fus for a long time, and he smiled all the while. All the boys have a tender bashfulness that just makes you want to pinch them, or commit some other such violence in the name of love. His eyes sparkle just like his dad's (David), and I seriously wanted to squeeze his cheeks and kiss him on the mouth. Thankfully, a surge of reason prevented me from essentially molesting him, and the rest of them. Soon Izaak made his way through (Eric's youngest, and the cousin I know the least), and hugged me with that same smile that's going to get all these boys married in the next five minutes. Izaak's counterpart, cousin-wise, and age-wise (they're all 16), are David's twins, Jacob and Zachary, who opted to stay home and work on some school project. I ordered David and Virginia to scold them and shame them with the harrowing tale of our 15 hour drive, and to get their A+ asses here the next day or there would be hell to pay.
My sweet Joe:
Aja, who was reluctant to pose, which the camera captured. His beauty defies words:
(OMG I'm going have to post my installments in installments. I'm embarrassed at how my overly loquacious tendencies increase exponentially when the theme of my story is based on sentiment.)
My grandparents had six children. Three daughters, followed by three sons. Donna, Caci, my mom Jess, Daniel, David, and Eric. Between them, they had Maria, Cat, Sky, me, and then ten years later, Nik, Joseph, my brother Chris, Aja, Matthew, Jonah, Izaak, Jacob, and Zach. Since the Fab Four are so much older (Maria is 42, and Zach is 16, but we're all first cousins), there are seven great grandchildren; Max, Gabriela, Quinn, Reilly, Oren, Wyatt, and Luca. You can't fathom how delicious each of these people is. I could spend a week alone with every single member of my family. And since Air Supply is playing as I type, I'm going to make it a month. The only relatives not in attendance were Chris, Matthew, who was with friends and whose cell phone was lost, and my uncle Daniel, my mom's precious Irish twin, first born son, and unfortunately, Ohio resident. But there were plenty of others to sift through, and I basically wove in and out of them all day in a haze. I decided I was never leaving Santa Cruz. The best memories of my childhood were tagging along with Maria and Cat, and I want that for Quinn and Reilly.
Some of the highlights from that Saturday (as if anything could compete with being called a movie star) were:
Seeing Nik and Joe with beers and giving them a puzzled look. I certainly didn't care, and we're a pretty loose family, but their openness surprised me. I looked at Joe quizzically and he shot me a look that engulfed me with embarrassment. Um, duh, they're all 22 or 23 and can drink freely, lol.
Seeing my cousin Aja for the first time since he was ten, having him turn around and pierce my soul with his eyes, and we were instant soul mates. We hugged for an hour and I cried. We just totally clicked, and oh my god he's gorgeous.
Eric's wife took Caci and Quinn and me out to get burgers, even though Caci is obviously vegetarian. I wanted to be respectful, but neither of us knew how to navigate SC so Francisca hauled our sorry asses around. After grabbing Hula Burgers and p-l-e-n-t-y of beer, we returned to the hacienda. Despite the nearly-insulting clarity with which I ordered Quinn's buger (ketchup, mustard, and pickles ONLY), it was covered in mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and cheese. Fuck. A. Duck. I couldn't go back and exchange it, and mayonnaise is fucking vile, how was I supposed to get that shit off? And why am I talking like Jules from Pulp Fiction again? So who appears from the crowd to save the day? Caci. She scraped everything off his burger, we switched his bun with mine (even though it had mayo molecules on it, blech), and voila! A plain burger. Quinn was really impressed that his auntie, whose deep religious convictions regarding the consumptions of meat are legendary, would get so intimate with his burger to fix it. I loved that he appreciated that.
Eric works for a specialty wheelchair company, so all the kids were riding in wheelchairs all day. Is it wrong to think that's cute? Both my kids fell on their backs, because these are racing wheelchairs and you have to lean forward.
Cat (Catherine, named for Caci, then became Catarina when she married Brasilian-born Gustavo and everyone suddenly began speaking Portuguese, though we still call her Cat. Confused?) walked in and I was so excited I almost peed my pants. She's the same, just like Maria. I would have squeezed her harder but I would have broken her bones. She and Maria got the coveted skinny gene from Donna, and they are all size 2, even though Cat just had Luca. She didn't have the baby with her because he's so super busy, into everything. Gustavo brought him later. But she did have Gabriela, who is four mos. older than Quinn, his height, brown and beautiful, and such a sweetheart.
Remember (if you haven't died from this story yet) that the whole reason we went was because Reilly had her heart set on seeing Sky's boys, Oren and Wyatt? Once my kids made their way through the throng of less familiar faces, they found the boys and then the four of them were like Velcro. Reilly and Oren are a year apart, and particularly close, and similar. Little fire crackers who never stop running, competitive, intense, instigators, and also can't stop hugging and hanging on each other. They're both the "tough ones" at home, so it melts my heart to see them so affectionate with each other.
Reilly was a baby last time she saw Gabriela, whereas we see Oren and Wyatt a couple times a year, so Reilly was a little shy with her and kind of stuck with Oren, but the next time I turned around, Rei and Gabriela (who we kept calling "Gab" because of our Gab at home, lol) were suddenly BFFs, and were totally inseparable the entire visit. But as I recall, they didn't ditch the boys, they all played in wheelchairs in the monsoon, in the dark. (Mother of the Year here I come!)
Meeting Baby Luca, god. His picture renders my descriptions totally unnecessary.
It wouldn't be a Wilhelm weekend without Wink and (alliterations, and) Spoons. Seriously, we're fierce. We're groomed from birth to be the fastest-spoon-grabbing, and subtlest winking people on earth. And we don't go easy on the kids either. It's merciless. My grandma, Lydie, without whom these precious people wouldn't have existed, never once let a child win a game. Ever. Despite benevolence that bordered on saintliness. We would push Luca down to get the last spoon without batting an eye, no joke. My mama was the reigning King of Wink, and I can't remember who won Spoons because I was hiding in the fallout shelter. Yeah, it gets that serious.
Throughout this overwhelmingly loving, healing reunion, I was Camera Nazi to the extreme. No sooner would a cluster form, and I'd whip out my dinosaur of a camera and force everyone to wait for the scope to extend (approximately half an hour), smiling all the while, so I could capture each moment. It has long been my role to corner people, bark at them if necessary, burden them all with re-dos when certain lazy bastards keep blinking, reposition them, hell, I'd almost follow someone into the bathroom to get a good shot. They're all gracious for about one minute and then the eye-rolling begins, as does the grumbling and false threats to walk away. But they know better. When we return home, I send everyone all the best shots, and they call me gushing with gratitude for my willingness to withstand their scorn, to get such beautiful pictures. There were times during which four of us had cameras out, all trying to snap the same pic, and various relatives started calling us the photog, and laughing about what it feels like to be the focus of the paparazzi. But I make no apologies, for I cherish these pictures, as do they. I just hope next time I will have a newer camera.
Finally some of Eric's boarders were getting tired, and talk of bedtime began swirling. "Wimps," I thought. Lame. So Mom and I gathered up the kids and headed back to Maria's, where I polished off the rest of the avocados and waited for Quinn and Rei to settle in with my mom to a movie, and immediately concocted a reason to go visit Maria in the mansion. As luck would have it, she had the cloves on her! We stood on the balcony, and dished like never before. She recently divorced Max's dad after 17 years, and is newly dating. She divulged the bliss and grit of her experiences, and I shared a bit about my own life. To stand with my beloved cousin, as an adult, sneaking cloves and talking trash, will forever stand out as one of the best moments of my life. Upon returning to her abode with a clove she gave me "for later," I decided to stand under the .5" inch eve of the surf shack, in the pouring sideways rain, and smoke my clove. (I was on vacation yo, I deserved it.) Ironically, while it took me six hours and a thousand utterances of "fuck" and "fucking" to get the damn thing lit, the wind immediately blew a cinder the size of a rock into my eye. Like, my eye was actually on fire. I heard it sizzle when I closed my eyelid. It hurt so fucking bad. (A thousand and one.) But trouper that I am, I finished my clove, ashes clumping in my eyeball, tears streaming down my face. It wasn't until I got back inside that I realized I couldn't see out of that eye. And it was swollen almost shut. "Sweet, " I said to myself, as my brain whirred to concoct a story for my unsuspecting, yet eerily-adept-at-recognizing-my-lies mama. I told her a branch had scratched my eye, and when she looked in, I prayed she wouldn't see smoldering ashes. I had roughly 10% vision in that eye for a week. Am I quitting the cloves you ask? Hell no, that would be letting them win.
The next morning, after my Starbucks rampage, Donna invited us over for breakfast. She claimed to have the best coffee on earth, and we arrived at her gorgeous 100 sq. ft. pad to find a spread including oatmeal with walnuts, toast, the works. We were just settling in to some delightful dining at Chez Donna when I got a call from Caci that David and Virginia had persuaded my perilously studious twins to come. My party of four dropped their spoons as if rehearsed, apologized to Donna, jerked Maria away from her breakfast, reminding her of her promised servitude as our guide, and headed to Eric's. I stormed in, past the wheelchair gang, and laid eyes on my babies, Jacob and Zachary, aged 16. I smothered them with kisses, questions, and then indignity at the very notion they might have missed seeing us for some measly homework. Like the rest of the boys, they were quiet, timid, but gave me a smile that acknowledged our bond. Delicious. Scant moments after I ordered them against the wall for my photographic assault, they left to finish their homework. Goddamn.
Sunday went a lot like Saturday, except everyone's awe had dissolved and we were just a regular family. And people's patience with my photography began to wane. But I still got great shots, had amazing conversations, struggled a bit with my customary generalized anxiety, and called it a night. Before we left, the five siblings were huddled at Eric's refrigerator, looking at the photographs we all have on our own refrigerators. Arms interlocking, someone said, "One of these days we'll be standing at one of our funerals." It was chilling, but not tragic. Just an acknowledgment that these five people, and brother Daniel, have lived very full and fulfilling lives, with lots to show, particularly in the way of the children they've contributed to the world. Their age span is 44-65, but they all seem 30 to me. Anyway, on the drive back, I got my kids and me two tacos, one quesadilla, and a burrito at some lauded shack of an eatery, to the tune of $29.00. Um, can I get a holy shit? Now that is tragic.
Monday morning people were leaving, returning to work, the gang was thinning. Aunt Donna promised the kids (Quinn, Rei, and Gabriela) a pedicure, so we did that, had lunch, and I took the kids to the hot tub at the mansion. All the kids had decals on their nails and didn't want to get them wet, despite my insistence that they were painted on with regular polish, and that they were safe. They stayed in there until they were shriveled beyond recognition. Meanwhile, Maria would not let Max join them until he finished like 800 pages of multiplication of integers or some shit like that. I told her she was a horrible mother for depriving her son the opportunity to be part of cousin soup. Later we all went back to Eric's to bid farewells and soak what little family remained.
Quinn, Reilly, and Gabriela getting pedicures:
Nice toes right? (Quinn got mushroom decals in honour of his odd mushroom kinship with B):
Little fashionistas (and fashionisto?) too afraid to put their painted toes in the hot tub:
Slave driver Maria forcing Max to do math homework before getting in the hot tub. What the hell is it with my family and homework?
They finally believed me:
Finally! Nothing like a soak to soothe a mathed-out brain. Max and Luca:
We decided to leave Tuesday. Deep breaths.