My brother and his wife left Saturday morning after a brief visit. I was anxious about the visit, because this is my younger brother, John*, the one whom I wrote about in the blog post Shredded. We haven’t been close since I left home for college, and I was not sure what I was going to do with him for the brief time he was here (two nights, one afternoon and one full day).
The visit is one my brother himself proposed, as part of a long trip they were taking across half the country. They drove from their home in Virginia to visit my oldest brother in Illinois and a cousin in Iowa, before driving to St. Louis for a conference my younger brother had to attend. From St. Louis they came to see us, and now they are on the road heading to South Carolina to visit their married daughter before going home. It makes my nine state summer vacation look rather serene by comparison.
We put a lot of thought into things to do in the brief time they were here, and decided on a trip to New Orleans to the World War II Museum, followed by a visit to the zoo if there was time. My sister-in-law, however, had an amendment to the day’s program planned: she wanted to see Bourbon Street. So we settled on the museum, followed by po-boys at Mother’s, a walk through the French Quarter with a stop for beignets and cafe au lait, then a drive around Uptown, including Tulane and the area where my husband grew up, before dinner at Mandina’s and then home.
We enjoyed the day. The museum was, as my SIL put it, sobering, but they appreciated us taking them there. John took a long time going through listening to the many individual stories available to hear at stops throughout the museum. On his way out, he mentioned that hearing the stories gave him a new perspective on the stories my dad and uncles had told us over the years, and added, “This is really part of our family’s history.”
Part of our museum experience included the newest exhibit, Final Mission: The USS Tang Experience. While waiting for the session to start, we wandered the Boeing Building looking at WW II era bombers and fighter planes. It was then that my brother John told us the origin of the expression, “the whole nine yards”. The ammunition for each bomber, when assembled, made a row nine yards long. If you fired all your ammunition, you used the whole nine yards. I had never heard that before.
Despite the fun we had on our day in New Orleans and the new perspective I got on my brother during our trip, I still found some moments stressful. Both my brother and SIL are talkative extroverts, and since we usually found ourselves divided up into two groups, the two men and the two women, I found myself doing a lot of listening and trying to get a word in edgewise. I actually wanted to pretend to have fallen asleep on the drive home from New Orleans, but my lips were dry and I needed my lip gloss and then I needed to blow my nose and it’s pretty hard to pretend you are doing these things in your sleep.
It occurred to me a few days after they left, with many thanks and promises to stay in touch, that the problem between me and my family has always been that I’m an introverted loner and that they see that as rejection; and that furthermore, their preferred technique for trying to pull me back into contact with them is to keep talking, an action almost guaranteed to leave me wanting to run screaming out into the night. The good thing about family is that they love me anyway.
Besides, I reflect further, do I really understand my family members any better than they understand me? Do I even try? It came as a surprise to me that my brother’s favorite part of the museum was the oral histories, and that he had apparently managed to tease more World War II stories out of my uncles than I ever had.
They want us to come visit them once they are settled in their new home near the beach in South Carolina. I love the beach, so this is not a hard sell. It will mean more difficult conversational moments, but maybe I will learn something if I actually listen to the conversation instead of tuning it out this time - the whole nine yards.
*Yes, I have a brother John and a husband named John. I also have a brother named Frank and my sister’s husband is named Frank. Family get-togethers are fun.