My sister and the three cousins, Christopher, Michael and Joe III, are out hiking. My cousin Toni is upstairs cooking. She’s already cleaned the celery, made sugar free cookies and is now baking potatoes so they’ll be ready to become part of tomorrow’s breakfast. It wouldn’t be an Italian household if one of the women weren’t in the kitchen at all times.
Her husband Rich is struggling with a recalcitrant screen door that has refused to glide smoothly for over four years. It will either glide smoothly for him or it will be sorry it didn’t.
I sit at my computer surrounded by family and thinking what an odd sensation that is. Usually my house holds my birds, my nervous little dog and me.
The animals are a bit discombobulated by the excitement of the past few days. Such comings and goings as they have never before seen. So many deep male voices; so many pairs of legs for my dog to duck; so many people in the living room at once. It presents an endlessly amusing show for my birds. For my dog, it’s an opportunity to always have a fresh hand available for petting when the current hand gets tired.
Abdul, my African Grey, spins himself in circles trying to be the center of attention. Every word he knows, every sound he can make is brought into play in the hopes of bringing the tide of humanity towards him so that he can be that important.
The first morning the group was here, some got up earlier than me and wandered up to the kitchen for coffee. Abdul sleeps behind a curtain in the living room next to the kitchen. I laid in bed for over half an hour listening to him turn himself inside out to be charming to them. He went through his entire repertoire. He whistled, he sang, he blew kisses. He said good morning and I love you till his voice was sore. Yet no one pulled his curtain back to let him really join the fun.
I finally got up, went into the living room and opened the curtain while asking how hard hearted they would have to be to not have done that themselves when they heard him working his little soul to exhaustion trying to charm them. They all admitted they were apprehensive about doing anything to the birds because I am apparently somewhat scary when it comes to strangers getting near them.
When I first contemplated entertaining this many relatives at once, I must admit I was intimidated. But then, as always, my Alaska family came to the rescue. I don’t know that there are many other places in the world where you make the kind of good friends willing to host you and six of your closest relatives – total strangers to them – for barbecues .
But that’s what my friends did for me. And when you consider that three of the six relatives were young men who gave new meaning to the phrase “hearty appetite”, these friends were volunteering for no small hosting job.
Not only did they open their homes to my family, but they laid out their toys and boats, four wheelers and three wheelers, every amusement they had to offer to delight the little boy in all those men. To say nothing of delighting the little girl that still lives in my sister.
These friends are people with whom I forged friendships in the bush, when we were all far away from where we’d started. We clung to each other for sanity then and we find that the bond we created is just as strong now. It doesn’t matter whether we saw each other last week, last month or last year. Once you’ve spent one winter of Arctic darkness bonding, you’ve created something that little can destroy.
So to Kate and Lenny, Nick and Ben, Lloyd and Carolyn, thanks for hosting my horde. And perhaps even more importantly, thanks for showing them the kind of people with whom I spent 30 years in the bush. It went a long way towards explaining to them why I loved where I lived and why I lived there so long.