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Family Matters: On Life’s Vicissitudes

Into each life, some rain must fall. But not into ours. Our lives are where the garbage is delivered. — Jenny

Today (June 10) is Jenny’s birthday.  And so I repost this, in her honor, and that of the occasion.

Ever have one of those days, weeks, months, years, decades, when it seems as though almost nothing is going right? When the odds seem stacked against you? When, no matter how much joy the Divine Hash-Slinger seems to be shoveling out to others, everything that comes your way looks and tastes like a leftover shit sandwich?

My family is on its fourth one of those. Fourth decade, I mean.

Oh, there have been exceptions. The one I’ll mention here is the one I always do: the birth of the world’s most beautiful, intelligent, and loving granddaughter. You changed me, little one, and you continue to amaze and enrich us all every day. I can’t wait to see what you make of your life. God Bless.

Fortunately, as it turns out, most of my family is easily pleased and entertained. It doesn’t take all that much to delight us. We find joy in simple things, in each other, in the beauty of the world, the sunrise, the first flower of spring, the fall of the leaves in autumn, the birth of the lambs in the new year, and especially in the people who share our lives, our family, extended family, and friends.

But, gosh, sometimes it’s hard.

And that’s when you need someone with whom to share your (rare) ups and your (sometimes overwhelming) downs.

Which brings me to Jenny.

Jenny is my stepdaughter. I first met her when she was eight. Had Peter Jackson been introduced to her in 1978, he’d immediately have cast her as an elf-child in a Hobbit movie. She fit the bill exactly–tall, lanky, elfin and mischievous. Without the pointy ears, though. He’d have had to add those on. Which, I guess, they do. I understand not everything you see on the movie screen is actually real.  Who knew????!!!

Truth be told, though, Jenny wasn’t terribly pleased with me when we first met. Her parents were divorced, and she wasn’t really down with the idea of a stepmother. There were some rough times on all sides in those first few years, and the breaches didn’t begin to heal until 1981 when Jenny’s brother Michael suffered a catastrophic head injury. Suddenly, we found, all our grievances, hurts and grudges didn’t matter a hill of beans, and we made common cause for Michael. (Looking back on it now, I’m so sorry that’s what it took. Long story. For another time, if ever. And certainly an object lesson in priorities, pride, and foolishness, which I have tried to heed, ever since.)

Subsequently, our little family began to mend. In 1984, Jenny’s mother made an extraordinarily brave and generous gesture, and she sent her then 13-year-old and only daughter off to England alone with her wicked stepmother for two weeks. We had a marvelous time, visited most of the usual tourist traps (Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Stratford-on-Avon, etc.), and even spent some time with my rather eccentric and bombastic family along the way (which started the healing of another family breach. That one took fifteen more years to sort out fully, but we got there in the end).

In the decades since, Jenny has grown into a beautiful, extraordinarily smart, generous, and loving woman (not to mention the world’s greatest mom), and she and I have been through a lot, both together and individually. Our strong faith has been sorely tested. I don’t think it’s too much to say that many would have been crushed by some of our experiences. Certainly, many would have turned cynical and bitter. Some might have given up altogether. Not us. We’ve picked each other up, pulled each other through, prayed each other on, and we’re still picking and pulling and praying. She’s a gift from God, and one of the reasons I always check those ‘leftover sandwiches’ pretty thoroughly–often, I find salvation where I least expect it, and I don’t want to miss any if it’s on offer, no matter how unprepossessing the delivery vehicle seems at first glance.

If there’s an impression of Jenny I want to impart today, though, it’s of her wicked, wicked sense of humor. Perhaps because I’m not sure we’d have survived if we didn’t both share one. Yes. Our lives are where the garbage is delivered. When she said that to me some time ago, in relation to another unbelievably awful circumstance, I laughed until I cried. It felt good. And it’s true. So true. So apt. So funny. So Jenny.

Speaking of funny, one of my treasured bits of memorabilia from Jenny (there are many, some of which, I’m sure, she would not appreciate my sharing with you) is an email she sent to a group of ladies, not all of whom knew each other, embarking on a trip to Venice in 2003. The trip was organized (and I do mean organized) by my sister, who asked each of us to write a short “blurb” introducing ourselves, and to email it to the group as an introductory measure. Jenny and I (non-conformists both) decided to write our blurbs about each other, and this is what she wrote about me:

Please allow me to recommend RWKJ as a highly qualified candidate for traveling companion. Traveling companions must be flexible, easy-going, and open to new ideas.

RWKJ is very flexible. I have seen this many times as RWKJ slid halfway down her own icy hillside as she was trying to feed several of her livestock in the dead of winter, while wearing pajamas and slippers.

RWKJ is also easy-going. Several times when we have traveled together, RWKJ has found it very easy to go the wrong direction, which is how we have happened to meet so many nice people in the world. It’s also why I carry a bottle of whiskey in my purse.

The whiskey is clearly why we’re both so open to new things. Especially to new bottles of whiskey. What was the question?

Furthermore, and in closing, I have only two more things to say. One, RWKJ is married to Dad. That means she needs a vacation. Someone should go with her. She needs it.

Also, RWKJ puts up with me and sometimes writes letters from the personae of some of her pet bunnies. What could be better than having a travelling companion who, while lost someplace with you, will share a nice stiff drink and then help you write postcards home in the voice of a cantankerous rabbit with tooth problems? Now that’s a great time. And certainly memorable. Isn’t that what everyone wants from their trip?

Well, there you have it.

And, so you do.

I am lucky. There is grace in my life.

And her name is Jenny.

Happy Birthday to you.

Thanks, kid, for covering my six, no matter what, and no matter who.

FTR, I got yours, too.  Now and always.

Here’s the song that has, pretty much, encapsulated my view of life for the past fifty years.  I’m not sure I want to know you, if it doesn’t bring a smile to your face:

Who’s with me?

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