Monday, December 3, 2007

Relatively painful

My mind is working overtime these days, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I must have one of those trendy attention deficit disorders, because sometimes there’s so much on my mind it makes my head spin.

Perhaps reminiscing about my family dinner from Saturday night will take my mind off bigger and better things. Somehow I doubt it, but writing this is the equivalent of a cheat sheet. When the next family get together rolls around I can look back on this and remember a few of the factoids I gathered at the 2007 Christmas gathering, as well as the excruciating pain of attending one of these events. I exaggerate, slightly. (Mom called me very cynical.)

This is your final warning: entertainment value of this blog may be rather low.

For 17 years my mother’s extended family has held an annual holiday dinner at a restaurant. There’s a committee of about five people who organize it. Not that it takes five people, but when you have five people to organize the date and location, mail out the invites and collect the payments, nobody has to do any real work.

The family comprises my grandfather, his siblings and all their descendants. That’s a lot of people.

My grandfather was one of 13 brothers and sisters, if I remember correctly. (Each year I try to learn something about my heritage, and although I typically do, I’m not learning much, so even after all these years, I know very little.) My grandfather is the only one still alive, that I know. He just turned 80 this fall. He was younger than most of his siblings. I know he had one younger sister, and I think there was another sibling younger than him.

Regardless, he’s the only one left. Amongst the siblings there have been 38 offspring. That’s an average of just less than three children per sibling. When you factor out the brother who was killed during World War II and the sister who was mildly retarded, that ups the average to nearly 3.5 children per sibling.

Grandpa was awfully busy in his lifetime, from the age of 19 to about 37. He and my grandmother, who died five years ago, had 10 children, all of whom are still alive and live in Minnesota. Of the 38 offspring, my grandfather is responsible for more than 25 percent. He was the man!

Four of the 38 offspring have died, I learned, so there are 34 potential cousins in the pool. For my mom, nine of those 34 are her siblings, so that means she has 24 living cousins on grandpa’s side. Oy! I thought having 12 cousins on mom’s side (11 living) was a lot.

My mom actually gets together with some of her cousins periodically, so these folks aren’t foreign to her. But they’re all Greek to me, except for the fact I see them once or twice a year. I’m starting to learn who a few of them are, not that it gets me anywhere.

My grandfather, being younger than most of his siblings, has nieces and nephews who are close to his age. My mom is the oldest of grandpa’s 10 children, so many of her cousins are younger than her, but some are older. And naturally many of these 34 cousins have children and grandchildren, but the offspring don’t seem to attend. A few do each year, but the annual group is primarily a portion of the 34 living cousins and their spouses. I’m not sure, but I think I was the third youngest person in attendance. So why the hell am I there if nobody else is representing the grandchildren? (One of the two who I think was younger than me may have been a great grandchild of the original 13…she had to be.)

I end up sitting around, talking a bit with my aunts and uncles while pretending to remember people I have allegedly met during previous gatherings. I recognize a few people, actually, but don’t ask me to name them. Yet they all know, somehow, that I’m the newspaper reporter.

I deliberately arrived after the social hour so I didn’t have to engage in chit chat. I sat with my mom, one aunt, three cousins and one spouse of one cousin. (I’m not sure which member of the couple was the cousin, but what does it matter?)

Conversation included discussing my Uncle Bill at the next table. Uncle Bill brought a woman he has been dating for a few months. He met her through the internet, and tales of people meeting people through the internet ensued. My mom, curiously, failed to note that it was the very same internet that led her other son back to Minnesota, and eventually the altar.

Somehow I was roped into this conversation, to which I did my best homage to Homer Simpson? “Do they have this internet on computers now?” I did, however, express mild interest in the concept. “If this internet ever catches on, I’m going to have to look into it.” This was the point where mom dubbed me very cynical.

I think the two female cousins that weren’t with a spouse are single, although I’m not sure. At least one of them is, as the female member of the couple at our table asked one of these other two women if she was a cougar, and then asked if she had heard about cougars and proceeded to explain what the term means. There went my appetite for the $34 dinner I had yet to be served.

I did meet Uncle Bill’s new lady friend. She’s nice, and she use to live in my newspaper coverage area, so she knows the local political players and some of the happenings in my stomping ground. I bet we talked for about 15 minutes, the least painful 15 minutes of my night. And it all happened thanks to this fancy intronet people keep talking about.

I think I’ll be busy setting my hair on fire when this holiday dinner rolls around next December.

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