My left arm is sore as I pass the collection plate, because Phil playfully slugged me again… because I look like my sister.
Technically, she looks like me – I’m older – though we don’t resemble as much as we did when we were younger. Back then, we were often assumed to be twins. At my mother’s church these days, though, we are rarely seen together, and so at my annual Thanksgiving visit, I often get mistaken for her, since she’s a four-times-per-year “regular.”
She and Phil must have a special relationship, and he must have vision issues, because this is the fourth year in a row he has done that to me. Caught off guard, I chuckled and corrected him the first year, but I’ve just let it go since then. Mom says I’m welcome to slug Jessica next time I see her, and say “Phil says hello.” I swear I will! (Unfortunately, it will have to be next year, because church is the last thing Mom and I do before I leave for the airport to fly back home.)
In fact, as we leave the atrium after services, we pass Phil’s wife; we giggle as we’re relating to her his annual faux pas. Mom and I hit the ladies’ room before heading out, and there is a contrite Phil by the vestibule door as we exit. “Hello, Wendy,” he says, downcast, “Sorry.” I immediately feel terribly for him, realizing the chewing-out she probably gave him, though we really meant the ribbing in good fun.
“Are you kidding? Mom says I can just slug Jess to pass it on, which I think is great… here, get the other arm, and I’ll pass it on twice!” He does, and we all get a good laugh out of it. (He punched harder this time - what is wrong with this guy?! Good grief man, there’s a limit!) I don’t often go to this church, but every year I remember how much I like the people here: they really are such a lovely and easy-going bunch… even Phil.
But that isn’t the story I want to tell you about this trip, just a tangential vignette that amused me. See, I was born in Lincoln and lived there most of my life, so I still consider it to be my home. I now live half-a-country away, but the great thing is, every year, Mom holds our family celebration the weekend before Thanksgiving. She’s done this all our lives, so that as we children became adults and had our own families, we could celebrate the actual holiday without torn loyalties or lots of unnecessary strategizing and travel drama. She’s always thoughtful like that, about everything.
For me, it also means much easier travel, now that I am so far away: no fighting the overpacked airports on the actual holiday weekend, for which I am grateful. I get in on a Friday, we have the big family dinner (30 people, this year!) on Saturday and spend the day together enjoying one another’s company, then breakfast and church Sunday with mom and Gene. Then poof, I’m gone for another year, like a 3-day Persephone in paradise.
Despite the big family I mentioned, and my genuine affection for every last one of them, it is a blended family, so the bare bones portion of it is only the three of us. Mom married a wonderful man (Gene) when she was in her 50s and we and his children were already grown. I love them like my own family, but it isn’t like the ones who saw you graduate, knew your first heartbreaker, and waited at the hospital that time you nearly died.
There were more of us, of course. The closest ones to the three of us were Dad and Grandma H (Dad’s mom). Of the four who weren’t me, I was actually closest to Dad and Grandma, and Jess and Mom were the closest to each other, but no fault: there were the black sheep trio and the white sheep duo, but we loved each other all the same.
Grandma H was, in fact, my favorite person in the whole world, ever. She was a nut, and I get my wickedness and bawdy sense of humor from her. She died the year the towers came down, which was four years after Dad died. For years I missed her every single day, then fortunately less, over time. Sometimes now, months will go by without me remembering to miss her. The grief has grown softer over time, too. A lot of what I remember now even makes me smile and laugh outright rather than feel sad that she’s gone, so I am reaching a much better stage. I think some of you reading this may know and feel what I mean about this path of loss; I pray that at least some of you don’t and never will.
And praying brings us back full-circle to this church visit, because there is one more vignette from my trip this year: another person who thinks I am Jessica is a lovely lady named Angie. Most of these people I remember from prior visits, but I believe we may not have met before. She asks me if I have come up just to enjoy the cold. It doesn’t occur to me that she thinks I am the other sister (Jessica lives in Texas), but rather that she is misplacing me geographically, so I say “Well, down, anyway!” and we laugh; she goes on to visit with some others nearby.
A bit later, Angie comes back, profusely apologetic, and admits her error. I of course say “No problem, it happens all the time!”. It’s actually quite flattering, since Jess is frankly admirable in many ways that I would love to be.
Making up for the awkwardness, Angie goes on to relate that she was talking to Jessica the last time she was in, and found out our maiden name. She says it was so neat, because she hadn’t realized that we were Patricia Haverly’s granddaughters. “She was my favorite teacher of all time!”
Grandma H last taught school probably 40 years ago, now. My heart is bursting to capacity at such a lovely sentiment -- a true gift -- from out of the blue. Had Jessica not been there more often to have that conversation with Angie, I know that Angie and I never would have found the connection. And had Angie not mistaken me for Jess, it probably never would have come up in segue. Grandma H may not be at Thanksgiving anymore, but she is still here. Still here, and still everywhere.