I find, for the first time writing about these excursions, that I cannot find the words to describe what this place and the people we know who call it home mean to me and, far more so, to Michelle.
Many of us have that place, that place during Summer vacations particularly, where a branch of the family opens its doors and invites us in. Mine was Minneapolis and the surrounding towns and lakes and the mighty Mississippi. For Michelle it was here and the home of her Uncle Rich, or Ratch as she called him.
I knew Rich. He and his wife Marge created the possibility in their home for much of what I love about this place and why it meant and means so much to Michelle. Here, in this family, you feel completely supported, you feel embraced and yet you also feel challenged. Not challenged in some bootstraps way, but challenged to let yourself go, to carpe diem for all the good you can find in yourself.
And then to sit down with good friends and tell the story, share the tale, make it taller if you want, let us know how it felt, what you thought, take the time to draw a lesson from it if that’s your pleasure. Make it a passion or enjoy the irony or sadness. It’s okay to miss someone. It’s okay to say anything.
Ritual is just good food, good beer or wine or whiskey but mostly just good eye contact and ease, friendship. And laughter.
In It’s a Wonderful Life the question is asked, and answered, “What would it be like if I had never lived?” And it’s a world gone to wrack and ruin in the movie and so it would be here too. I can only imagine the ripple effects and lives not changed for the better, the hole in our mosaic of existence that would be without this family and those who have come to feel they belong in this family. As I feel I do.
Michelle has a great evening the day we arrive but the next day is very hard for her and she wails and is inconsolable for most of the afternoon. Emotion runs through her like a lightning rod and each member of the family takes turns holding her, speaking to her, trying to help her to walk, giving her something to eat or drink, pushing her transport chair across the grass. At moments there is a smile, a laugh, a little clowning and it warms all our hearts. And concern for her anxiety and pain. This is her story now, this trap she lives in and her family welcomes her with all of it, and hopes, as I knew they would, that somehow being here with them will help in some measure.
Mo is in heaven, running up and down the lawn, exploring chickens and the scent of the animals who cross in the night.
Storm basks in the admiration of a family that journeyed in VW Buses many years ago and holds a special place for his kind in their family history.
Once home we all sleep deeply all night.
The next day Kerry, who has opened her beautiful home to us, offers to give me a break. I seize the opportunity and walk down to downtown Winslow just a few minutes away. This the only sizable town on the Island and it is a lovely, quaint, friendly place just a couple of blocks long. I know it well as a visitor and have walked it before. It hasn’t changed except that today there is going to be a Pride Fair to celebrate diversity. Booths are going up and crafts are being laid out, hot dogs are turning and there are dogs everywhere.
Mo—who has joined me at Kerry’s suggestion—is a love magnate and he takes in at least a hundred pets and hugs from people of all ages and styles. I meet, because of him, families from Asia, the Netherlands, Finland, Russia, Latin America and many places in the United States. And, of course, many locals.
And he meets dogs from around the world and finds, in every case, an easy way to friendship. He too belongs in this place.
There is kindness, there are smiles, there is a lovely mix of people of all ages. I hear an elderly woman in a wheel-chair trill as Michelle does and I know that sound and I see her smile as her daughter points at Mo. I meet men and women who have dyed their hair to celebrate the day and some wear impossibly high heels. Mostly, everyone just looks relaxed and at home. Home in this special place that Uncle Rich and Aunt Marge poured out their philosophy of live and let live, nurture and support, make and tell stories, give of yourself because we like that sort of thing. We like that you are alive and living to make and tell stories to make a more wonderful life for others.
It seems to me, as I lie back on the cool moist grass and place my straw hat over my eyes, entwine my hands into Mo’s leash so he can’t run off, as I feel the cool air and warm sun on my chest and legs, as I listen to the distant blast of the ferry horn, the soft conversations of passersby, breathe the air we all share and feel the earth beneath me, this giant ball alive with possibility, it seems to me that this is what can be so easily. This is what the heart of our hearts wants.
And there it is, words to tell, a new story for the world and I hope a piece of this family that has touched me so deeply can live on into a bettered world.