Last Sunday, April 5, was Easter Sunday, and my husband and I spent the evening with his daughter Missy’s family. Missy lives with her husband and their three children in a really cute house near Bayfield, about 30 minutes away, and her husband’s parents live in two houses next door. With so many family members living so close together, we always have lively get-togethers on birthdays, holidays, graduations, and other occasions.
For Easter Sunday, Missy’s mother-in-law, Connie, cooked a turkey with stuffing, and fresh bread, and Missy made brussel sprouts with bacon, and mashed potatoes, and other family members brought other dishes for a feast, and we sat around the table at Connie’s house, eating, chatting, and playing with Elly and Ember, who are 7 and (soon to turn) 2. Elly and Ember are wonderful girls, and delightful company.
The evening was completely magical, and I found myself reflecting on how, the older I get, the more and more I appreciate the time I spend with my family. Which is not to say that I ever didn’t appreciate family — either my own or my husband’s — but to say that my gratitude for my family deepens and grows as the years go by. Like friendships, positive family relationships transform over time, and there was something particularly affecting about this year’s Easter dinner.
Missy’s husband, Jeremiah, was present, which was fantastic because he was scheduled to be out of town on a job site, but in a twist of fate, he was allowed to come home that weekend instead. Missy’s aunt Sherry, uncle Bob, and cousin Michael were there, and it’s always nice to see them.
After supper was eaten, and Sherry’s family left, and a number of other family members headed back to Missy’s house, I remained at the table with Connie and Jeremiah, Elly sitting on my lap, and we sat and talked a while longer.
Then Connie went to her cupboard and removed copies of my two novels, took out a black Sharpie marker, and asked me to sign her books.
It was the first time I’ve ever signed my books for a family member, and I was deeply moved. I signed each title page, and then opened the books to the last page, which Elly signed for her grandma as well. She also wrote “I love you” in cursive, printed the date, and drew a lot of stars.
I am Elly’s step-grandma, and Connie is her biological grandma, and it felt really amazing to just be sitting there, fully present, in that moment.
It was made even more special by the fact that Connie adores my second novel, Love and Student Loans and Other Big Problems, and was simply over the moon when she read that book. We chatted about Love and Loans for a bit, too, and though it’s been some time since she read the novel, Connie’s emotions concerning the story and its characters remain really strong, and her recall of detail in the book is amazing.
I gave her a copy of The Etiquette of Wolves at Christmas time, and she is trying to read my first book, but it’s much more difficult for her. Wolves features a lot of wealthy young people in college, whereas Love and Loans stars a financially-struggling protagonist in a setting Connie could relate to and empathize with right away. Connie was profoundly interested in the details of Mary Jane’s life, her family, and her relationship with Carver, whereas Jimmy and Noelle’s evolving friendship in Wolves isn’t immediately compelling to her. Connie is determined to read the book though, and get past the beginning.
Words can’t do justice to the joy of sitting with my granddaughter on my lap on Easter, watching her sign her name and draw stars in my book, while I chatted with Connie about my work. It made me feel whole in a way I’ve never felt before. It made me feel valuable and accepted. Appreciated.
Not every writer gets to have family members who appreciate their work, and I certainly have my share of family members who are utterly scornful of what I do, and how I spend my time. I received an email full of name-calling and complete loathing from one such (distant, very distant) family member a few days ago. When a family member takes the time to write “you SUCK” and list all of your supposed faults in an email, it makes you wonder about the power of hate in the world, and why people are driven to spread so much absolute negativity, with the goal of demolishing someone else’s self-esteem.
I know that we can only share with the world what we share with ourselves, so if we are a pit of name-calling and self-loathing, that is what we will project onto others. So most often, I never respond to those kinds of attacks, because engagement only brings more of the same.
I’m grateful that my family isn’t completely populated with such individuals, and this year’s Easter Sunday was especially beautiful, peaceful and fulfilling in a way that continues to linger inside me, sustaining me through a difficult time. None of us can be loved universally by all people, and some of us have family who will never love and appreciate us, no matter what we do, but to have even one relative who loves us for who we are and what we do means a lot. It certainly means a great deal to me.