Of Funerals and Family
Queenslog Stardate June 8, 2018
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to drive along Idaho’s Highway 26 out of Idaho Falls and along the Wyoming border.
A week’s worth of rain left the landscape a vivid green. This made for breathtaking views as a following the Snake River toward Thayne, Wyoming.
I opened up the sunroof, and turned up the stereo in my pickup, alternating between Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and a Malcolm Gladwell podcast.
For the first time, in a long time, I was unencumbered by tight deadlines; I had 6 hours to get where I needed to be. From my sister’s house in Idaho Falls, it would take only 90 minutes. So I meandered; relaxed into the freedom of being alone on a trip through my favorite state on an early summer day.
I’ve never spent time in this part of Idaho. The landscape is dotted with beef cattle belonging to expansive ranches with scenic horizons. This is the stuff from which postcards are made. People come from all over the world to see these views.
I’m headed to a family funeral.
Over the last few years, the meaning of family has been defined in real and present ways, which I will be discussing in the weeks and months to come. For this event though “family” means friendship with roots deep in the Idaho soil and made alive by the breath that can only be inhaled on the top of an Idaho mountain.
This side of my family is not close-knit. I have cousins I haven’t met and a few I don’t need to meet. Biologically, they are not mine. This a family of choice. My non-biological father (the man I call “Dad”) chose to raise me as his and give me his name – a name that is shared by most of the people with whom I’m about to share a weekend.
My cousin Tina is one of my Soul Warriors – the women who fill my lungs with air and lift me up each day and in every way. She and I were not raised together, like some cousins. One day about 25 years ago, I was in a store writing a check and the clerk looked at it and pointed out we have the same last name.
“Who do you belong to?” she asked.
I told her. Turns out my Dad and her grandfather are brothers. From then on, we’d run into each every so often and share a smile. A few years later we ended up sitting together at another family funeral. With time to talk we became the best of friends.
So when she called me a couple of months ago and said, “I need you to come to a memorial service for my uncle,” I just said “yes”.
I had never met her uncle but Tina made it clear she needed me to be at the service. She has always dropped everything to help me when needed. I didn’t question her, I just picked up the phone and made hotel reservations in Thayne, Wyoming. At the time, I wasn’t even sure what we were doing or where we were going. She just said there was a family dinner at 6 p.m. in Thayne. So, I went.
I stopped at nearly every scenic overlook and answered the magnetic call of an ice cream shop in Swan Valley. Then I arrived at the hotel early and took a deep and delishly long nap.
As we gathered for dinner, I looked at the faces around me. In Tina’s dad and his sister, I could see the chiseled features of my Dad’s family-- carved from generations of farmers and adventurers decended from German and Swiss immigrants seeking refuge and fortune in the Amercian west. Tina’s aunt has a voice similar to other women in the family and it made me miss my grandmother and aunts on this side of my family. These are women who could do anything. They were just as comfortable in the garden or kitchen as they were in a tractor or truck. They grew and harvested everything the cooked. If dinner called for chicken, they’d walk out the coop and grab one from the yard, breaking its neck casually as they’d walk toward the chopping block to dress and prep the bird to go into the oven. They took care of the people well and they’ve passed that kindness down to most of my cousins. For few minutes I just took in the sounds of these voices. Thankful that I allowed to join them on this special journey.
The next day, on a spectacular Sunday morning, I followed a line of cars from Thayne back over the Idaho border on to Grays Lake and down a dusty road to another cousins house. This cousin is from Tina’s grandmother’s side of the family. She has described Kent to me 1000 times. The two of us are her closest friends outside her husband and children. The three of us had never been in the same place at the same time. The moment we were, the look on Tina’s face explained why I needed to be here. She needed us. I don’t know why, really. She just did and although we never discussed it. I know Kent understood too. We just had to be together.
From Kent’s house we traveled deep into Idaho’s Caribou mountains where we gathered together as friends and family to say goodbye to Tina’s uncle. He was a miner, so the family picked the site of an old mine to remember him. They drank a beer in his honor, talked about his love of the outdoors, his humor, his values.
And then we went back to Kent’s house and share a meal before dispearsing back down country roads to our homes throughout southern Idaho.
I share not one gene with these people, yet, they are my family. I understand them and they understand me. We laugh at the same jokes and support each other as needed. In my case, they welcome me as one of their own, in spite of the fact that our DNA will never match.
I’ve often told my children relatives are who God sticks you with, family is who you choose.
And sometimes, in rare and blissful moments, family chooses you.
That is what happened in my Queendom last week, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.
Blessed be, my friends.
Yours always –
Queen Givemebeer of Karmalot
(I keep some family details vague so as to protect the privacy of friends and family. Also, I understand my family connections get confusing. That's just the way my family is, so you'll get used to it after a while.)