The Summer Cottage

"Decor tends to out-of-date calendars, mismatched crockery, paintings of bears in the forest, and lace curtains hanging in doorways to defend against mosquitoes."

 

I read this description several times, in a perfectly-timed National Geographic article about the Russian dacha, which is a fully Russian cultural element, and is basically the little plot of land where a family escapes the drudgery of their urban dwelling during the brief Russian summer. It is a place where gardens are kept, which the article points out was crucial during the days of food shortages, when people relied on these part-time homesteads as sources for food.

 

The dacha has a fascinating history, within Russian culture, as the land that was parceled out to courtiers during the reign of Peter the Great, as the gifts presented to political and cultural elites during Stalin's rule as one mechanism tool to assist in  "keeping writers under control" by keeping an eye on them in one particular neighborhood of dachas outside a city. In the modern age, the McMansion versions owned by nouveau riche Russians, called kottedzhy (cottages), are their own cultural entity, with different meaning and use entirely. And the article points to the changing larger meaning and use of these tiny summer homes, as places of refuge from stark, urban apartment buildings and the bustle of weekday life and work, rather than as pieces essential to survival, and certainly lacking finer amenities like indoor plumbing and electricity. Some full-time dacha dwellers resent the fancier interpretations of their neighbors who come in from the city.

 

I can see the resentment that might lie underneath these tiny cottages and their crop-growing plots of land, and the voices from these dachas make for perfect summer reading. Because, all cultural arguments aside, it made me fully nostalgic and absolutely homesick for the dacha of my own family and childhood.

 

"Everyone in Russia has a dacha story. It may be a trace of childhood memory like playing ball late into evening by grace of a sun that won't set, gathering pine-cones to perfume the samovar fire, or swimming in an icy pond rimmed by green spires of spruce," the article waxes.

 

My aunt and uncle have owned their tiny cottage on Moon Lake in Iron Mountain, Michigan at least as long as my lifetime. It is our automatic location for family picnics and events during the few months of summer weather they get in the Upper Peninsula of the state. A short season means that crescent-shaped Moon Lake, like those Russian bodies of water, never really gets "warm," but it is the most refreshing kind of clean, clear, deep-water northern lake, and I adore it. Various boats haven pulled me and cousins and the occasional friend behind behind it, in inter-tubes, our bodies bouncing and our hands gripped for dear life on the handles, until we give in and disappear behind the wake of our vessels. We played 'King of the Raft" on the old wooden raft my uncle constructed and anchored just offshore, sometimes with so many of us on it that it disappeared below the surface of the water, leaving us standing on the glittering blue-black top of the lake.

 

All the odds and ends of our lake days are stored inside the tiny cottage on the property, which for as long as I've known it has not had any room devoted to actual habitation. There is one bedroom, and it is filled to the ceiling with wetsuits, inter-tubes, water skiis, beach towels, extra clothing, blankets, and floating devices. Each room is filled with the kind of old furniture that has retired from full-time use in primary dwellings, and now resides in the cottage, so each is a relic of the  eras past. The whole place feels like the 1970s, underlined by the dark orange shag carpet with decades of dirt, grass, and beachy foot debris sunken in--but somehow it is still soft and comforting after the chilly outside air and water. Their are several 100-piece puzzles in tiny square boxes, the same ones have been there my entire life, and I always choose the one that is a big bowl of strawberries. This is the only one I even remember, and I loved to sit inside and let my swimsuit dry while I worked on that puzzle.

 

The best thing about these nostalgic bits of their cottage is that my aunt has changednothingsince. That carpet, the strawberry puzzle, the room full of lake supplies, the kitchen and dining room areas strewn with clutter, sale items, assorted kitchenware, piles of cases of pop (not soda, this is the U.P.), the old blow-up doll we used to dress in real clothes, even the apple cinnamon air freshener for the singular little bathroom: the same.

 

This is the place I envisioned in my mind as I read about the Russian dacha; it is the place of a thousand summer memories, of enjoying the short months of warm sunshine, a break from the winter cold. As I got older, obviously, I moved to Georgia, with its own excess of heat. But I remember one summer, when we were back visiting for a few weeks, one aunt remarked that my skin had grown considerably darker there than it was when I had arrived. The Michigan sun was just the right strength, where you can survive outside all day, laying along the dock on your old, faded towel, sitting in the swing beneath the pine trees. This time of year in Georgia, all I really want to do is sit inside, in the air conditioning. Pools are okay, as a source of cooling off, but I never was much of an ocean, saltwater girl. Give me those glorious Michigan lakes any day. And a scoop of Blue Moon ice cream, which only those from the Midwest/Wisconsin/Michigan zone will ever have tried (unless you know someone from the area, who has let you in on the secret).

 

I haven't lived in Michigan since 1998, but every year around this time, I long for the lake, a day or two or three at that cottage, k-bars and sub sandwiches and pop at the picnic table and a visit to that strawberry puzzle. To me, a little cottage on a tiny lake in Upper Michigan is the most ideal summer hideaway I can imagine. I only hope I will continue to have access to a place like that, and the means to get there every now and then. There are plenty of jet-setting locales and beautiful, cultural, otherworldly places I also want to visit, too. But there is something engrained in my being that will always hold clear, Michigan lakes and tiny, cozy cottages as special. It's a lot like the daughter who arrived at her father's dacha in the article:

 

"She travels everywhere," Boris says. "Egypt, Italy, Turkey." This time, Vladislava, who works in advertising in St. Petersburg, had gone to comfortable, orderly Switzerland. But Vladislava had had her fill of Swiss perfection. Now she longed for the familiar warmth of cobbled-together, unruly Nertsy [the dacha community where her father lives]. She sat on the deck of the family dacha and gazed at the calm, green oval of Lake Nertsy. Sunbathers stretched out on half-sunken docks splintered by winter ice. Water lilies floated like tiny yellow coronets. "Lake Geneva," she said airily. "It's just a pond."

 

This is the perfect sentiment to describe the feeling of comfort in a place like this; it goes beyond aesthetic or appearance--in fact, it is a place often filled with kitsch. But it is also a place of memory, of freedom, and of little carefree moments, added up over time.

 

"This is part of our family history" - meaning in the AIDS Memorial Quilt

I want to share with you the meaning behind Parnell Peterson's quilt panel, which is in Block 2744 of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. I have learned so much about Par through his sisters and my mom since I first visited his panel in January, and much of it shall remain in my unpublished writing and memories. However, I think his quilt panel is an extraordinary example of something that occurs on a larger scale within the enormous memorial--the largest piece of folklore in the world--and that is still expanding with new panels submitted every year. (It currently contains over 48,000 panels.) You can look at a hundred quilt panels and see things that look similar to Par's, which is pictured here.

Now I want you to read his sister Margi's description of their process, each piece, and the meaning of it all:

Making Par’s Quilt panel was a wonderful and healing endeavor for all of us – indeed, many of us.  We had sent out a letter, inviting friends and family to make a small square that we could then incorporate into the larger panel.  We got so many, with so many wonderful stories attached that we soon realized that we would have to make a double panel.  The top of the panel symbolizes the Northern Lights, which became our symbol for Parnell, after an amazing and miraculous experience we had with them, the night Par died.  (That is a story in itself, which I will share at another point.)  We had decided to use a tree as a symbol of life continuing, nature, the land that Par loved in his professional life, as well as personally, having grown up in the UP!  The photo we placed in the middle of the upper panel was the inspiration for the whole thing – and then at the last minute, we decided to attach it because it is so beautiful and fit so well.  The inscription, “Your Light Shines On” refers again to the Northern Lights and our belief in his continued presence which lights each of our lives and always will.  We then decided to put all the small squares on the lower panel and to run the roots of the tree down through and amongst them….symbolizing that this is the ground and foundation from which Parnell came, grew, was nurtured, and lived – all these people who were somehow a part of him.  The hands at the bottom of the tree are those of immediate family members, including niece and nephew, protecting the memory and holding it close.  We loved how it turned out!  We each actually have a small photo album of each square and the story that came with it…such love and grace in each one!

There is a stunning amount of meaning put into every, single, thing in this panel. Knowing how much thought went into his, I imagine similar kinds of deep meaning in each quilt panel. It makes me stop, linger, ponder and examine each square that I do see even more closely. What was compelling and inspiring these people, or this person, who loved this other person, who we are now remembering? If even the dyeing of the denim fabric behind Parnell's panel had boundless personal meaning for his family, imagine this same thought multiplied by the number of people memorialized on this Quilt.

The past two Mondays, I have confirmed a few more of these meanings, backstories, which remain so mysterious and anonymous to most people who visit the Quilt on display, or view its panels online. I have been volunteering to offer my small amount of help to the larger effort of bringing the Quilt back to Washington, D.C., where it will be for almost four weeks this summer. The first team departs this week to bring the acres and acres of fabric to the Mall, the Smithsonian, and various other locations in the capital.

My job has been quite extraordinary: check, assign a working panel number, and document each new square that has arrived this year, so that these unfinished panels may also make the journey to Washington and be sewn into the larger Quilt during the ceremonies and viewings. It will be a very active way of sharing the Quilt, having these newest panels sewn in as part of the displays themselves. So I also go through and record any additional things that arrive with the new panel, like a letter, photo, or other momento.

Last week I read a letter from a woman explaining that this panel was made in memory of her mother, who died in 1994 or so. But it was made not by her--it was a surprise from her fiance. It was he that was also going through the sadness; I don't even think he knew her.

Today I read a letter from a mother asking forgiveness for "mistakes" or "imperfections" in her panel, which she submitted in memorium of her son, Scott, who passed away in 1997. "I've never done anything like this," she wrote. It is so interesting to me to read people's unsure, honest thoughts when mailing in something so personal, so much a part of them. Margi, Parnell's sister, said actually handing over Par's quilt panel, after all that work, was much more difficult that she anticipated. Almost like giving up a piece of Par himself, some of that closeness and memory.

It makes me smile, as I cannot imagine anything that would be similar to submitting a panel to the AIDS Quilt; of course this is new territory. But she described the lovely details she incorporated into her son's panel: dark denim and light denim from the pants of his older and younger brother; velour from his niece's jacket, and a patterned piece of his maternal grandmother's blouse. Once I opened up the panel to see, I was struck by her use of the bits -- not as a random assortment, but as mountains in the landscape she created for him out of fabric--he was also a lover of nature. Again, I am struck by the meaning behind some simple stitched mountains.

Another of my favorites, steeped in meaning and yet so simple, is the family who submitted several squares for individuals in their family who have been taken by HIV/AIDS, and this other panel to accompany them all in the Quilt. "This is part of our family history," it says simply.

This is absolutely so. I hear a lot of family histories in my work at the National Archives. Every other person has a family tree to rattle off to me, a Native American chief ancestor, and several on the Mayflower. HIV/AIDS is such a significant part of human history, and it is now part of the family histories of so many.

"Life in the Age of AIDS is the Story of Us All."

This is the adage that hangs printed in the front offices of the NAMES Project Foundation, the headquarters and keepers of the AIDS Quilt. This sentiment speaks so much truth, and relates exactly to that family's panel, an actualization of their grief, and their insistence on making sure this remains a part of their story. Because we all own it.

I cried only once during 5 hours of processing new panels. I opened one up, unfolded it gently on the table, and pictures of a young man stared back at me. I read his lifespan: January 5, 1987 to September 11, 2010. He is, he was, my age. He was lost to AIDS at the age of twenty-three. How does this still happen? I felt outrage, sadness, shock, anger, thinking we were at least more equipped to handle HIV in the 21st century. But Ricardo did not survive it. This is why the Quilt is still important; and it is not a problem existing only far away from us, in Africa or in the 1980s. We are not immune in the United States and it is crucial that young people have the information they need. Seeing Ricardo's square was a reminder, a wake-up call that this is not an abstract health crisis. He died, and he was my age.

What are the words to properly explain this, to come to terms with it, to understand? I can only keep offering my time, skills, and love to a cause.

 

Visiting the AIDS Memorial Quilt

The squares are bigger than you could even imagine. They command the room, the space. What a powerful source of memory, of honoring those who we have lost to AIDS.

As I have written about a few times already , I have been exploring the many squares on the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and have been remembering especially two men who were important to my Mom, to our community, and to my perception and experience with the death tolls from AIDS. Almost as soon as I learned, via their website, that the Quilt is stored and the foundation headquartered here in Atlanta, I called, left a message, and asked to visit--especially to see the two squares I had been pouring over, Craig's and Parnell's.

Richie, a veteran of the NAMES Project Foundation, called me back after the MLK holiday weekend, and I planned a visit for today. This morning I spent some time crying, touching the quilt, reading the many lovely words, poems, thoughts contributed to each of their squares, and learned more about these two men via the wonderful memorial that this Quilt provides. It provides a way to remember, in a very communal and large-scale way, yet allowing for quite private and personal time with those who are being remembered. Richie pulled up the information on these two squares, 2744 (Parnell's) and 5508 (Craig's), so I could see where they had traveled, where they had been requested, and where and when they were each on display.

I learned that the demographic who has been contributing the most new squares--they receive on average about 400 new squares each year--are nieces. Girls my age, who have memories, however clear or unclear, of their uncles who died while we were young, and who have now reached the age in which remembering them properly has been an important part of grieving, or becoming an adult, of understanding how this illness has devastated families. I am exactly that generation, that demographic, though I have to consider myself an honorary niece only.

I made a donation in honor of my parents, who have been caring, compassionate examples for my brothers and me, and in honor of Craig and Parnell, obviously, and for each of their families. The wonderful (small) staff gave me a book of some quilt squares, and a calendar I have already poured over several times. I felt so welcomed, and depending on how much longer I am in Atlanta, I want to help quilt squares together as they need me. Seeing a modest and hard-working organization and staff like that also reminds me that I am in the right field; non-profits, working to educate and engage the public, and ensuring that life has been well-spent by taking care of the issues that matter most.

Take a moment to drink in how enormous each panel of this quilt is. Each square is intentionally 3 feet by 6 feet, about the size of a human grave. I was not prepared for the commanding presence, and for how much more meaningful seeing each component up-close truly is.

Adoption series: Jim & Kristen Weathersby, and adopting from Guatemala

Click below to here just a snippet of the experience the Weathersby family had bringing their daughter Katie into their hearts and home. [audio:http://betheink.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Adoption-and-Guatemala.mp3|titles=Adoption and Guatemala]

**Please note** This is a rough-cut, sample pilot episode, constructed in a very short period of time, so as to exhibit some sample content for my HIST 7040 final project. This will not be the only piece on the Weathersby family, nor does it begin to cover entirely the many things we discussed in recording their experience. Over the summer, I intend to build more of the components of this project, including its own web site, a working title for the project, and an intro for each podcast episode. Please forgive the brevity of what I have now.

 

Podcast pilot episode: transcript

Jim and Kristen Weathersby on adopting their daughter Katie

Jim and Kristen Weathersby adopted their daughter Katie from Guatemala in 2008, bringing her home at the ripe age of seven months and one week old. In the case of their international adoption experience, the timing was everything, as, by the time they had invested over a year in the process, a legal complication between the United States and Guatemala immediately halted what had formerly been a popular program for Americans adopting abroad.

The Weathersbys had wanted at least one child and, after a long and morally challenging trek down the fertility path, determined they wanted to adopt. The nature of international adoption appealed to them over the domestic option, and Guatemala offered a short wait time upon submitting an application—about six to twelve months, relative to countries like China—which can run upwards of two years. For Jim and Kristen, their age was also a factor, and Guatemala was one nation that did allowed couples over thirty-eight to adopt infant children, rather than an older child.

The couple began the application process—itself reams and reams of paper, red tape, and bureaucracy—in December of 2006. Katie was born August 23, 2007. A few weeks later, after months of waiting, they got word that they had a daughter.

 

Kristen: In September, they said OK, we have a child. And they sent us a videotape, and a bunch of pictures of Katie at seven days old.

While the initial U.S. side of the adoption was behind them, they now embarked upon completing the requirements for the Guatemalan end of the process. They soon realized, with events that were taking place on the global stage, that they were about to be caught up in an international event.

Kristen: So the first half was the U.S. side of the adoption. From September on was the Guatemalan side of the adoption. And so at that time, the laws have changed since then, but since that time, there was a whole slew of government agencies that you had to get through and approvals you had to get through. And then they announced, mostly because the United States government insisted, there’s a Hague Treaty that involves our—the United States’ relationship with other countries and adoption, and it has more than adoption, but it also involves adoption. And, we were non-compliant.

 

Jim: The United States.

 

Kristen: The United States was non-compliant. Because one of the requirements of the United States, the Hague Treaty is, to do adoptions internationally, you can only do with other countries—with countries that control the adoptions centrally from a government, ok?

 

Jessie: I see.

 

Kristen: Now, Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Central America, and they have an incredibly poor and corrupt government. So to bring a governmental agency into it is, I could talk for days about that. But, at the time that we did it, it was still a private process.

When the Hague Treaty violation rose to the surface of international relations, the long-successful connection between adoptive families in the U.S. and orphan children in Guatemala was abruptly halted. For months after getting those first photos and video footage of their daughter, the Weathersbys did not know if they would be allowed permission to go and get her before the tiny window that remained open was shuttered entirely. As it turns out, they made it through with only days to spare, in the last weeks of 2007.

 

Kristen: So we got in December sixteenth, they closed on December thirty-first. December fifteenth.

 

Jim: Yeah. Fifteenth or sixteenth. Yeah but still.

 

Kristen: They closed on the—we were told at that point in time, that, on December fifteenth-ish, that it may be August, July or August, before we were going to get her, even though it had closed, so we were preparing for that.

I spoke with the Weathersbys about the reaction they received during their two visits to Guatemala, and some of the perceptions of adoption that existed in the country at that time, in 2007 and 2008—partially as a result of very same governmental trouble that had almost left them waiting months, or even years, to bring Katie home.

 

Jessie: What were some of the responses, did you, I don’t know how long you were in Guatemala, but, um, you [Jim] were kind of saying before that there was this sort of—

 

Kristen:  Guatemala is a tough country. Um, they aren’t one hundred percent—OK. Guatemala as a culture only has two classes, lower class and upper class [indicated with hands]. And um, lower class typically is the native population, the Mayans, and, uh, the twain don’t meet, very much. So, they don’t adopt. Their culture does not, you will not find a upper-class family adopting a Mayan kid, that doesn’t happen. So, at some point in time, there was, there’s plenty of rhetoric, especially as they were changing the laws and going through the change from—

 

So I don’t know of we did this, let me back up. So, PGN is the, was the part that you had to get through, to know that you were going to get to adopt.

 

Jim: The equivalent of their attorney general’s office.

 

Kristen: Under the old laws. And you had until December 31st [2007]. If you made it through PGN by December 31st, you would officially have adopted your child and you could—otherwise you had to start all over again, your adoption, and all that process that you’d gone through for the last year meant nothing. And you had to go restart under the new laws. Well they, after that, they closed for a whole year. So even the restarting process, you couldn’t do for a whole year, because they had to figure out how to have the infrastructure of an adoption program—

 

Jim: From nothing—

 

Kristen: From nothing. With no money. Zero money. And a corrupt government. So, part of the rhetoric during this whole process was that Americans were stealing babies. That rich Americans came down and they stole all the children. So there was this assumption, um, that everyone was down there stealing babies. It’s already—one of my, my former head of security was with the secret service, and he was stationed in Guatemala for seven years—it’s already, like adoption, no adoption—it’s a gun state. You have any money down there, you have a bodyguard. Locals have a bodyguard. We stayed in the nicest section of Guatemala city, and the restaurant next to our hotel had been sprayed with gunfire. Um, because there had been an attempted robbery, right there. The Intercontinental Hotel, there were armed—like rifle-armed—armed guards posted all the way across the sidewalk. You know, we, because we were adopting, were taught, kind of, to fear. Now I have friends who go to Guatemala on vacation and they’re not afraid, and that’s not—but, there was this kind of, culture of—

 

Jessie: With the connotation.

 

Jim: They told us not to leave the hotel, basically.

 

Kristen: Mm-hmm. And when we did leave—

 

Jessie: That was because of the changing... ?

 

Kristen: Well one thing, you’re assumed as Americans to have a lot of money.

 

Jessie: That’s true.

 

Kristen: You’re assumed to be stealing a baby. So, we had armed guards pretty much with us at all times.

Katie’s adoption story, and the experience with international politics within that story, highlights one of the many complications involved in adopting across national borders.  Cultural perceptions affect the host country’s citizens’ willingness to adopt, which means some cultures, like Guatemala’s, are left with larger numbers of orphaned children who will not be adopted in their country of origin. For Jim and Kristen, this opened up the world to them, as their daughter is the admitted light of their lives.

Jim: You know, I mean, it was a long process, but in the end, and I’m not, I’m not the first one to say this, because I’ve heard several people do this already who did the same thing—it’s well worth it. I mean, it definitely well worth it. Um, she, you know, she’s just the light of our life.

 

A break from the regular, for a personal reminiscence: my Klingelhutz family

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.