When I was thirteen years old, I drove a four-wheeler into one of the drainage waterways running through a series of farm fields in Annandale, Minnesota. The fields were behind the Klingelhutz's house, where my Uncle Rick, Auntie Sally, and their three kids lived in a small, cul-de-sac neighborhood; the four-wheeler was theirs. To this day I cannot live that down, and it was one of my Uncle Rick's favorite stories to recount.
I had had very little experience on four-wheelers, or any engine-powered mode of transport--being a thirteen-year-old girl, after all--and Jake, who is my age, gave me a quick lesson before I took off. Jeana, who is a few years younger, held on tight behind me and we took off into the fields, getting a thrill out of the high speeds and quick turns. It ended pretty quickly as I came around a corner of the field; picture one end closed in by high bushes and the adjacent side bordered by a narrow waterway, probably about six feet wide. As soon as I went to turn to drive alongside the water, I realized we were going too fast to turn quickly enough-- we were going to flip or I was going to have to veer dangerously close to the bank. (In retrospect, everyone asked why I didn't use the brake--I can only say that a person without a driver's license and who has all of ten minutes' knowledge on four-wheel usage does not think of such things.) So I chose the lesser of two bad situations, and we dove front-first into the the mucky, dark brown waters, coming instantly to a silent stop. Jeana climbed up on the bank and began to cry a loud, hysterical wail, so that I was quite sure she was injured. But really, that is very much a classic Jeana reaction. I could feel two gigantic bruises surfacing on my thighs, where the handlebars had held me in my seat as we nose-dived, but it was the least of my worries.
Back at the house, Jeana ran to her mom's arms and began to moan that she felt that she was "dreaming." My aunt interpreted this to mean she and I had had in mind a scheme to try to jump the water, making it across into the next field--something she had warned us explicitly not to do. What Jeana meant was that she felt like she was having a nightmare, the kind that give you a cold sweat even on a hot day; her erroneous wording nearly had us both slated for trouble, but I think I earned my punishment in sheer embarrassment and humility. I had to then climb back into the muck and push the four-wheeler out while Jake and his friends begrudgingly pulled from the bank, certainly laughing (at me) while they did. I threw away the powder blue shorts and trusty sneakers I'd had on, as they were both darkest brown, and basked in the family laughter and loving ridicule of my mishap; in the meantime, the engine was dead and would not start back up, and each of my the thighs had its own dark purple stripe.
A decade later, my Uncle Rick laughed about that summer with my dad, just days before he passed away; he loved that story, and he never did fix the four-wheeler, because as soon as he did, he would have less rationale to tease me about it. And while the Klingelhutz kids and the Edens kids are now fully entering their adult lives, my memories of the Annandale house and the times we spent there remain important to me. They sold the house and moved closer to our extended family around the time I started high school, so it's a place that now exists in memories and home videos--which are certainly plentiful, if today impossible to watch (anyone have a VCR?).
I founded and ran the Edens-Klingelhutz Kids Club, or the EKKC, and in my business-like manner gathered all seven of us for "meetings"-- on what, I cannot recall. There was our version of Who's Line Is It Anyway, where we dressed up in clothes from our grandparents' storage closet and performed ridiculous skits in their Michigan garage, all in front of a clunky camcorder. And in the grand tradition of playing "house," we played "Baby Joe," in which Joe, the eldest of us all, played a goofy kid who was scared of "rhino-sissies," and his "parents" and "uncle" and "siblings" trailed after him.
I was thinking about all this tonight, as I watched my cousin Joe, now 25, play bass with the band Banner Pilot at the 529 Club in East Atlanta. My dad went to visit baby Joey and his sister Sally and brother-in-law Rick back in November 1985, when they adopted him and joined him forever to our family and our hearts. His younger brother Jake plays football for Michigan Tech now, and his games are easier for family to attend, and certainly appeal to a wider range of people. So I felt especially joyful to stand there tonight and watch him perform and do what he loves, along with my mom and dad, who drove up from their home a few hours south of town, all of us making sure he knows--in case he forgot--how much we love him.
My dad proudly purchased a t-shirt and donned it right then and there.
The Klingelhutz family is responsible for sharing a lot of love and goofiness with me over the years, and every single member of that family has contributed in some way to both rich family memories and the personality I have today. I admired Joe in the way a younger cousin does; I found in Jake an equal, a friend, and a good laugh; in Jeana, I never had a worry of being judged or criticized for being as silly or as ridiculous as I wanted; in many ways, their parents embodied all these elements, in my mind, as I was growing up. Last month at our mutual cousins' wedding, I was struck again how deeply their family embraces life, laughter, and each others' individual spirits. I am so blessed to have them in my life, and to have the memories they have conferred in my head and heart.