4th of July picnic

Previously, on Mostly Words: 

I was visiting my family in Seattle, but staying with my brother and his wife at their home, far, far outside the city. No, farther than that.


Clay had planned a Fourth of July picnic for the extended family. It was supposed to be the highlight of my trip. It wasn't, but it didn't go particularly wrong. It was fine.

Planning a big event around me is a never a good idea, though. The more people are there, the less I'll have to say, because — have we met? I'm an introvert and a hermit.

It was a sunny day but not too hot, in a quiet park, in some suburban town I’d never been to before. All the family was there, and most of the friends I’ve mentioned, and some I haven’t.

These were people I've known for most of my life, but any crowd gets me stressed, and I overeat when I'm stressed (or when I'm not) so I ate way, way too many hamburgers and hot dogs. I wanted a beer to loosen me up, but like I said, the picnic was mostly family, and alcohol is a sin for the Hollands. The choice was Coke or Diet Coke. 

I spent half the picnic sitting atop a car-sized boulder in the park, just for some space from everyone else. But I had a good time, honest.

Dick and Young-sook were there, and I enjoyed talking to Dick. He's good with people, a skill I've never had, and we had two longish conversations. He even climbed onto the big rock to talk to me, and it didn't feel intrusive.

His wife, though, is bonkers. She tried to put her knuckles into my potato salad, but I blocked her. She walked around the picnic, interrupting everyone's conversations, and when she interrupts, she has nothing to say. Example: She walked up to Kimberly, who was talking to my mother and eating apple slices, and Young-sook said, "Apple!" Kimberly and Mom both just looked at her.

Dick seems happy, so I won't second-guess his marriage, but I do not understand it. He doesn't speak Korean. She barely speaks English. I've seen the two of them together three times now, and their conversations have always been a struggle of repeated words ("Huh?" "What?" "Say it slowly, Young-sook!") that add up to her asking for something or demanding something, and him saying yes or no. I’d think she’s a golddigger, but Dick has no gold.

Dick's daughter from his first marriage was there, and cordial, but I barely knew her, and didn't know her husband or children at all. We chatted for maybe five minutes.

Mom and I talked, but despite the breakfast we'd enjoyed without Jesus at the table, Jesus was the only thing she wanted to talk about at the picnic. He died on a cross, you know. He's willing to forgive all your sins. He wants to see you in Heaven. Are you going to disappoint him?

Clay and Karen’s two sons were both there, with their wives. I've rarely seen the boys since they were literally boys, and I couldn't remember which was which, and couldn’t keep their wives straight either. The sons and wives are all very very Christian, of course, and one of the wives is an anti-vaxxer, so I'll admit, I didn't make much effort to get to know them.

Should I apologize for that? I’m not good with people. I only saw them that one day. Even if I'd tried, I'm not going to be buddies with anyone after just a few hours at a park. And if you’re an anti-vaxxer — or married to an anti-vaxxer — you’re an idiot. No hard feelings, though.

Both of Clay & Karen’s sons have little kids of their own, but I barely met them. Right now I couldn’t tell you their names without checking my notes.

I didn't have much to say to Clay & Karen at the picnic, either. It wasn't chilly between us or anything, but I'd stayed with them the whole time, far out in the hinterlands with no way into the city, so we'd had many hours of talk time. We'd already talked about his children and grandchildren, and Dad and Ralph and Donald Trump, and a thousand other things. We'd watched a film festival's worth of baseball movies he'd recorded off TV, with all the cuss words bleeped out because it's TV. So the three of us had already said about everything we had to say, and at the picnic we didn't say much more than, "Pass the mustard, please."

Katrina brought pumpkin pie, because she knows I love pumpkin pie, and I had several pieces. She also brought her best friend, who’s been her best friend since junior high school — I'd wanted a piece of her fifty years ago, and that afternoon she told me she'd known it. I'm too old and it's all too ridiculous to be embarrassed, so we laughed.

I met Katrina's boyfriend, who's been her boyfriend for almost twenty years. "No," he said though I hadn't asked, and Katrina finished his sentence, "We're not getting married." He laughs when he’s nervous, and he was nervous so he laughed, but he’s also funny and seems like an OK guy. We talked for a long time (ten minutes is a long time, by my shy standards), and his style and sense of humor reminded me of Katrina’s husband, Kimberly and George’s father, a friend who died far too young, many years ago.

My other sister, Hazel, was at the picnic, too. It was nice seeing her, but she's been disabled since a suicide attempt in the early 1980s. You have to spend a great deal of time with her before you can understand much of anything she says. I haven’t, so I didn’t. We smiled at each other, though, and I brought her a hot dog, and we hugged a few times, and that was nice.

George wasn't there. I don't think anyone missed him.

My brother Ralph wasn’t there either, being dead and all, but his fiancée Anna came. Everyone treats her like family, and I’m told she’s invited and attends all the family functions. We talked, and agreed that maybe our family could get by with 10% less Jesus.

When Anna was introduced to anyone, she was “Ralph’s fiancée,” and I asked her about that. She said “wife” or “widow” isn’t true and sounds wrong to her, and “girlfriend” sounds trivial, so she prefers “fiancée.” She said, “I’ll be his fiancée until I die.”

That's family, if you ask me. My family is preposterous in some ways, and we make coffee with crazy beans, but they're good people.

Sometimes, in shorthand, I say that I left Seattle because my family was too nuts. They do make me wish I was a heavy drinker, but I'm not sure my family is any nuttier than yours, or anyone else's.

The truth is, I left Seattle because I didn't have the patience. Didn't want that place to be the setting for my entire life, and didn't want my defining nuttiness to be the family. I wanted to make my own nuttiness. 

Family is family, though, and I love ‘em all except Young-sook. But if there's a next time I visit Seattle, I'd prefer to stay in or near Seattle.



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  1. Your stories are enjoyable isolationism but this one, did your nephews do something to make you angry? I don't understand why you're so cold toward them?


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