Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Relatives Came

May was Jason’s graduation month when relatives came from all over—Alaska, New Mexico, Florida, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania. When does this ever happen in the history of the Shuster family? The last time my dad and his brother and sisters, Aunt Kathy, Aunt Nancy, and Uncle Geoff, were in the same house was probably in July 2001, the month their mom, my Grandma Helen Jane, died. Since then, their kids have done just about everything: they joined the wrestling team and managed to escape ringworm; were voted prom queens senior year; went to the Pratt Institute; did university lab research on bacteria with really long names nobody can pronounce; learned to play the clarinet; moved to China; got married; built a photography business; and grew out of Furbies and into those really tight pants that make it easier to walk with a quarter poised between your butt cheeks, because that’s what models feel like on the runway. So many lifetimes passed before we met again.

But that’s okay, because it gave us lots to talk about. Like the ingenious pranks George used to play on the local policemen that should be written down in a book, and all the scientists Jason knows who believed faith and science are compatible, and why Dad felt compelled to stop at the grocery store, in the dark, on the way to Chipmunk Lodge to purchase a 2 lb brick of Cabot Premium Naturally Aged Cheddar Cheese and spray can whipped cream ("You can't get this stuff in Kotzebue!").

We spent graduation weekend tucked away at Chipmunk Lodge, having a family reunion. Not the kind where everyone wears matching t-shirts, but the kind where we woke to the smell of coffee brew and kitchen chatter about all the crazy relatives, punctuated by birdsong outside our windows. We fell asleep to midnight whisperings of people who stayed up late, after the flames died in the fire pit and we ate all the marshmallows, to watch stars that shine brighter in the North Country than anywhere else we’ve seen. Waking up and falling asleep to the rhythm of conversation reminded me that we’ve missed out on important things for so long.

The whole weekend made me remember all the ways I knew this family years ago. There were Thanksgivings in Albuquerque where we went bowling and walked into jewelry shops full of Nevada green turquoise carved by Navajo silversmiths and I could pick anything off the shelf if I wanted, but I chose the silver pendant with the jack-a-lope and wore it every day until it got lost in the move to Rhode Island and there will never be another like it, even if I go back to New Mexico to look for another one. There was the summer Aunt Kathy drove me to my interview at Dartmouth because Dad was recovering from surgery, and she said, “You deserve to go to a good school,” and we both wished I would get in so we could be only two hours away from each other instead of 4,000 miles. And I knew Aunt Nancy only from pictures, because we never took vacations to Florida, but I still have some of the things she sent in packages: the red rubber boots, a senior portrait of her daughter Esther, which still hangs in my bedroom at home, and Grandma Helen’s antique double-strand teal necklace. Meeting Sarah for the first time put a face to the name I’d heard from Dad’s stories—“You need to meet Sarah. She was a national soccer champion, a singer, and went to Rutgers”—and reminded me of the last time I saw her parents in 2003 when they drove from New Jersey to pick me up in Brooklyn and take me to The Waverly Inn in the West Village where the menu had braised rabbit and roasted Amish chickens and we sat in the back, near the massive tree that reached through the glass ceiling.

With as many of us as we could get in one place for a limited time only, we finally buried Grandma’s ashes at the Bethlehem Cemetery on Sunday, May 20th. Before Grandma died, she wrote a letter, to be read at her funeral, in which she said, “Welcome to my CELEBRATION!” making it clear that she knew that death is merely the end of a fraction of the “fixed lifespan” that God has for each of us, that death is a homecoming to the more abundant life that awaits because of the Savior’s sacrifice. I didn’t need any tissue until Jason played Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and then I was ruined by the time it was my turn to hold the blue box of ashes and say something, and by the time it came around to me, all I could think of was the year we lived at her house on Whitcomb Hill and she let us adopt a personable, and very skinny, cat from the animal shelter. Grandma let us have it, even though she was kind of allergic, and the cat liked Grandma best because she fed it a lot of cheese under the table, which is why the cat took on the appearance of a fuzzy brown basketball with legs and a tail.

The weekend was too short and we came back to more rain in Rhode Island. But I did two important things after we returned: 1) I used our wheat grinder for the first time in almost seven years; 2) I made lots of wheat bread and Dad took copious notes and promised to clean the kitchen in Kotzebue so he could find the bread hook, which nobody has seen in about ten years, so he can make his own bread.

Our house is quiet now and I’m trying to climb back into my other life while hoping that we’ll all see each other again before 2025.
Day 1: Graduation at UNH Campus
It's like the BYU just have to touch it, ride it, sit so it looks like it's patting you on the head...

That picture where there are two cameras and half of you are looking at one, while the other half is looking at the other...
Day 2: Picnic Day

You can't NOT go to NH and skip Chutter's
Don't leave home without it.
Later we hiked Mt. Agassiz
There is a lot of this in NH
And this...

Day 3: Last hike through the back of Chipmunk property. It's 90 degrees outside. Why am I wearing a sweater?!

Someone left a random trash can lying around...

The end.