Beyond the Pail

We pulled in from our South Carolina beach vacation two nights ago. It was dark. And late. And we were full on Chipotle soft tacos we had picked up in Stafford, VA, just as a rainstorm was breaking.

We spent an entire week with my mom’s family in a house too small for us. As my cousin Amy said of the kitchen, “it thinks it’s in a two-bedroom apartment.” How many times did I rub bottoms and elbows with uncles and aunts or have to close the fridge to let someone pass, I could not count. Then, there was the mile-long catwalk to the ocean. On Thursday, I did not even venture to the beach simply for this reason.

But the week was filled with so much laughter, many card games, and a bit of charades (although not all family members would agree to the latter.)

When family gets together, there are always past memories and feelings that surface at low tide. We spend too much time trying not to step on the sharp pieces and often just enough to pocket some treasures. It’s all complicated and beautiful and real.

I realize more and more what a solitary animal I truly am. Spending a week in close quarters, even with people I love, sends me packing for the hills. Being home again feels like returning to a Buddhist monastery after so much time spent sweating on top of others.

Even as a kid, I gravitated to playtime alone. I’d escape to the space between the shed and the chain-length fence beside our garage. A honeysuckle bush woven in between the links provided adequate cover between me and the neighbors. I’d stand there for hours, pulling out honeysuckle threads during July, imagining I was in some magical forest.

Yet I am not sure how better to experience relatives you hardly see. How else can we make up for so much lost time than to share coffee-making and dish-cleaning duties? To grit our teeth when someone eats the last bowl of the favorite cereal we bought? You are simply forced to learn more and share more (even if it’s more than you meant to) in this environment. We all take in more broken shells this way, but the diamonds in the ruff are likelier to show up, too. The stolen one-on-one beach walks, big cousins offering little cousins piggyback rides from one end of the room to another, corn-in-the-hole games taking place in front of the regular reading crowd – vying for a good rocking chair.

I am overjoyed to return to my home, to the comfort of my things, and the silence within my walls. Even my six-year-old seems calmer to me. But the overcrowded reunions have their place. And I am so very thankful for those, too.

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