On Old Friends and New Memories

I wake to a grey and wet November day, cloudy skies overhead and soggy leaves strewn across the pavement. The trees, however, are still bright with the colors of fall, a stark contrast to the grey of the sky.

My heart is light in the grey. I’ve had some significant ‘idle moments‘ and this afternoon it’s Terminal E. And although we are not going overseas, we are doing the next best thing. 

We fly non-stop Boston/Atlanta, arriving in Atlanta just in time for rush-hour traffic. We’ll head through the airport, dodging service men and women, weary travelers, and groups of teens on long-awaited school trips with harried chaperones. We’ll make it to the rental car area and head to Macon, Georgia for the night. We get to go because my husband is in charge of an event downtown Atlanta on Saturday — I tag along purely for fun.

But the trip is more than ‘just for fun’.  We will be visiting people who I’ve mentioned before in my blog, a couple who have known me since birth, who cared for me at different times in my life, who visited me in college, and who helped us celebrate our son Joel’s 16th birthday. They are the quintessential non-blood aunt and uncle. They are Hu & Betty Addleton.

From the time I can remember the Addleton’s have been in my life. Betty had the gift of making a mud hut look like a mansion, and there is no hyperbole in that statement. While everyone else struggled with peeling concrete walls, the salts eating through paint to create blotches of color and wear, Betty covered the walls floor to ceiling with expertly made drapes. Using paint, creativity, and ingenuity Betty created magic with her homes, spaces where you escaped heat and chaos, and could rest completely. Hu was the personable, handsome southerner, gifted in relationships and clear in his call.

Their children were household words for our family. It was David their oldest who was my brother Stan’s best friend; Jonathan, their second was best friend to my brother Tom; and I got Nancy — beautiful, dark-haired, dark-eyed Nancy. We were partners in crime and confidantes about everything from boys to fashion. She was the ultimate BFF, only we didn’t know that terminology back then.

The friendships made in mission or expatriate contexts are unique. Away from all the securities of your passport country, you forge relationships with both likely and unlikely people, people who worm their way into heart and soul. You go through birth, death, tragedy, sickness, political instability, long periods of separation from blood relatives, car accidents, kids in boarding school, tension in relationships, food rations, and so much more. All of that is woven together, creating a colossal tapestry of memories and events that are not easily torn or severed.

I go to Atlanta with a tapestry of Addleton memories, and with this trip I get to create more, more talks, more stories, more laughter, more joy.

These are the things I want to tell people who fear they are not doing right by their children by taking them overseas. For these are important messages to those who feel their children will miss out, will not have those people in their lives who care for the long-term, who pray them through adolescence into adulthood, who are deeply interested in their character development. Not only do I have my aunts and uncles who are blood relatives, I have these surrogate mission aunties and uncles who have now become good friends.

So I’ll head to the airport and endure security, which takes any pride I have and destroys it through one body pat down, I’ll board a plane and sit in an aisle seat, I’ll catch the peanuts as they are thrown through the air by a tired airline attendant, and I’ll smile throughout. Because it’s all worth it to see old friends and make new memories.

Where have you reconnected with old friends recently? How do you keep up with those people from your past who are precious but far away? I’d love to hear through the comments! 

The Relatives are Coming! The Relatives are Coming!

It was in the summer of the year that the relatives came….” and so begins one of my all-time favorite children’s books about a family of relatives that comes up from Virginia “in an old station wagon that smelled like a real car…. They left at four in the morning when it was still dark, before even the birds were awake!

If I were to paraphrase this favorite book and contextualize it to this past weekend it would read as follows:

“It was in the summer of the year that the relatives came. They came over from Boston and New York; they came from Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin; they came from Japan, Singapore and Philadelphia. And they came for Tim and Kim’s wedding, some leaving at four in the morning, while it was still dark, before even the birds were awake! They came by plane and they came by caravan! They came in a PT Cruiser that smelled like Jolly Ranchers! They came in buses and in traffic, through cities and through towns. When they arrived they hugged and kissed and squeezed and hugged again from the front of the hotel to the swimming pool. This was the summer the relatives came. ”

“There were all kinds of people! Big people, small people and tiny, tiny people. There was talking and bodies everywhere. They ate all the subs and all the pizza, and they ate all the beans and rice, and they devoured the wedding cake that one of the medium-sized relatives had made. The relatives weren’t particular about beds, which was good since there weren’t any extras and the hotel was already suspicious that more than possible were being squeezed in to the rooms created for small relatives.”

The Relatives are Coming!

“When the wedding came they all cried because four important people, an usher, a videographer, and a master of ceremonies were stuck on a highway with someone else’s relatives and they missed the wedding. Everyone felt a little sick about that and did not tell the bride. But then they did arrive in time for the dancing, rice and the beans, and roast pig that were a part of the tropical fiesta to feed and entertain all those relatives. And they danced! Oh how those relatives danced! Even the men that didn’t know how to dance found themselves ‘putting their hands up! playing their song… and partying in the USA! And then the party ended, and all but a few people fell into bed. Exhausted. Happy. And dreaming about the next time….”

Cynthia Rylant and Stephen Gammell, author and illustrator of the children’s book created and told something profound and humorous with this book. And our family created and lived something profound and humorous with this gathering. So until next time we’ll sleep in our soft beds and continue to dream about next time – which is scheduled for October.

Blogger’s Note: With great thanks to Cynthia Rylant and Stephen Gammell for creating the best book ever!