Mostly at Thanksgiving we split our time between the Biltmore pool, the Biltmore fire-pit and my cousin Nate's place. This year we had 65 people for Thanksgiving dinner and I was related to most of them.
Round about September, when the wind changes and the season starts to move on in to the next, everyone in the Mervis clan starts thinking about how soon it is we're going to be seeing each other or how sad it is if we won't make it this year. My great-grandparents, Ruth and Mike, had five daughters and one son and they had seventeen children between them and they had twenty-three kids between them and, with the exception of my great grand-father who died before I was born, I knew or know and love every one of them.
On the phone, Jeff asked how my Thanksgiving was and I told him, "It's been the best Thanksgiving ever."
He said, "Michael, you tell me that every year." and I said, "Jeff, I've never lied to you . . . "
And then there's the expanded family. This year we showed that divorce can't keep people away--once a Mervis, always a Mervis. Then there's the wives, husbands, sisters, in-laws and friends who've become part of the family. This year we welcomed Chris's soon-to-be in-laws--two of the nicest people you're ever going to meet. Allison's folks were there too, along with an only slightly bewildered-looking John--and the bean'll be there for supper next year, just a few more months of cooking and he or she will be done. Heck, Joanne's been around so long she could compete for the Drunkest Cousin Award if she drank enough to be a contender.
Actually, this year was a pretty poor showing for the Drunkest Cousin Award. We must be getting old.
Even Joey was there, returned from the desert with a mantra, a nice chant or two and tales of a journey he's smack dab in the middle of. Joey's come a long way from that morning long ago when, on a visit back to Chicago after I had moved to Virginia, I was sleeping on Alan and Adrienne's pull-out couch in the basement when he ran downstairs, pulled down his britches and showed me he was wearing big-boy pants for the first time.
Gee, Joey, aren't you glad I didn't mention that once the whole weekend? See, I saved it for the internet . . .
After dinner, we all collected in front of the big TV and watched a DVD Nate had made, drawing from family photos and old films. It started with a shot of the globe and Google-Earth-zoomed in on Honey Lake, right outside of Chicago where my great-grandfather moved the family to a horse-farm in 1948.
That farm was the only constant place in my life when I was a kid.
And up there on that screen, there was Carolyn and her generation sitting at the picnic table smiling and laughing and strutting for the camera. There was Buddy grabbing Pook and smothering her with kisses and Uncle Joe holding Jimmy up on a wooden fence post--I could smell the cigar on his breath--and Mike flexing his muscles like he had something to prove. There they all were on the tennis court in shorts we'd all be embarrassed by if this family knew anything about being embarrassed.
Late Wednesday night, Chris gathered Stephanie and Whitney and Lindsey and Pete and Adam and Joey and I and we wrapped our arms around each other's shoulders in a huddle and Pete put his digital camera down on the ground below and we took a picture of the trickle-down Mervis's--the Schwartzes and the Retchins and the Druckers and the Drys and the Nathans . . .
We children of the children of the children of the Oaks Farm at Honey Lake . . .