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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Vacation Reunion

The six of us came together from far flung places for an exquisite vacation on Cape Cod. For three of us it was as if we were weaving additional design onto a warp of yarn that was strung before we were born. Our mothers were best friends and we grew up in each other's houses where the Moms' incessant chatter and laughter nurtured our own sense of well being. On one kitchen table or another, coffee cups were imprinted with lipstick that read like ancient hieroglyphics - declaring boldly that friendship trumps personal struggle; comaraderie stitches ragged fabric pieces into a magnificent, warm, patchwork quilt. Two of our mothers died years ago - a car crash; cancer - and the third lives in a memory free world upstairs from her looms and yarns where she used to weave art pieces that hung in museums. We honored each of the moms with a purposeful visit each night to the local ice cream parlor. We followed the yarns back to their original crossings and savored the design in which we recognize our own inextricable shapes and colors.

Carmi's grandfather and his three brothers came to Southern Illinois from a Polish village, Torchin, that we could no longer find on a map or on Google. They started a family furniture and bedding business over which Carmi presides, eighty years later, holding together a colorful cast of cousins and uncles and trying to stay competitive in a business world where big chains operated by MBA's eat smaller companies for lunch. He's got an octogenarian uncle on the payroll who once ran a factory but currently just walks among the machines reading psalms to keep them running well.

Sari's grandfather came from the same village and settled in New York City. Sari and I remember our summer vacation in '62 at her grandparents' Far Rockaway bungalow, drinking in the magic of the boardwalk at a time when kids were free to roam during the day. We were flush with enough money in our pockets for a delicious slice of pizza and a couple of games of Keno. When Sari's mother and father were first married, they used their Torchin connections to get Shooky (Sari's Dad) work in Illinois at one of the furniture stores.

My parents met Carmi's parents as teen-agers, before either couple was married. In 1946, they were at a New Jersey training camp for people who wanted to live on kibbutzim and build what would become the State of Israel.

By 1950 or '51, all three couples were married and living in Peoria, Illinois. In 1953, Sari, Carmi, and myself were born.

Somebody left their finger on the "fast forward" button and we are suddenly 54 years old with nine, 20-something kids between us (counting my partner, Sally's two daughters). In between is a blur of images reflecting intermingled childhoods and family vacations. There are the casualties, including Carmi's brother who lost his life to drugs and then cancer, and Carmi's first wife and my mother who died in the same car crash, hit by a drunk driver. There are the sketchy stories like the barely-spoken-about car trip to Oaxaca, Mexico that my mother and Carmi's mother took in 1961, that included a heavy peyote trip.

On Cape Cod with our wonderful partners our biggest decision was whether to swim in the ocean or the pond and what to cook for our nightly feasts. But whether at the pond, the ocean beach, or the dinner table, the six of us sat in a circle of highly charged conversation, with a million questions for each other. We dissected ourselves psychologically, reviewed our respective family systems, and the events that led us into six very different trajectories.

For many around the world, it sounds pretty pedestrian for three friends to share three or four generations of interconnection. I suspect it is a rarity for many urban Americans. In any case, for the six of us, those circles had a sacred quality - woven with history and ghosts, dreams realized and dreams deferred,loyalty and love, wrinkles and spider veins, and the delicious substance that radiates from enduring friendship.

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