A wonderful, sappy feeling

I was going to write about politics now but I am still too much under the spell of the events of the weekend. We (me, my dad and my uncles) threw a three-day party for 50 guests from around the country in honor of my grandparents’ 60th anniversary and my grandmother’s 80th birthday. I did a lot of the planning and logistics, and leading up to it I my mind was too occupied with the details to think much about the significance of the event and what I felt about it. The reception on Friday went off fine, with a few glitches. The lunch on Saturday in Chinatown went less well,


starting with the fact that I had booked a private room upstairs, thus stranding the wheelchair-bound guests, who turned around and came home after having navigated Grant Avenue traffic on a weekend (um, sorry).

But the dinner on Saturday night was a home run, not for the logistics (which were not perfect but we dealt) but for the emotional content. My sister kicked off the toasts with a fugue on how incredibly difficult marriage is and a tribute to the success of being married for 60 years, which got me all verklempt. Then my “acquired” uncle Coleman told a story about my grandmother that described both her knack for drama and the enormously generous and caring nature of the household she and my grandfather gave all their kids. You have to understand Coleman came to live with them during high school after he could no longer live in his abusive home; they took him in one night unconditionally without even knowing him, and he’s been part of the family since that day. That toast moved me from choked up to crying.

Then there were something like 25 more toasts from family and friends, several of them sent in from people who couldn’t be there, all of them attesting to the incredible effect my grandparents have had on their lives. It all rang true, down to the familiar details. My uncle Bob’s friend Ken Wagner told how, when he and his family had been having financial troubles, Grandma and Grandpa sold them the house Grandma had grown up in and carried the note for them in order to help them out. After that, every time Gma and Gpa took a trip, the Wagners would receive a detailed itinerary (I used to get these too, typed on an old messy typewriter and copied on the ancient copy machine Gma kept in the utility room) with a PS on the bottom about where the note to the house could be found in case anything happened to them on their trip.

This is SO my grandmother: caring for others by being comically over-organized. (This is also a little bit me, and the root of an ongoing fight I have with Chris: I am not as organized, generous, or caring as my grandmother, but I do sometimes see sweating the details as a way of showing love, whereas he sees it as irritating distractions, getting in the way of what’s important in life.) I know I’m in chezzy self-help territory here, but the whole thing really was this amazing opportunity to not only recognize and remember how much I love my grandparents and why, but also to appreciate what these other people see in them and hear the stories of how they came to be so important in their lives. It’s the antithesis of the point of view frustration I’m feeling about my mom and sister; dozens of viewpoints, all positive, but not sanitized into empty compliments.

To cap it all off, on Sunday 11 of us did the AIDS Walk, raising almost $4K. Since I was finally done with planning stuff, I could focus a little bit more on the people around me, and got to talk a lot with Whitney, the “acquired daughter” of my “acquired uncle,” (the half-sister of Coleman’s son Jordan), who is about to embark on a year of driving around the country, and Lacy, my cousin’s girlfriend, who along with my cousin Andrew, is an obsessive, talented gardener.

Halfway through the walk, KPIX Channel 5 News stopped my grandmother to interview her, a case in point of what I call The Esther Effect. 25,000 people were walking that day, but they stopped Esther. Why? Who knows, but stuff like that happens to her all the time. She of course proceeded to give them a broadcast-perfect soundbite (something like: “With each step I take, and each step is a little harder, my legs are hurting a bit, I know I’m doing the right thing”) and then introduce the reporter to my uncle, who is HIV+ but asympomatic and was recently married to his parnter of 13 years at SF City Hall. The whole thing was on the news at 5:30, 6:30 and 11 last night. I missed it, but I’m getting the tape. My friend Dara caught it for me, and she says it’s very moving. I’m not suprised. Perfect ending to the weekend.

2 responses to “A wonderful, sappy feeling

  1. Glad to hear your weekend went off well. Thanks for sharing this Jen – so richly full of family, reflecting yourself. Perfect to have your grandma on TV to cap it all off! She’s quite a character – nice work arranging the details for all of that to fall into place.

  2. wow, that sounds like an awesome event! you’re lucky to have family stuff that goes over so well. my family gets together every so often but i’ve never been moved to tears by any of it.

    i might come out to san francisco sometime soon to visit friends and stuff so if i do i insist on finally seeing your “new” house — not that i can really call it “new” anymore, but it’s new to me!

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