From the moment she met me at Fayetteville Airport on Friday evening until she dropped me back there again on Monday, we didn't stop talking. We had a lifetime worth of stories to remember and years worth of news, thoughts and feelings to catch up on.
I think we both came away with revised perspectives of each other. I’d guess that she is more aware of my vulnerabilities and fears than before. I see her as stronger and more willful than ever before (In fact she told me that her strategy has always been to seem to agree with what she was told, but then to go ahead and do what she wants anyway). She's also more joyful than I've ever seen her: she told me she's always loved to play and (particularly) now that she’s passed the age where she has to be responsible for others, she’s free to indulge in her own childlike joy. She plays with her grandchildren (and always has) and they love her for it. They all have rich stories to tell of spending time with her.
On Sunday Suzi had planned a lovely family reunion-supper and I had a wonderful afternoon getting re-acquainted with 3 of her 4 children: Amy, Eric and Wendy (Sarah and her family live in Texas and couldn't come), as well as Eric's (lovely) fiancé, Melissa, his bright and fabulous daughter, Sammy and Wendy's extraordinary husband Tony and their fantastic daughters Brittney and Brooke. I particularly enjoyed getting to know 9-yr-old Brooke who is bright, curious and intrigued by her (exotic) Australian relatives. We promised to write. It's a promise I intend to keep.
It was wonderful to flesh out the family stories from their perspective: Amy told me that she and Dad used to debate about things: he’d challenge her and she’d go study up on whatever the subject and come back with fresh and informed arguments. They once debated the Communist Manifesto (sounds remarkably similar to my own debates with him over nuclear proliferation). I told her that when I'd made a particularly well-constructed argument that Dad couldn't find holes in (but still didn't agree with) He'd say (smiling mischievously), "That's just dumb-ass, Sandy!" Suzi's kids also told stories about how Mum used to roller skate with them in the driveway.
Suzi and I got quite deep into it on Saturday night and talked late into the night about our childhood memories. We were both quite open about our experiences and feelings growing up. She seemed to feel a little discomfort with the depth of our discussion the next day and I understood that the concern might be based on her uncertainty about how I might use the information I gather on this journey (perhaps because of this blog or how all of this will figure into my thesis). I tried to reassure her that I realise that my perceptions are just that - my perceptions and that I know that my truths are not necessarily everyone's or THE truth. Suzi told me that just as we were falling off to sleep, angels (or something similar) came to her and though their energy seemed a bit confused (or confusing), she felt they were saying that we need to be careful about the stories we pass on: that it’s okay for the two of us to share our mutual stories, but that we need to take care that we don’t colour what others might think of our ancestors by perpetrating our own perceptions. I told Suzi that I was quite sure something did come to her to tell her that: it was very much the message that I got from Nana my last night in Malden. I told Suzi about my own similar experience and what I had taken from it. And we both realised that the only real difference was that what she perceived as angels, I perceived as ancestors. But, I also told her that I thought there may have been more to their message than just a warning: I think they had also come to say that the fact that we were together– with NO barriers between us – honouring, enjoying and deeply connecting with each other again - is a blessed thing, a sacred thing.
And finally, here's a really tasty piece of genealogical intrigue: As we looked through old photos, Suzi talked to me about a family reunion we'd attended as children (mainly, I think, of the Ruggles side of the family) to celebrate Aunt Gus (Ruggles) and Uncle Walter's 75th wedding anniversary. Sometime during the event, Nana Tolstrup pointed out some particular relatives to Sue and said that they'd come all the way from Australia. So...I want to know...who were they, where are they and can I find them? Only time will tell, but wouldn't it be a kick if they lived nearby?