Monday, August 23, 2010

wrestling with tolstoy

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Or so says the opening line of Anna Karenina.

Tolstoy was half wrong.  He showed us how the Oblonsky and Karenin families were unhappy in their own way.  But happy families are not all alike.  At least, mine isn't.

I have just returned from one of those weekends.  The type where you wonder why they do not happen more often.

Almost two months ago, Felipe summarized his American family in No Brady Bunch.  And that was his conclusion.  North of the border he was not a Brady Bunch kind of guy.

That got me to thinking about my own family.  Like his, we are a small group.  My mother.  My brother and me.  He is married. And I have a niece and a nephew.  Nephew is married with a son.  And that is it.

My mother always wanted a large family, but nature does not always deliver what we would like.  Instead, she and my father raised two sons.  We could not even make it into the Fred MacMurray category.

This weekend was the first time I have been able to get together with all of them in Bend since I returned to Oregon in April.  That alone is a terrible indictment of how I have set my priorities.

I was thee for less than 48 hours.  We ate.  We laughed.  We reminisced.  We tried to outpun, outwit, and outhumor each other.

We watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune -- chuckling with and at the contestants.  Sometimes solving the problems first.  Other times laughing at our own foolish answers.

We are a people who do not take ourselves -- or life -- too seriously.

On Saturday evening, we watched The Ghost Writer.  A literate thriller starring Ewan McGregor, playing a writer hired to ghost a former British prime minister's memoirs.  One of those stories where we start volunteering where we think the story is going.

But sleep won out.  Mom left to go to her house.  My brother's wife wen to bed.  My brother followed.  That left my niece and me.  She made it through the entire movie -- except for five minutes.  They will convene again some night this week to watch the ending.

But the best part of the experience was not the movie.  It was the relationship we share.  No one knows you as well as your family.  And that is not always fun.  But it is certainly the most meaningful relationship possible.  (That observation, of course, is from a single man.)

And we can be corny.  My brother drove me back to Salem Sunday afternoon, and my niece rode along.  (We were all interested in making a side rip to Fry's Electronics -- the Mecca for Cottons.)

On the way, my eighteen-year old niece started playing the Alphabet Game -- where you look for letters of the alphabet on anything external from the car.  It sounds silly, but all three of us were letter-deep in it within minutes.  Once again, having fun competing with one another. 

When the game became too easy, we decided any lettering on a vehicle (usually the richest of letter lodes) would be excluded.  Then we started on Oregon towns.  (There is no "X.")

It was a simple weekend.  But we are simple people who enjoy one another more than things.

Are we perfect?  The Brady Bunch?

I considered that question the other day when a friend told me we were like a situation comedy family.  He meant it as a compliment.

But, I hope we re not that one-dimensional.  We can, at least, shoot for two.  We are simply too complex for television.

What I can say is we genuinely love another.  More than that, we actually like one another.

If I ever tire of Mexico, I have a ready-made setting for adventure in Bend.

Where we can prove happy families can be happy in their own way.


Rick said...

Count your blessings Steve but the Brady Bunch were far from perfect. They were boring dorks!

"imperfection is the greatness of man"

Anonymous said...

nice shot! were you always the family clown :-) seems like one of my boys would always make goofy faces when i took pix.

your mom looks great!


NWexican said...

I too come from a very small family and all I can say is that Fry's truly is Mecca.

1st Mate said...

You are really fortunate to still have your mom, to have a great brother (I know, I met him) and a niece who I'll bet really looks up to her adventurous uncle. Let's hear it for family time! Hope you get to have more before you leave Oregon.

Croft said...

Fry's is a regular stop for us in Wilsonville. They even let us boondock in the motorhome there.

jennifer rose said...

How nice of you to buy your Mexican friends who read your blog gifts from Fry's!

Laurie said...

It's hard to write about family. Well done.

Mike Nickell and Cynthia Johnson said...

Hi Steve - long ago someone said to me, "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family." So true. And it sounds like you are very happy with your family. Lucky you.

Steve Cotton said...

Rick -- I do count my blessings. And my lot is certainly far from boring.

Teresa -- Our familiy is a cast of clowns.

NWexican -- And fortunasyely I do not limit my trip to "Mecca" to once in a lifetime.

1st Mate -- What would be great is if they could all join me in Mexico now and then.

Croft -- I ran into a Canadian RV couple while I was there on Sunday. They were heading to California, though, not Mexico.

Jennifer -- I am generous beyond words. Just stop by the house for your gift. The Oregon house, that is.

Laurie -- Thank you. But they are usually medium rare.

Mike and Cynthia -- Not lucky. Blessed.

Anonymous said...

Please tell teresa thank you for the kind words she expressed, regarding me in the family photo.


Steve Cotton said...

Mom -- Done and done.