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Back East, Part 2

August 12, 2002

In our last episode, I flew to Rhode Island on Friday morning and then took a tour of ladies’ rooms in Boston while visiting the city with Mr. Karen, his parents, and one of his sisters. We ended our day at a not-so-hard-to-find motel in Middleboro, Massachusetts, resting up for Saturday’s family reunion. This reunion has become a summer tradition over the last fifteen years or so. The first several years it was held at the home of the couple that thought up the idea, then it was hosted at another couple’s house for several more, and then it started moving from place to place every year.

Mr. Karen’s sister Kathy hosted at her house near Seattle, we had it at our house, and two or three years we counted summer family weddings as the reunion. Even though I’ve been to every one, and have been around Mr. Karen’s family for more than half my life, I still have trouble remembering what the common connection is among all the attendees. I had Mr. Karen explain it to me again before we left, and I thought he said everyone was descended from one set of his great grandparents, but I can’t fit everyone who’s ever shown up into that scheme. Maybe the rules change from year to year. I’m just a trailing spouse in this scenario, and not doing my part to perpetuate the line, so it’s not as if I have a vested interest in figuring it out. I just show up and eat, mostly.

Most of us out of towners were staying at the same motel, so we had a mini-reunion in the breakfast room there Saturday morning. Rumor had it that salads and desserts were needed to round out the menu for the main event, so someone asked the front desk clerk for directions to the nearest nice supermarket. Whether these directions were wrong or just got distorted in the retelling is unclear, but two groups of us who set out that morning failed to find the promised Stop and Shop. Our little group ended up at a grocery store just like ones I’ve stopped at in Northern Michigan—heavy on the packaged goods, some of which appeared to have been on the shelf for years, with no fresh fruit or vegetables at all, since those were available at the farm stand down the road.

Dale had asked one of the clerks at the grocery for directions to the reunion. Fortunately, Mr. Karen had printed the relevant map off MapQuest before we left Michigan, because the clerk had no idea what Dale was talking about. Once again, MapQuest led us to our destination, a house right on one of the inland lakes. The dog that had been a puppy at one of the earlier reunions ran out barking to greet us (or scare us away, I’m not sure which) and soon we were swept up in the general commotion. The other party who’d headed out in search of the Stop and Shop arrived some minutes later, having also failed to find that elusive store. They’d stopped and gotten directions to another supermarket, so they had been able to buy things that weren’t stocked at the little grocery we’d found.

The invitation had said “bring a swimsuit and a smile”. Hmmm—at my current weight and body shape, those two things do not tend to exist in close proximity. After chowing down on the traditional reunion steak dinner, I felt even less svelte and athletic. I opted not to try water skiing for the first time, to Mr. Karen’s mild disappointment. He likes to water ski and has wanted me to try it for a long time, but I have not had any desire to. Of course, I thought I’d hate downhill snow skiing, too, and it turned out I liked that, and didn’t suck at it, either. But water skiing, that seems different, so much more public, more exposed, more dangerous. Still, had I not been queen of the cramps, I might have taken the plunge this time. With luck, I’ll get another opportunity before I’m entirely too old.

The deck facing the lake was a nice cool spot to sit and visit while being able to see Mr. Karen and a few other folks skiing and the kids playing in the water; I spent much of the afternoon there, in between trips back up to the house for sustenance in the form of jelly beans and potato chips and other leftovers. After the sun went down, we were entertained by a fireworks show put on by the young man of the host family. It got a little too entertaining when one of the multidirectional firecrackers sent a projectile toward the bench I was sitting on with Mr. Karen and two cousins—I moved pretty darn fast then, cramps and all. A bonfire capped off the day’s festivities, which meant more food in the form of S’mores. We straggled back to the motel late that night, stuffed and tired and satisfied.

Sunday morning, an uncle drove Fay and me to the airport, while Mr. Karen drove off with his parents to spend a couple days at Chautauqua in New York. Once again, the checking in and getting through security at the airport went quickly. We boarded our plane on time for a 12:05 departure and taxied out toward the runway, then taxied right back to the gate because there was a problem with one of the engines. We all trooped off the plane and waited for the next six hours as we got periodic updates on the status of repairs. I finished the book I was reading and bought three magazines to tide me over. In Preserving Your Memories, I learned that I’m doing my photo albums all wrong. My biggest sins? Using magnetic album pages, cropping original photos, using a regular ball point pen for captions, and not testing non-photo items for acid, much less treating them with a neutralizing spray or soak. Hey, at least I don’t have kids whose memories I’m destroying. From House Beautiful, I learned that I’m far from having a lifestyle that merits inclusion in that publication. For example, one of their organizing tips was “store centerpiece vases and pots in the dining room”. I haven’t had centerpieces on any table since our wedding reception, and I certainly don’t have multiple containers for them. I also do not have a closet large enough to allow me to have a chair in it (to pull on my tall, tight leather boots, evidently), nor any room that would accommodate a 20-foot sofa. I didn’t learn anything discouraging from Outside, but that’s probably because I mostly just looked at the pictures. We finally reboarded our flight, along with several people who had gotten there early for the 8 o’clock flight to Detroit and were delighted they’d be getting home an hour and a half early. I really wished they’d shut up already.

So, instead of getting home in the middle of the afternoon, which would have allowed plenty of time to clean the house for Mr. Karen’s parents’ arrival Tuesday night, I got home around 9:15 at night. Fortunately, I did not find a fridge full of ruined food, as the power had evidently come back on later Friday morning, so I didn’t have that problem to tackle. Now I’ve got not quite two full evenings to straighten and clean so the place is at least somewhat presentable. It seems like I was just doing this. How did it get messy again so fast? Guess I’m really going to have to start working those 3 x 5 cards that I wrote out all the tasks on and do a little bit every day. When am I going to find time to decorate if I can’t keep the place clean and picked up? Best not to think about that right now, when I can’t do anything about it. Just need to focus on work this afternoon, then doing as much as I can tonight without staying up too late and getting overtired. After all, it’s not like I’m going to get kicked out of the family if my house isn’t perfect—if that were going to happen, it would have happened long before now.

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