Remembering Real

I’ve often imagined my brain as a merry-go-round of colorful carousel horses swirling to the music. Just as the merry-go-round stops to let people off and on, my brain stops, tiny doors pop open and snippets, will-o’-the-wisps, flibbertigibbets of memory, fact, song pop out.

This past weekend my memory merry-go-round wasn’t slowly turning; it was spinning with snippets flying. One wisp of a scientific notion of how none of us is actually solid, that instead we are constantly swapping molecules with every sight, smell, thing, person—everything and then forming and reforming from these molecules, came to mind. You know the way odor molecules break off, float into our noses, hit our receptors and so we smell. I’m thinking the same thing happens with memories.

Why now? It was a reunion weekend. Along with our 2 kids and their sweeties, Curtis and I were in California for a wedding and impromptu family reunion. The wedding was that of my grandparent’s cross-the-street-neighbor’s son, Chris—our son, Max’s, lifetime best “Summers and Christmas Vacations friend.”

The reunion, organized by my first cousin, once removed, Jodi, was an impromptu gathering of family members prompted by our wedding attendance. (Jodi’s mother, Evelyn, and my Grandmother, Nellie, were sisters—for specifics on the once-removed/twice-removed/first cousin/second cuz connections click here!

When you live busy lives far apart, it’s easy to forget the importance of extended family. And the longer you’re apart, the easier it is to make excuses not to spend the money or time to connect. I’ve spent almost 20 years—ever since my grandmother died, and we packed up her belongings and sold her house—making excuses. Aside from my immediate family—mom, the kids, my husband—the last time I’d seen any of my extended family had been at our last family reunion a well-organized weekend affair, 4 years ago. And before that had been 19 years ago, the summer after my grandmother died, when Max, Lexi, Grandma Mary and I took Curtis to meet the family…

Those cousins’ once-removed know the “back when" us. Back when we were tiny, naughty, silly, sweet, and more than once “cried til we were blue in the face.” The relatives who actually knew the “rotten, just plain rotten” cousin, Corky, mom named our dog after.  That those “Summers and Christmas Vacation friends” are the ones son Max buried and unburied the rotten mole with, and know the Lexi who always wore hair bows and refused to wear pants. Those second cousins are the ones we snuck cookies and shot bb guns with, who remember how our aunties and grandmothers “laughed til they peed their pants,” how Uncle Jimmy drove mom to the hospital the day I was born—that knew the glamorous teen mom was, the “cool cousin” who gave them lipstick samples and taught them to kiss the mirror. Cousins who also still have the taste of Great Grandma’s sugary milky “starter coffee,” and splinter scars from her back fence and flat patches on our knees from hours of kneeling at church as well as at the window in the back room from hours spent peeping through a crack in the blinds to spy on the neighbor kids and their “wild friends”…

Those years of swapped molecules and shared memories are the stuff of families. Family who remind us who we were, where we came from, and why we look, act, laugh the way we do now—families who pretend not to notice, and definitely don’t care, that we’re looking worse for wear (or maybe love us better because we are?)

Family make us real; family keeps us real—the real as defined by Margery Winifred Williams' Skin Horse in the Velveteen Rabbit (originally published in 1922):

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."-excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Winifred Williams, originally published in 1922.

(Thank you Erin Stead for referencing The Velveteen Rabbit in your Caldecott Award Acceptance Speech. Read more: