The Wild Years: A RePost
N.B.: This is a slightly edited repost from one of my other sites from last year. It’s one of two that give an indication of what it was like to be part of my large, wonderful, sometimes slightly unbalanced family during the period from the late-70’s to mid-80’s. Thanksgiving was my Mom’s day to shine, and since so many of these memories have to do with holidays, I thought it a good idea to hoist it out of my archives. Have a great Thanksgiving, and enjoy your post-meal snoozes, everyone!
Moriah asked me something about growing up. God knows what led me down one particular path. I think it was after Thanksgiving last year, and I told the story – again I was reminded – about the time the chair in which I sat gave way beneath me. I looked up and my sister’s then-boyfriend looked down at me and said, “What are you doing on the floor?” That moment probably would have been less embarrassing if I hadn’t been 16 and there weren’t . . . let me count to make sure . . . twelve people sitting around the table.
It wasn’t just that we were a big family, at least by the standards of most of my friends. It wasn’t just that my siblings were a good deal older than I. It was the age difference, the bigness, and the appearance of friends and boyfriends and of course local extended family and my parents’ friends . . . and for a short season, the world was a lively, interesting , beguiling place. If anyone’s to blame, it’s my oldest sister and her husband. Gregarious and friendly not quite to a fault, their home was open to some of the most interesting, funniest, and just-plain-nicest people you’d want to meet. When my youngest sister was living with them, that circle expanded and cross-pollinated, with my youngest sister dating some of their friends, my oldest sister’s family’s friends becoming friendly with my youngest sister, then getting to know us as we’d visit on occasion. Looking back, I’ve never quite been sure when that very brief wild season began. I know it ended before I was old enough really to get the most out of it.
Best as I can remember, it was a Friday afternoon of my Junior year in high school I came home and there were four people in our house. My youngest sister, her boyfriend, and two other women, friends of my sister. It was something of a rule, I think, that to really associate with our family you had to have a sense of humor. So there was so much laughter. My sister was twenty, her friends probably close to the same age, her boyfriend a few years older. To me, at that time, mid-20’s seemed impossibly grown up. The thing is, though, when they asked what was going on and I told them a home high school football game and that I was in the marching band, they said they’d go.
That was the first time a friend of one of my adult siblings had acknowledged something I was doing and agreed to go. That was the moment I felt like I had moved from being that youngest kid who tags along until given something to do to being a part of that circle of my older siblings. It was huge. The fact that my sister always had the coolest people around her certainly helped.
And then there was that Thanksgiving. All those people. It was absolutely insane in some ways. At the time I don’t remember it feeling overwhelming. At the time, however, I was deep in the throes of . . . what? Trying to figure out how I felt about this girl I kissed? Yeah, that’ll do nicely for an explanation. Like most teens, my emotional world was about whatever happened to blow by at any particular moment. I do remember having a phone conversation with this young woman after school on the last day before Thanksgiving, and my oldest sister’s husband was getting his ass kicked in backgammon by my youngest sister’s boyfriend. I remember her asking why someone was yelling “fuck” a lot in the background. My time with this young woman was brief; the larger setting in which our conversation took place, though . . . that’s forever.
Like I said, my oldest sister and her husband had a large group of friends. All about their age, so mid-to-late 20’s. Impossibly old and so mature. They all worked hard. They loved their kids who are now far older than their parents were 34, 35 years ago. They also enjoyed themselves. This was true of my family no less than any of the others. When they started sharing stories of some of their parties, or just their goings-on, I had the impression that there probably wasn’t anything better in the world than being a part of my sister’s circle of friends. In fact, I was sure of it. To me, this is what “growing up” would be like.
Which is why I still wonder why I blew my first offered opportunity to smoke marijuana. In retrospect, probably the best decision I could have made given the context: Thanksgiving Day, 1981. It was my brother and my youngest sister’s boyfriend. The guy always had good weed, that I knew. Just the three of us were sitting in my parents’ living room. My sister’s boyfriend asked my brother if he wanted to “go for a drive”. My brother said yes. Then, in what was probably the biggest compliment I would receive for a long time, he asked me. I wondered what they were talking about. My brother leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Smoke some pot, stupid.”
I froze. I knew I wanted to experience that . . . some day. It was something that, in that large circle of friends, people did. It wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t believe all the scary crap people still get spoon-fed about marijuana. All the same, all I could think is that Mom and Dad would surely know something was wrong with me* so my best answer was “No”. For the sake of future generations I went with that “No” and the two others left without me. They returned, I don’t know, 20 minutes later, eyes bloodshot, plopping back down in the chairs they’d vacated earlier. They stared at nothing. They were quiet at dinner, except when my chair collapsed.
I titled this post “The Wild Years” because, well, compared to how I’ve lived in the years following, these were wild times. So full of people and laughter and drinks and the occasional toke and of course more laughter. Sitting and shooting the breeze. Sitting and solving the problems of the world. It was during this time my oldest sister’s husband gave me a phrase I have used, slightly edited, twice in my life: “I’m X fucking years old! If I want to go out after work and buy my wife a TV, I will!” So, thanks, Larry. That’s come in handy.
There was something special about those times. They were young. We all were. My oldest sister’s house, and by extension our family home, was occasionally filled to capacity with beautiful, wonderful, funny, smart, people who, because they were young, got the most out of life. You couldn’t help but get caught up in all that. I certainly have no regrets for any of my meager participation (well OK yeah, that one time I drove Pete and Larry to distraction after we’d finished a bottle of Tequila at Pete’s house; sorry about that).
At the same time, I don’t miss any of that. That’s who we all were then. It was a bit wild but God knows we all need a season in our lives to go a bit wild. If I became overly serious later in life, forgot all that or at least tried to deny its importance, well that I’m ashamed of. It was a great, brief, shining moment when it was OK to be young and wild and foolish. Nearing fifty, one daughter in high school, another in college, getting ready to start a lifetime of anti-cholesterol meds, trying to read this through my bifocals . . . I couldn’t go back to that if I wanted to.
I’m so glad I went through it, though. And I’m especially glad I went through it with my siblings. You guys have always been the best.