(note: yes, this took place over a month ago. Yes, I’ve just finished writing about it. I’m working on a little thing called “discipline”. It’s better than nothing.)
Organizing a family reunion is about as easy as getting an entire class of preschoolers to fall asleep during naptime. Someone usually gets distracted by the toys, and there’s always that one person who just runs around the room screaming no matter what you say. (Doesn’t that sound like your family too?) A lot of times, there are only two forces of nature strong enough to draw the entire family to one location – weddings and funerals. Most families, due to these two occasions, end up seeing each other at least once every couple of years. But my family is all about efficiency – so a couple of weeks ago, we decided to hold both events at once.
My cousin Rachel got married on Saturday, 9-10-11. Some reasonable person finally persuaded her not to start the wedding at 7:08 p.m. Instead, the wedding was at 6:30, so Anna, Ryan, and I started the 6-hour drive to Pensacola, FL at 9 in the morning to make sure we got there with plenty of time to spare. When I go on road trips, I like to bring lots of healthy snacks – so we started our trip with a visit to Dunkin Donuts. I ignored Anna’s warnings that we would definitely throw up if we ate donuts in the car. We had coupons! And Dunkin Donuts had pumpkin muffins and pumpkin lattes! And I LOVE FALL!!!! Ryan took one for the team and ate seven of the dozen donuts in the next two days.
For those who have never been fortunate enough to travel with my family, the events that unfolded over the next several hours provide a perfect snapshot of what our road trips are like. Here’s the breakdown:
9:00 – we “leave the house”.
9:15 – we actually leave the house.
9:45 – because of our sharp instincts and uncanny ability to make decisions under pressure, we only have to spend 20 minutes deciding which flavors of donuts we want (umm… sprinkles? What are those cream-filled ones called again? No, the other cream-filled ones… ooh, cinnamon rolls!), and then we’re finally on the highway.
11:30 – we “may” have gotten a speeding ticket for going 86 in a 70, because Anna’s toaster of a car (Rhonda the Honda) weighs 2 pounds and has no cruise control.
12:00 – Ryan is forced to drive in bored silence because Anna and I are scrapbooking like mad in the backseat. The scrapbook was a late birthday present for my mom, and we planned to start it a couple of weeks in advance, “or else we’ll be, like, finishing it in the car. Wouldn’t that be terrible?” We didn’t actually finish it in the car – we started it in the car. Go us.
2:15 – we stop for a nice, light lunch at Sonic, only to discover that our slushies aren’t half-price because it’s not 2:00 yet in western Florida.
1:35 central time – pulling out of the Sonic parking lot, I wonder where my cherry limeade went. I pull into a gas station and watch a stream of red liquid run down the windshield. The good news is that the cup was actually still on the roof of the car, so I got to finish my drink! Rhonda was a little sticky, though.
2:30 – Ryan can’t play Angry Birds on Anna’s phone anymore because the battery is getting low, so we get creative and play an iPod shuffle game. “The next song that comes on will be Ryan and Anna’s first dance at their wedding! The next song that comes on is dedicated to my first child!” It’s especially fun when the person whose iPod you’re using likes metal. Try it.
3:30 – we’re almost there, so we leave the highway to try to find a cheap hotel. We pick one that we figure has to be cheap because it’s super sketchy. But despite the foyer being tiled in fake black marble, it’s still $70 a night. We sit in the shade, eat a donut, and keep looking.
3:45 – Ryan and I decide that we don’t need the map to get back to the highway because we can just follow the road signs. It will be an adventure! Our “adventure” ends when we come to a “road closed” sign, just beyond which is a huge pile of dirt and broken pavement. Anna tells me I’m not allowed to give directions anymore.
4:30 – we finally make it to a reasonably-priced hotel (which we had to book online, from Anna’s phone, to get the discount). We take our bags up to the room and… decide to scrapbook some more. Ryan looks around for a plastic bag to suffocate himself in.
5:30 – we realize that we should probably stop scrapbooking and get ready for the wedding.
6:05 – we get in the car – and realize that the wedding is 30 minutes away.
6:35 – we park the car and try to walk quickly in high heels. Weddings never start on time anyway, right? We walk up just as the last bridesmaid is walking down the aisle, and have to stand to the side awkwardly. Did I mention that we left our house 2 hours early, and gained an hour on the way?!
Things went pretty smoothly after that. Rachel’s wedding took place in the yard at her parents’ waterfront house on Escambia Bay, and the reception was there too. The wedding was very pretty and very pink, the photographers made up for the bridesmaids refusing to leave the couch, my cousin bartended and made sure that the punch was much stronger than when my aunt mixed it, everyone danced inappropriately, and I let an eight-year-old beat me to the bouquet when it was tossed. We got back to our hotel around one, slept in and went to Burger King for another healthy meal, and then headed back to my aunt and uncle’s house for part two of the festivities – the funeral.
My grandma, my mom’s mom, died in 2003. At her request, we had the body cremated, and put the ashes in a beautiful silver pitcher that had belonged to my great-great aunt. Neither of my mom’s brothers wanted to hold the pitcher, so my mom brought it home to keep until we decided where to sprinkle the ashes. So we put the pitcher on the piano and… there it stayed. And then we moved to Colorado and brought the pitcher with us. And then we moved to Florida and brought the pitcher with us. Anna decorated around it for holidays. We had the great privilege of asking friends, “do you want to meet my grandma?” Wes opened the pitcher one day when we weren’t looking, poked his fingers in, and asked, “what’s this powdery stuff?” (“Oh, that’s just my grandma.”) When my mom moved to Tuscaloosa in February, the pitcher went with her. So finally, she decided that enough was enough. My grandma had loved the water. We were all going to be together, near the water, for Rachel’s wedding. Why not sprinkle the ashes off the pier at my aunt and uncle’s house? So that’s what we did.
To understand my family, here’s a recap of our impromptu memorial service.
My mom: (holding the pitcher, standing on the end of the pier) Well, we all know why we’re here, and I’ve already cried a lot today, and I’ve had a lot of good emotions over the past two days… (continues on like this for a while) Does anyone want to say something?
Uncle Lee: Uhh… Susan, you’re good at stuff like this.
Aunt Susan: Ann meant so much to me, and was such a big part of my life, and I’m so honored to be a part of this family by marriage. People still come up to me all the time and tell me how much she meant to them and what a godly example her life was, and I still consider her the closest thing to a saint I’ve ever known. I know her prayers have made a difference in all our lives, and I know it meant so much to her to know that we all had a relationship with Jesus… (and so on, perfect eulogy on the spot.)
My mom: (tearing up again) Alan, do you have anything you want to say?
Uncle Alan: (looking over the edge of the pier, watching the fish jump) Well, all I know is, if we dump her off that side, she’s gonna be fish food.
Yup, that’s my family. We stood there and watched as my mom poured the contents of the pitcher into the water (Uncle Alan again: “looks like cement dust, doesn’t it?”) and tried to stay upwind of the cloud of ashes. My mom decided it was a Kodak moment and made Ryan take 72 pictures of us. My uncle tried to convince us to go for a ride on the jet-ski in our clothes, even though we had to be in the car in 10 minutes. My aunt insisted that we come back for a long weekend to go out on the water and stay with them so that she could “force you to eat food you don’t want.” We all remembered that we like spending time together, and that we’re the only family we’ve got. The wedding/funeral combination may not work for most people, but it works for us. Next time, though, there will be ABSOLUTELY NO SCRAPBOOKING.