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A weekend with family

Posted by joeabbott on February 2, 2014

imageI’ve lived away from MN and my family for over 20 years now and it’s one of the greatest things and the worst. On the one hand, I can’t go “home” without attention raining on me, without doors opening, and without people making time in their schedules to spend time with me. That’s the great part; the worst part is the other 360 days of the year when I can’t drop in, take a visitor, or share in the life moments with those I grew up with and love.

That said, this year I will be back in MN three times and have just returned from my latest visit. It was tiring to the bone and yet sublime. Care to tag along for some photos and memories?

This visit was prompted by my niece (oldest daughter of my oldest sister) who was marrying her beau; more on that later. And, unfortunately, Suzy wouldn’t be joining me. On that matter, I had at first thought going alone would be liberating: I could flop on whosever couch was available, I could be nimble and agile in my agenda, and float amongst my many family members and connections without being half of a couple. While I did enjoy all that, it was hard to be away from my wife, my greatest supporter, and best friend during a somewhat arduous trip. I am ever so glad she’ll be with me on the next two trips.


imageI worked from home for the majority of Friday, catching a flight to MN late in the afternoon. Suzy left work early to be home in time to get me to the airport about 2-hours early. While I hate just sitting about an airport, I’ve found that I hate more rushing and fretting over missing a flight, and so I subject myself to getting in early. And, as others hustle and bustle, look at watches, and mutter about how long things take, I wear an air of the reposed and remove myself from my usual ever-awareness of time as I stand in line, await the latest indignities TSA imposes on me, and stroll casually to find a bite to eat or quiet seat in which to read before rejoining the world of schedules and arrival and departure times.

imageAnd on the note of TSA indignities, I had both of my bags scanned and scrutinized on this trip … in addition to a self-conscious pat down by a young TSA fella. One of my bags contained a stone I was bringing back to my mother from Suzy … it’s a decorative door stop or accent for the garden; very pretty. The other bag contained the treasure chest. And so, with the long wait in the security line and extra attention from our airport agents who are keeping us all safely flying, I only had 30 minutes or so to grab some rice and chicken, eat half of it, and then head H6 in SeaTac International Airport as it was boarding for Minneapolis-Saint Paul, MN.

In addition to the 5:45PM departure time and a 3-hour flight, I lost two hours as I crossed time zones and ended in at about 11PM. From there I grabbed my rental car, drove across town to my mother’s home, and found myself at her door at the hour of 11:30PM. In spite of the late hour, the house looked warm and cozy and ready for company; my mother met me at the door.


And in short order we sat to chat and continued chatting until 4AM. The first of many very long days. Such is homecoming from my mother for someone who doesn’t come home as often as he should.


imageI awoke around 9AM and felt less rested but more energized than I have in a while. I attended to my morning routine while Mom made us breakfast of eggs, sausage, and a little toast. And that, I believe was the last meal to be had at the little table we’d used in that house for as long as I can remember.

imageWhile the table held great sentimental value, it being my mother’s grandmother’s table, it had been loving used well for many decades. When I went to move it aside for the replacement my mother had in a back room, the leaf simply lifted out, one wing was also unmoored to any substructure, and simply twisting two wing nuts a couple dozen times completed the removal of the table top. The base very nearly sighed as I picked it up, legs slumping slightly and wiggling against the pedestal.

But, with reverence afforded that which has been handed down and served well, I carried it to the basement for temporary storage until it can find meaningful function for someone else.

In it’s place, I attached the legs and installed a very sturdy and clean-looking replacement. It was rectangular with a nifty pop-up leaf and while you wanted to look on it as an interloper or usurper (for its taking the position of the family table), I had to admit that it looked good. It fit the space, the light wood accented the nook, and the matching chairs all worked together harmoniously. My mom even had a few accent pieces to dress it up. It’ll all be fine.

From there, Mom and I headed back to the airport. The car I was rented didn’t have a working windshield wiper sprayer on the driver side. Now, I’m not a sissy and could manage a bit with a dirty windshield, but the one thing you have to have in a Minnesota winter is working windshield wipers. The snow and slush and spray from the road; the sand thrown down and the salt mixed in … it’s a perfect recipe for creating a witch’s brew of visual obstruction! On the way away from the airport, I had to constantly blast the sprayer in hopes that some of the fluids from the passenger side with splash over and help to clear the driver side!

And that’s where the only confrontation of the trip occurred.

imageAs I pulled in and prepared to depart the car, a cold-looking attendant (the temps were regularly below zero … not below freezing, below zero … we’re talking Fahrenheit temps here) shouted that I needed to have a full tank of gas in returning vehicles. I replied that I’d coordinated with the front office and just needed a replacement. He rejoined that he wasn’t about to give me a full tank of gas. To which I responded that I had only driven to my mother’s house and back, hadn’t used a quarter tank, and would be happy to hear how he recommended the fine Dollar Rent-a-Car folks would compensate me for my time and troubles after renting me a faulty vehicle that was unsafe and required returning. He either found that an astute question or me to be a complete ass, but regardless, gruffly told me to leave the keys in the car and work with the chap inside on the replacement.

My mother being my mother, noted that his working environment wasn’t very friendly and that completely explained his attitude and tone. Love my mom. I have much to learn.

From there, we drove into St. Paul and enjoyed the Winter Carnival. Or at least the part comprising of the ice sculptures in Rice Park. While I had visions of walking amid throngs of people, enjoying warm beverages and seeing larger-than-life art in the form of carved ice, there were far fewer people, the number of sculptures (while many) were fewer than I thought, and we settled for a shared bag of mini-donuts. And then we hustled outta there! Please revisit my comments above on just how cold it was if you need to understand our motivation.

But, we also had to get back to prep for The Wedding.

I simply cannot do justice to the beauty of the day or the participants, so I’ll intentionally paraphrase our evening. And even at that, some of you may wonder if I understand the meaning of “paraphrase”.

Simply put,it was gorgeous.


My oldest sister was radiating on a happiness energy level seldom seen in modern life, her daughter (the bride) was stunning, and the groom was gregarious, composed, and one of the finest people I’ve met. Yes, I’d spoken with him in the past, but once again he struck me as incredibly decent and supportive; a truly welcome addition to the extended family.

imageimageI will note this was the first ceremony in which the sermon referred to the bride as “smoking hot” … admittedly, the officiate drew the words from her time in marriage counseling these two … and it was brief and secular and all manner of beautiful words and thoughts. After they were announced man-and-wife, they shared a couple of slide shows of each of them from infancy to adulthood and then another slide show of their many years together; they have a strong family and friend support structure and a rich lust for life. These two will do well.

At the wedding and reception I was able to spend time with my entire family, minus a couple brothers-in-law (well, one is a brother-in-law to-be). Good conversation, a bit of horsing around, and lots of love and laughter. A finer afternoon and evening is hard to imagine. Add to it a vanilla and a red velvet cupcake and I was in heaven.

But it ended for us sooner than some as I drove my mother back to her home, collected my bags, and then drove to my sister’s house where I’d spend the night. We didn’t stay up as late as I had the evening prior, but we stayed up late enough. We shared stories of our lives, discussed the future, and then I headed to bed around 11PM in hopes of a good night’s sleep before we departed to northern MN the next morning at 7AM.

I slept the sleep of the dead that night, It was delicious.


On this day we headed to northern MN to visit an uncle who was unable to travel to the wedding. He’s just the nicest guy and always been supportive of my family and good to us kids; I will always visit him when I get back. So, while the weather was hovering around -21°F and about 200 miles separated me from that destination, my younger sister and brother accompanied me for the drive north.

And it was a very fine trip at that.

imageI drove and we didn’t make good time. I’ll admit to having some trepidation over navigating through icy roads in snowy weather after my long hiatus from such travails but we never hit any ice or other trouble that required frenzied attention. On the way up we got behind a long line of cars following a pair of snow plows driving shoulder-to-shoulder as they cleared the road. Soon enough they turned off but our timing became skewed and we called Uncle Joe to tell him we’d be late.

As it turned out, we arrived about the time he was sitting to lunch and we awaited his arrival: he’s in an assisted living facility and we weren’t sure if joining him was OK and we didn’t want to rush him. The wait turned out to be short and he wheeled on over to us, we made our hellos, and then headed back to his room for three hours of some very fine conversation. During this time, I realized how skilled my younger sister was at both reading a person and employing a nice bit of deft tact at engaging them in conversation, keeping a steady stream of lighthearted topics flowing, and letting others shine brightly. As Uncle Joe did that afternoon. He even mentioned to my mother later that he’d felt he’d dominated the conversation.

It was perfect.

He told stories of being a young Navy radio technician in training back in Chicago in, I believe, the 1950s; he talked of neighbors and his home town; he detailed family trees and our many relations. And, he shared generously with all of us from the box of chocolates (See’s Bridge Mix) that I’d brought from Seattle for his enjoyment. While he may have had a few health ups-and-downs recently, he was in fine fettle that afternoon.

And so, following two days of gabbing, we gabbed another three hours away before we started looking at getting my siblings home so they could get up the next day for work and I could make it home before it got too dark or cold. Our good-byes were brief and we were heading south from the Iron Range toward “The Cities”, happy for an afternoon well invested.

Before we got back, we had to change drivers; I was tapped out. I don’t think I slept while in the passenger seat, but I’m sure I nodded and lolled and generally enjoyed someone else being at the wheel. The go-go-go routine was catching up to me.

This night I’d stay at my sister’s home, accepting their courtesy and hospitality as I displaced a nephew from his bed. The bed was warm and comfy, the blankets and comforters cozy, and I again slept deeply and dreamlessly, looking forward to the morrow and a last day of my vacation in Minnesota.


imageimageI believe the first words I heard that day were, “And so he lives” or something implying I’d long been absent from the busy waking hours of the day. I felt rather chuffed at being able to get myself up and showered and ready for the day, presenting myself around 7AM, but it appears Siswa runs a tighter ship and I was being labeled a laggard! She offered me breakfast (I passed) and while she gave the impression of being all business and industry, she cajoled me with another hour of chitting and chatting before we hugged our farewells and I went off to run about with my mother for another day.

By the time I got to Mom’s home, she was willing to head to a local restaurant for a quick bite; she biting very little and me a bit more than that; and then back to her home.

As is our habit, it’s my lot to fix a little of this and that, to help with a few computer issues, and earn a bit of keep moving those things heavier than comfortable for mother to move. Around noonish we headed into St. Paul again and toward my younger brother’s home. That night I’d be staying with him and his family, and he generously took a half day from work to enjoy a few daylight hours with us.

imageMom and I got into St. Paul before connecting with my brother and so we went on a bit of a shopping run. Our first stop was the Golden Fig, where I bought Suzy a few cooking ingredients and a dainty bite of chocolate or two. We then headed a bit further west along Grand Avenue in search of a few other shops: specialty places my mother enjoys. Unfortunately, and for the first time I can ever remember, we encountered several of our intended destinations closed by virtue of the cold weather! Now, MN may not be a city that never sleeps, but it certainly has never rolled up the mat for cold or snow! And yet, there it was as signs in the doors proclaimed: we apologize for the inconvenience, but due to severe weather we are closed.

And novel though it was, it certainly wasn’t unique to these shops. Schools were closed and even large businesses were keeping their doors shut as the arctic vortex sent its shivering winds deep into the heart of the country. However, about this time, I got a call and my brother was bringing his oldest daughter to join us for lunch at Cosetta. I’d never eaten there so I said, good deal … let’s go!

imageMom and I arrived first, we looked over the menu (it’s a cafeteria-style Italian restaurant), surveyed the many treats behind an expansive dessert counter, and wandered through the adjoining market selling many of their prepared foods and specialty Italian eats. Once again I purchased a chocolate for Suzy and we then headed back to the restaurant.

I planned on having a small dish of pasta and a slice of pizza, but the portion of pasta (even the “small” dish) was so large, I withheld my impulse for the slice. In bemoaning my plight to my brother, he cheerfully said, “I’ll get one and we can share.” I was almost embarrassed at the generosity but I certainly enjoyed the half of that slice. Heckuva guy!

From there we returned to Rice Park so my brother and niece could enjoy the ice statues but, it was really really cold, so we didn’t linger long. It was a quick, and quiet … no crowds at all … trip through the park and then we ran to the nearby St. Paul Public Library to peruse their collections, marvel at their architecture, and generally enjoy the public heat of the building before daring to run to the car and head to our respective homes.

I drove Mom back to her house, enjoyed a hug good-bye, and then traveled back to my brother’s home in a southern St. Paul suburb.

At the point I was finally able to give my niece her treasure chest and we shared a lot of time together. I got to hear about their plans, I enjoyed seeing her gerbil, spotted lizard and fish, and generally connected with family I don’t spend as much time with as I should.


We then all sat at the table for a delicious crockpot meal of tender pork, perfectly prepared potatoes, and some delicious carrots. A balm after one too many meals on the road. Outstandingly prepared, Karen!

And after that it was a board game called Taboo. We didn’t bother with points and the board, but we did pick up cards and spent time playing through, urging each other on, and still trying to best them all when it was our turn to give hints to the word on the card without using the highlighted clues … the Taboo words. It was simple fun and I liked it very much.

But, I needed to rise at 5AM, so we went to our respective rooms before 10PM and I set various alarms (I think I set three of them) to rouse me at the right time. My head was busy with thoughts of the trip and I worried about oversleeping, so my rest was a bit less restful than usual. But I drifted off to the thoughts of planes and travel and leaving “home” to get back to the other place I call home.


imageI arose without too many beeps from one of the alarms, silenced the others before they went off, and changed into my travel duds. I started the car and let it warm … a big challenge considering the sub-zero temperatures … and then I bid a silent farewell to a house still aslumber.

And the rest of the day is without much ado.

I got through security with the usual fuss: this time the Persian Chocolate powder mix and coarse sea salt scanned “funny”; additionally, a coarse oil stone that had been my grandfather’s and was returning to Seattle with me, triggered an alarm. But, in my timeless way I bobbed through that hubbub and found myself inside a warm terminal as I awaited being called.

The flight was very sparsely booked with only 22 people in the coach section of the plane. I had my entire row to myself and passed the time reading, crossword puzzling, and dozing lazily. And then, three hours later, I was in Seattle and Suzy was picking me up. I’m not sure if she knows how good it was to see her, how happy I was to be back, but I think the nonstop blabbing I did and the many treats I bestowed on her were something of a give-away.

While it’s always good to go home, it’s also very good to come back when you’re ready. I was ready.

And with that, thanks for looking in and know that I look forward to heading home to MN yet again in June for yet another wedding.


4 Responses to “A weekend with family”

  1. Jay said

    Joe – we loved having time with you – and we don’t take for granted the expense (personal as well as monetary) it takes for you and Suzy to travel to MN so often. Amazing you’re able to make three trips this year.

    Thank you for Ashley’s gift. She loves it and has not yet been able to turn in the coins for dollars.


  2. Momma said

    Joe, there’s nothing like a great story with a great cast, and you nailed it! I like to think we’re pretty average for the most part (well, as Garrison Keillor might say, above average…), but I know there are so many who do not have the warmth and joy that our family does when we’re together – and we’re so blessed to be able to share so many different experiences, grand and small. As a mother, it’s so satisfying to see what wonderful sons and daughters you are; I’m so glad you enjoy one another’s good company, and especially your kindness to my brother, your Uncle Joe, who has been such a good influence on all of you, and a brother & a friend to me for over 80 years now! ‘Was great fun to see what “home” looked like to you, coming into Edgewood Acres… yes, the light will always be on for you. Nice ice sculpture pics, and the ones of the wedding, and your kind remarks there, are treasures. And thanks tons for wiping out my To Do List! You do much to record and retain memories for us, and I am so grateful. It’s good to look back and feel thanks for all we have, including each other. ‘Love you, Joe. Momma

  3. Chantal said

    Joe – you have a mesmerizing way with words – I literally was transported back to the day of Naomi and Greg’s wedding – and got to “see” all it entailed for you! It was one of the best parties I have been to in celebration of 2 lives merging into 1. I radiated in that happiness mode well into the next week. These 2 have so much going on now and into the future …. can’t wait to see how it all unfolds. Plus we get to do it all again, in June and August! Thank you for taking the time to get home as often as you do. We created some “I’ll never forget” memories in 2013 and it looks like 2014 is unfolding the same. You are a generous brother and a great giver of time and words – thank you for all you do – and thank you for being you!

  4. Karen said

    Thanks again Joe for the special gift you made for Ashley (truly amazing!) and thanks to Suzy for getting the coins in gold to fit the treasure chest look. You both have such special attention to detail that makes everything you do come out fabulous! We very much appreciate all of your time and efforts. Thanks again!

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