My dad grew up in New Market, New Hampshire (that's him with his sister and mom).
He left when he was 18, and if I remember correctly, he's only been home twice since then.
My sister and I have been trying to talk him into making a trip back to New Market with us for years now - just to see where he grew up and to meet family we've never met before, and he finally agreed.
He said it will be the last trip he ever makes home.
So my dad and I fly to Seattle tomorrow to meet up with my sister, and from there, we all catch a red-eye flight to Boston.
And the last of the Celebration of Life photos for my grandpa...
After a little bandaging-up (we poured vodka on his arm and wrapped it up with duct tape because, again, that's how we roll), Roscoe-T seemed good.
And after all my uncles stood around in a circle sharing a bottle of post-football-game-Bengay (unfortunately, I missed that photo), they seemed good as well.
My husband on the other hand was highly offended when I asked him if he put on any Bengay (apparently, he's too manly for such things), which spurred my Uncle Brad to share a little bit of his leftovers.
And then the A-Hole hat Jessie and Cole had been working on all afternoon was revealed.
And then we hung out.
And started doing a little dancing.
And hung out some more.
And did some more dancing.
And it just kept going on like that for most of the night.
And sometimes we even hung out WHILE we danced.
Seriously, who can resist dancing when "Hey Ya" by OutKast comes on?!? (Just turn it on and see if you can resist.)
My little cousins certainly couldn't.
And then the real dancing broke out.
And that's about the time I handed the camera over to Cole so I could join in.
And then we settled into our favorite, family game...A-Hole.
In the past, we'd always started this game BEFORE anyone started drinking much.
This time though, the cumulative alcohol level made it nearly impossible to even get through the first round.
Ross was made honorary President the first round (because anyone who runs full-speed into a waist high, stationary structure deserves the Presidency).
Not quite sure how my Uncle Brad snagged the seat of Vice President though.
Or why Beth ended up being the A-Hole the first round (I wasn't drinking, and therefore, nothing my family was doing was making any sense to me).
As usual, one of the Kane boys (my Uncle Brad this time) was hiding cards to rig the game (and got caught).
Which resulted in my husband crossing the table to begin disciplinary action in the form of a spanking machine (walking around a table and bending over so each person in the family can spank you is a form of punishment where I come from).
And then for some reason, my (crazy) little Cousin Sammy, decided to run across the table to assassinate (tackle) the president.
Which didn't turn out as well as he had planned (Ross managed to stay in his chair, and Sammy ended up eating dirt on the ground behind him).
And then, as we took a brief intermission, Ross began experiencing chest pain (in the same spot where bruises were starting to form from him running into that stationary structure at full speed while playing football earlier in the day) bad enough that my aunt (a nurse) suggested I take him to the hospital (at that moment, I was quite happy I hadn't felt like drinking all night).
And that's where little Roscoe-T and I stayed until 3:30 in the morning (I just snuggled up in the hospital bed next to him and we both tried to sleep in between all the nurses, doctors, and tests).
They offered him stitches or glue for his arm (he opted for the glue because he's a man, and therefore, he wanted a scar to remind him of his manliness), and sent him home with a clean bill of health and a prescription strength anti-inflammatory for the inflamed cartilage in his chest.
Nothing like a Celebration of Life that ends in the E.R. (my grandpa would have been proud).
The game came to a screeching halt when Roscoe-T took off a full speed, looked behind him to see where the ball was, and ran directly into a chest-high structure.
And all the laughing at Ross's unfortunate experience came to a screeching halt when my mom realized what happened and started freaking out on everyone who was laughing at her (23 year old) grand baby.
My grandma (who was the the glue of our family and totally adored in every way) died 20 years ago, yet no one ever talked about it, and we never had a funeral, a service, a memorial or anything of that nature. Her ashes have just been sitting in a box at my Uncle Donnie's house all this time.
But we were blessed with 20 years of health in our family before my grandpa passed away a few weeks ago.
Everyone was strange. Everyone was responding in ways completely opposite of how everyone else expected them to respond. Some of us were reaching out to others. Some of us wanted everyone to leave us alone. Some of us had regrets. Some of us were sad. Some of us were mad. And some of us were questioning everything.
But I don't think any of us faulted anyone else for any of that - I think we all just gave one another the grace and the freedom to handle it however we needed to.
Then on Saturday, we decided to get together up at my Uncle Donnie's house to celebrate my Grandpa's life.
And though our little celebration of life may not measure up to societal standards, it met our standards perfectly.
My sister flew in from Seattle.
And Josh had the bright idea of driving our bus (we own a bus, but that's a story for another day) out to my uncle's.
I'd feel like a hypocrite if I said anything other than the truth, and the truth was that he was not an easy man. He and I had a pretty big falling out a few years back, but not long after, I called him to offer a genuine apology, without any expectation of him apologizing (and it's a good thing I didn't have that expectation because he didn't apologize), and felt like I needed to share with him the best memories I had of him as a kid:
1. Every year, right before basketball season, he'd mail me a brand new pair of white, leather Nike's and a bottle of white shoe polish to keep them looking scuff- free. All the kids at school called me "rich" and "spoiled" when I was sporting those Nikes and for a girl who grew up in a mobile home without much money, I loved how my grandpa made me feel "rich" and "spoiled."
2. Whenever I stayed the night with my grandparents (sometimes I stayed and entire summer with them), my Grandpa would make me a chocolate milkshake at exactly 9:00 p.m. One night he decided to experiment with an orange milkshake per my insistence, but after taste testing it, he dumped the whole thing down the sink, and immediately whipped me up a tried-and-true chocolate milkshake instead.
3. When I lost the halter for my 4-H steer, Teddy, I received a brand new one in the mail with a poem from my Grandpa. I don't remember the entire poem, but I do remember part of it that read, "And here's a new halter, so Teddy won't falter."
4. No matter how fancy of a restaurant we went to, I always wanted the exact same thing; a hamburger with mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, and cheese. And if that wasn't on the menu, and the waiter didn't agree to have one special-made for me, my grandpa would ask to speak with the manager. Never once did I go without a hamburger.
5. He signed me up for summer camp (the first and only time I was ever signed up for summer camp), but after inspecting the sleeping arrangements and noticing pee stains on the mattresses, he refused to let me stay. I was devastated, but he promised to make it up to me, and instead took me to Zimm's hot springs for a day of swimming (oddly enough, we ended up at the same hot springs on our last Spring Break, and it wasn't until we had been there for awhile that I said to Josh, "I think this is where my Grandpa took me the summer before 5th grade - you can see those photos here after you scroll down a bit).
He accepted my apology, laughed as I recalled those memories, and told me how happy he was to hear each one of them.
He fell into a sudden and unexpected dementia, and a quick, downward spiral with this health while in the hospital after having surgery on his foot in July, and all I could think about was how happy I was that I had made that phone call.
I don't know why he was such an angry, difficult man and I feel sad that he spent much of his life that way. That kind of brokenness is painful to see in anyone. But he did some really kind and wonderful things as well - things that shaped me into the woman I am and gave me memories that I wouldn't trade for anything. And ultimately, he loved me. Maybe not in the way that I think love should always be expressed, but he loved me (and the rest of his family) to the best of his capabilities, and I'm thankful for that.
I love you grandpa.
That's my Grandpa and his mom, Selma (we called her Mi-Mi).
Him and his little brother.
That last one with the baby chicks is my favorite.
That's him in front.
Him holding my mom.
My Grandpa, my Grandma, my mom (the oldest), my Uncle Donnie (on the left), my Uncle Brad (at the bottom), and my Aunt Kelly (the baby).
That's the whole lot of us. I'm the baby, sitting next to my mom, my dad, and my sister.
My grandparents and all of their kids.
The most peaceful and content photo I've ever seen of my Grandpa (holding his granddaughter, Nicole).
My grandma and grandpa (and I'm guessing that's my Uncle Donnie in the background with the bunny ears).
My grandpa holding his first great grand baby (Ross).
One with Ross and Coley.
One from my wedding reception.
My family all likes to tell stories about me tackling my grandpa during this football game (hence the mud, grass stains, and duck poop), but the TRUTH is that he fell before I even touched him.
That's Annie and Cole with my Grandpa.
Another with Yans.
My Grandpa with his wife Bev (my Grandma died 20 years ago) whom we all love and have adopted as our own.
Christmas a few years back.
My Grandpa trying to use a computer mouse like a microphone to talk to my Aunt Kelly via Skype (we never let him live that down - or the multiple times he tried to eat potpourri at my mom's house).
Christmas a few years back sitting next to my Uncle Brad.
And the last photo I ever took of him, celebrating his birthday with Courtney Lee and my Aunt Alicia in May.
Makes me thankful for family, forgiveness, and photography.