Friday, December 14, 2007

Weddings and Funerals

As I am contemplating what to write for my year-in-review I am charged with the nagging realization that my usual letter/laundry list/monthly breakdown is hollow and doesn't come close to describing what we actually experienced in 2007. I have been internally connecting the dots of several experiences throughout the year and thinking a lot about what it all means. For me it all comes down to weddings and funerals.

As many of you know, I can be obsessive about weddings. I believe it comes from two sources. One, I love crafting and a wedding is chock-a-block full of crafty details. I love setting projects for myself with limitations on budget, theme or materials and weddings fit perfectly with this. Two, while I have never regretted my marriage I often regret my wedding. Don't get me wrong, I think it was lovely and I am forever grateful to my loving parents for funding and planning the event, and it was fun. But what I love most about weddings is what they say about the couple and this I think was missing in mine. This is mostly due to the timing. I was young and my ideas about life and interests were not fully formed and therefore could not be translated into a proper wedding theme. We also planned the wedding from a distance while juggling art school and our first full-time working adult lives. I was frankly too concerned with paying the bills and trying to find a job in my field to really wrap my head around this once-in-a-lifetime event. So, my obsession with weddings is mostly about creating a mental re-do of my own. Well, 2007 brought us two exciting wedding experiences and I don't have to tell you I was totally over-the-top excited about it. And they really were awesome, perfect reflections of each couple and so full of crafty goodness. And, even better, they finally helped me let go of my wedding obsession. For good. Really.

Mark's brother Michael was married in Rockport, TX on May 26th. Norma (the bride) did an amazing job coordinating the affair and I don't know how she does it with graduate school and two kids. (This is another rumination for another time: This year I have realized that so many people accomplish so much more than me with the same hours in the day, I really need to step it up.) I love getting another girl in the family and two adorable nephews to boot so I was very excited about celebrating this new chapter. It was also during this week in TX I came to realize that after 10 years of marriage I still don't know Mark's family very well. This is of course due to the practical obstacles of distance, time and money to visit but it's also more than that. It is my reluctance to stake my part in that family, to really make the leap of sharing who I was and connecting to who they are. I always feel like I don't want to disrupt their patterns or traditions or "make a fuss". Well, family is all about making a fuss and if you want to bond you have to make the effort. So, I feel like I made a good start, and certainly ending up at Wal-Mart in the middle of the night for last minute wedding craft supplies with Norma and my mother-in-law Pat is just the thing of which memories are made. Also good for creating new epic family stories: Mark's brother Tim and Pat rockin' out to AC/DC. I wish I had more pictures, especially of the supa-cool basket I decorated and the ring pillows Pat made. The photographer was excellent too, I am so jealous of the pictures they have.

My cousin Briana was married just a week later in Seattle, so I did some jet-setting this year. My cousin - too much to talk about here but let me just say: she is a year younger than me and we grew up as close as sisters. Leaving her was the worst part of moving away in 1989. The funny thing is we still have more in common as adults than many of my friends and it makes me even more upset that we don't live close. So, I planned to spend the week before the wedding getting to know her fiancé and helping with last minute details. I taught her about the glories of the glue gun and was in craft heaven all week. But, I also realized that no matter how hard I try I will never be able to capture what we had as kids and letting that go has been a 2007 revelation. The wedding went off without a hitch and perfectly reflected their personalities. It included potted herb centerpieces, blue wedding shoes and The Beatles. See what I mean about weddings with personality? My brother Steve officiated and I believe he was born to do that, funny and thoughtful and gracious. He, my actual sibling, is also someone to whom I wish I lived closer, and still had that sense of closeness. Actually, the relationship between Briana and Steve is the one I wish I had with him, and her for that matter. Jealous again, I guess. To tell you the truth, I have been holding on to this idea that "if only" I could move back there I could re-capture the feeling of family. What I've come to realize this year is there is no way to go back and by focusing on what was, I have missed out on what is. I have missed out on making real connections in the places I have lived and being a part of those communities in a really meaningful way.

Which brings me to funerals. Two to be exact. Life always does this to you, good and bad all wrapped up together. In March, Mark lost his Uncle Jim. Growing up in Iowa, Mark's father comes from a farming family and Jim has managed the family farm his entire life. Mark's pivotal childhood memories include much about life on the farm and his Uncle Jim in particular. Rooted in this rural tradition Jim was a stoic man, but a truly warmhearted man who's love of family was easy to see. He will be sorely missed.

In the fall I lost my last grandparent, my grandfather Lindley S. Wicks. In truth he had been sick for awhile and when I visited in June I had the feeling it would be the last time I saw him. I am glad I made time to visit him during that week and make sure to be close to him at the rehearsal dinner and at the wedding. There is so much I wish I could have talked to him about, I loved to ask him questions. As a public historian and time-travel enthusiast, the experience of history is endlessly fascinating to me. And my grandfather was a fascinating man who experienced much of American History. He was also a complicated man and often tailored his personality and storytelling to the listener so I am never sure how accurate those stories are. But, they are entertaining. One thing that keeps coming back to me is the idea that people in general are complicated and every relationship you have defines who you are but no one can know all parts of you. You are different for different people. Grampa's memorial was a chance to hear about how others saw him, through the eyes of his grandchildren, children, relatives, friends and co-workers. The weekend was full of stories and even a tour through the town that came to define him, visiting all of the homes my mother lived in growing up. We also visited his old photography studio and the cafe next door where he had his coffee breaks. The menu hasn't changed a bit and if you don't believe me just order the "low-cal" plate (steak, cottage cheese and a hard boiled egg). What I cherish most about both him and my Grandmother was their sense of joy and their understanding that intellectual pursuits were to be valued, that life-long learning was a worthy aspiration and the arts are not just for the rich, or the professionals, but for everyone. They were a shining example: self-publishing volumes of poetry, keeping an art studio in a shed behind their house and encouraging everyone to try their hand at something. This foundation is part of who I am today, why I work in museums, to share that philosophy and encourage as many people as possible to "try their hand at something" and never stop learning. Thanks, G&G.

In the end of 2007 I let go of what was holding me back and remembered what I love about family. I no longer obsess about the wedding that could have been and have channeled my crafty energy into non-wedding related things. I have recognized that while I can not get back the relationships I once had, I can nurture those relationships and those memories and carry then into the future. I have also come to understand we are all fundamentally influenced by the relationships we have and the key is to recognize, reflect on, and embrace all of it - both good and bad.

My goals for 2008 include making time to "try my hand at something", creating a sense of community where I live, and connecting in a more meaningful way to friends and relatives all over the country. It's time for new traditions, new stories and new histories.

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