Last night everyone from my family gathered at my place to mark Grandma's 79th birthday. It was a really nice time. We ate a ton of food, looked at lots of photos, and revisited some old stories with Grandma's best friends who were there for the occasion. It was a beautiful afternoon overall, and despite the fact that one family member who shall remain nameless couldn't keep her rageful hate of her sister (not me or mine) in check and stormed off over something silly, everyone had a lovely time and carried on as usual. After all, such episodes are nothing new in our family--especially when it comes to this person.
Two important factors of the night, not including self-important drama demonstrated by Exhibit A(hole), were Grandma's mere presence in my living room, eight months after being given a six-month prognosis.
The other cause for celebration is that my first cousin Matt, a sports reporter for the Norwich Bulletin, is alive after his apartment complex in Norwich burned to the ground Friday night, displacing about 150 people.
Here's a pic of the inferno--and that is no exaggeration--from the Bulletin:
Matt had been visiting friends at UConn's spring weekend, and was about to head home when his roommate Tim called with the news. Tim was just going to bed when the fire broke out. He heard a commotion, saw the flames several units away, and ran outside. But the time he was outside, the fire had already spread toward his unit, and he couldn't get back inside to save anything, including Matt's cat.
Or Matt's Ted Williams ball. (Matt and his brothers are huge Sox fans.)
I think Matt is more upset about the cat and the ball than the fact that he's lost everything else: Clothes, Writing, Money, Books, Photos, etc. I would be, too. As his brother Derek said last night at my house, "First I thought of the apartment and all their stuff and I thought: Damn. Then I thought of the cat and I thought: Shit. And then I thought of the Ted Williams ball and thought: Fuuuuuuuuuck."
By the time Matt arrived, the scene from the above photo was what greeted him.
They'll know this morning if their unit suffered more smoke than fire damage. Either way, it will be a miracle if his cat survived that much smoke.
I'm just glad Matt and Tim were not hurt.
So last night, after the party ended and Grandma stood holding her flowers in the driveway of my house, we hugged and cried, overcome with emotion about Matt, our truly insane family member, and happiness over what was still a wonderful party with great people. At 79, she has been my Grandmother since she was 44 years old. I've spent more time with her than with any other family member, my own mother included. In 35 years, she has always known how to hug me and what to say. Last night was no exception.
Certain themes run deep in our family. Grandma's father lost everything when his high-end men's clothing shop burned to the ground in Worcester back in the 40s. He was never the same since. And he was prone to fits of rage.
Last night was nothing new then, in some ways. If anything, it just proved that what matters is people, not things. And we're all in this together--like it (or anyone) or not. And that is the beauty of it all.
Grandma will always show me how to rise above, no matter what. Like smoke, rising up and away from the savage flames. Funny then, how I chose this poem for a little card I put together for her birthday, long before last night's inferno:
by Joyce Sutphen
The second half of my life will be black
to the white rind of the old and fading moon.
The second half of my life will be water
over the cracked floor of these desert years.
I will land on my feet this time,
knowing at least two languages and who
my friends are. I will dress for the
occasion, and my hair shall be
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old
birthday, counting the years as usual,
but I will count myself new from this
inception, this imprint of my own desire.
The second half of my life will be swift,
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder,
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road.
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed,
fingers shifting through fine sands,
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet.
There will be new dreams every night,
and the drapes will never be closed.
I will toss my string of keys into a deep
well and old letters into the grate.
The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rain
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up.
From Straight Out of View by Joyce Sutphen.
Copyright © 1995, 2001 by Joyce Sutphen.
Today Ian and I look at two more houses. Then I will collapse onto the couch with a newspaper for the rest of the afternoon, glad for a drizzly Sunday.