A new friend tells me the currents are erratic from the melting ice caps. That's probably right. If I were more superstitious I'd say the snow was an omen. My people are having a time. One of my cousins, Sandra, died last week. I saw her most years at a family reunion on a lake in North Carolina. But not these last few years. I couldn't get there, but I would call. When it was Sandra on the line, she'd say, "Who's going to bitch with me if you're not here?"
Sandra and I liked to gossip. We shared a watchfulness of our family and a delight in the more ridiculous elements. You don't realize your family teaches you anything until well after you've learned it. Sandra taught me to pay attention to conversations. Good and bad and confusing. I wanted to know. I wanted to be included. Sandra and I would swap remarks on the patio, and I felt adult. My voice barely carries beyond my teeth, but I would murmur something smart, and Sandra would hear it. "We're bad," she'd say. Yes we were. That's another piece of it. We were just as silly as anyone else in our family. We made fun of them, but they made fun of us, too. The keyword: fun.
Last night, I reran my memory of Sandra standing in the kitchen feeding pickles and bologna to a meat grinder. I wore myself out crying. Pickles and bologna was a tradition I couldn't appreciate when I was younger, but it was still a tradition. Sandra would get us kids to turn the crank while she tamped down the meat and brine. We would pretend to vomit. Someone would tell us not to be rude. There's no shortage of people to teach you manners at a family reunion. People rush to it like you're on fire. The result of the cranking and the tamping was this cat food looking pâté you could spread on crackers and pretend it was gourmet. I didn't try it until I was old enough to drink. I was making a point to acquire tastes. Well, I acquired pickles and bologna like I acquired eavesdropping a long time ago. Fast and easy.
I miss you, Sandra. I've missed you for years, but I still had your voice. Now I have some pictures and a recipe and memories. It's not enough, but it's something. You were always something.