My nephew predictably had waited until Sunday afternoon to notify me that he was hosting a birthday dinner for his twelve-year-old daughter and her fourteen-year-old brother on Tuesday evening at the retirement home where their grandfather resides. I didn’t feel slighted. Members of my small, odd family tend to operate on such an ad hoc basis. His late notice might have meant I would have to scramble to secure gifts for them, but, fortunately, during our call my nephew spoon-fed me a few ideas based on their respective wish lists.
We were to meet at 7:00 p.m. on the top floor of my nephew’s father’s high-rise building, which overlooks the lakefront and gleaming city center. It can be agonizingly slow to catch an elevator in this building as the senior residents tend to move at a snail’s pace through no fault of their own. I am sympathetic, of course, as my own body begins to feel the ravages, aches, pains, and assorted infirmities caused by age.
However, on this night my journey from the lobby to the top floor is easy. At 7:00 p.m. the place is like a ghost town. I assume many residents have already retired for the night.
Upon entering the building lobby, I recall that today is not my great-niece’s actual birthday, which falls later this week. On my way upstairs I make a mental note that my great-nephew’s birthday was nearly two months ago. I consider asking my nephew why we’re gathering tonight but don’t because I feel sure there is no compelling reason for the decision.
I am the last guest to arrive. In addition to my nephew and the kids, already gathered are his ex-wife and ex-mother-in-law, his father, and his older brother. Missing is my nephew’s live-in girlfriend.
I observe that the ex-mother-in-law is seated at one end of the long table, removed from the other adults in the room, appearing flat and silent, as always. At the other end of the table, I grab the last available chair, which happens to be next to my brother-in-law. I wonder whether this is by design and if this means I’ve at last been relegated to the old folks’ table. If so, then at least I am fortunate that my brother-in-law, despite being more than ninety-six years old, remains mentally sharp and largely physically intact, except for the fact he is deaf as a post.
I keep my conversation limited to the folks in the middle. My nephew’s ex-wife and I converse about her interesting new job as a registered nurse with the Board of Health, but she seems far more interested in telling me about her son’s near-perfect test scores, which, she proudly explains, qualify him to select from among the top three or four high schools in the entire City next year when he will be a freshman. I am told the lad is still mulling his options, but my impression is that he won’t get the last word on the subject.
I enjoy chatting with my two nephews. Alan, the “creative” nephew, enjoys engaging with me in witty repartee’. On this occasion, he regales me with stories from his latest spiritual retreat, involving the use of psychedelics under the spiritual guidance of a “well-known” South American shaman. His brother, Kevin, tonight’s ostensible host, is the grounded and eclectic brother. He is a computer whiz, who, in addition to possessing several different professional licenses, runs marathons and trains triathletes across the country. Alan takes after my sister while Kevin is more like their father.
And what of the two birthday celebrants? Between the meal and cake, they quickly retreat from the table to snipe at and generally annoy each other, and to avoid the adults.
Just a standard occasion with my small, odd family.