Friday, August 26, 2005

In the midst of the new and familiar

There are days, like today, when I have a chance to go to Queens to visit my Aunt Jenny. We call one another, or one of us will find the other milling around online. From there, we coordinate schedules, and then I head down to Queens for the span of a day. My time there usually consists of providing chauffer service on what amounts to a massive (and always entertaining) shopping and errand trip. Today, for instance, there was a trip to the bank, the grocery store, a restaurant, and two shopping centers. Typical Aunt Jenny day. Among the perks of the experience, I get to drive around in a Mercedes all day, and I get to chat up Aunt Jenny, who is perhaps the one person in my whole family with whom I have the most in common.

My years growing up were, by and large, isolated from family on either side. Odd little policy on the part of my dad, I think, to keep us out of whatever possible family drama might arise from time to time. As far as I can tell, it was an effective strategy. On the downside, however, it also meant being cut off from all of the good family. Prior to now, I haven't really had much contact with my aunt, or the majority of my mother's side of the family, which I can now say was an unfortunate turn of events. Good thing I live here now, though, and that Aunt Jenny is never more than a subway ride away, give or take a couple of busses.

As I see it, most of us grow up with an understanding that there exists an ideal family structure and dynamic, and that none of us necessarily have it. We accept our flawed family situations and observe the version often perpetuated by media and folklore to be the favorable version, taking occassional measures of our own experiences in light of the shining example of the idillic family. In my case, I've made the surprise discovery of access to that sort of family feeling, much in the way one might find an old heirloom tucked away and gathering dust among the long-ago forgotten clutter of an attic, stored away for safekeeping by someone who lived in the house long before. It's both old and new, both familiar and completely novel. Best of all, there's a little bit of you connected to what you find, although you may have never set eyes on it before; it speaks to you in the voice of someone you never knew, yet who knew you even before you were born. Such discoveries are the stuff of a very special kind of self-revelatory experience, and I'm begining to find just how much fun it can be to rummage through the attic this way.

One of my dear friends, John (I've always known too many guys named John), contacted me to let me know he has just landed his first major college-level teaching possition in a music department. I shared my news about my teaching work as part of my assistanceship, and he made the statement that hell had officially frozen over, now that we, the two miscreants that we are, have become college educators. I can now add another similarity to the list between us; he has an entire wing of family that was little more than a mystery to him until he became an adult, and has now discovered the joys of knowing some of them on his own terms. I, too, can chalk up this very phenomenon to my own experience... may the air conditioning in hell continue to blow.


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