I worked late the other night. Since I'm not usually gone in the evenings, and we didn't want The Boy to feel my absence too sorely, it was decided that my husband would shuttle him the mile and a half to my parents' house for a visit. There is really nowhere he would rather be, which makes me a tiny bit jealous, but mostly happy.
I know that not everyone has the luxury of living close to their extended families, and that not everyone considers geographic proximity to one's relatives a plus. It was in college that I first started noticing that some of my friends rarely saw their parents and didn't seem to mind — and neither did their parents. It opened up a whole chicken-and-egg thing. So they didn't go home on holidays, and their parents didn't check up on them at exam time — but their parents also lived half a world away from their parents, and their siblings and cousins. Big deal! Who cares? They'll get along by themselves!
Try telling that to my family. Back in my single days, I spent a beautiful spring Saturday window-shopping in Carytown, walking from one end to the other and stopping for lunch along the way. By the time I got back to my apartment, my parents had left a half-dozen messages on the answering machine and then driven the mile and change to ring my doorbell and peek in my windows to see what horrible end had befallen me. "The ceiling fan was on," they scolded when I was finally located, safe and sound. "As if you had been killed in your sleep ." Not "as if you lived in a stuffy upstairs apartment with no air conditioner" or "as if you forgot to turn it off when you left." No. " As if you had been killed in your sleep ."
Remember that horrible Heaven's Gate mass suicide in California? CNN interviewed the surviving family members, and they all said things like, "We don't know what happened. We just talked to her three years ago, and she was doing fine." It wasn't funny, but I laughed. I laughed because I knew that I was in no danger of being recruited by a suicide cult.
When I was The Boy's age, my father's parents lived in a duplex across from the softball field on Sheppard Street, about half a mile from us. They lived upstairs, and my great-aunt Ida lived downstairs. Four doors down were Aunt Dee and Uncle Howard, and a couple more houses down were my uncle Gimmel and Aunt Beverly and their six kids. One more house over, my aunt Frances and her three.
My uncle Ronnie spins wistful tales of relatives walking down the street for family breakfasts, or aunts chasing him from one house to the next for reasons long forgotten. "It was the toastiest situation you could imagine," he sighs.
As children grew up and left home, my dad's people consolidated into a big brick duplex near Thomas Jefferson High School. My uncle bought a house around the corner to raise his family. When I was a student at Open High School, riding GRTC to and from school, I always knew I could jump on the Monument 1 or the Broad Street 6 if they came before the Robinson 4, which was the bus that went to my neighborhood. If I showed up unannounced at the duplex or at my uncle's, no one would ask questions. They would fix me a plate of food. Whether I was hungry or not. And if I wanted to stay over, that was no problem either. Ever. It was like having three homes.
Shortly before The Boy was born, there was much lobbying from my father and my uncle for us to sell our house in South Side and move into the duplex. As much as we love our house — and our autonomy — I have to admit it was tempting. With my uncle still around the corner and a cousin upstairs, the situation would definitely be toasty. But our house is home, and although sometimes I spin neo-tribalist fantasies about tossing independence to the wind and signing up for a lifetime of toastiness, we still reside in the far reaches of Reedy Creek. A whole mile and a half from my parents. But I'm comforted — and very, very fortunate — to know that should The Boy ever tire of waiting for the Forest Hill 71, he will always be able to hop on the Broad Street 6, the Monument 1 or the Robinson 4.
And someone will fix him a plate.