Never had a large family, and over the years it has dwindled. The husband has a large family, and they have kindly adopted me as one of their own, so it hasn’t trouble me too much. I have a sister in Mississippi, a father somewhere in Texas, probably extended relatives out there somewhere. It has its advantages, like never having to juggle two families at the holidays. But as the years has passed, I’ve missed having family of my own.
My closest relatives were my grandparents. My Nanna and Pop-Pop deserve a book of their own. They raised my until I was six years old, and played a central role in my life, well, all through my life. They’ve been gone a long time now. Still miss them. Pop-Pop was one of five brothers, all raised in Pennsylvania, sons of a policeman who became one of the biggest bootleggers in Philadelphia during Prohibition. Irishmen all, true Lindsays, with fair hair and skin smooth as milk when they were young men, then ruddy as they aged. I have it, too; pink arms covered in faded freckles. Not loud freckles like a readhead; subtle, like links of sweet Italian sausage in the casing, ready for the frying pan. Pop-Pop’s arms, hands, fingers all had that look, and his brothers had it, too. They looked like brothers, all cut from the same cloth, alike but different from everyone else.
They had other things in common. A laugh I loved to hear, a similar way of speaking. Pop-Pop had a wonderful voice, as did his brothers. Gentle Philly accent, low register, a texture that was so smooth but not at all slick. No one else sounds like that.
In 1976, I was 11 years old. Nanna and Pop-Pop took me to up to Philadelphia for the Bicentennial, and to see his family. I met uncles and aunts and cousins-once-removed, and experienced a sense of family I had never known before. It was so comforting to sit around on the patio, listening to them tell stories of their youth and their adventures. I come from somewhere, I thought. There is more to my family than the small, quarreling outpost in Mississippi.
July 4th we spent at the home of Pop-Pop’s nephew, Bobby. He and his wife, Mary Alice, had a gorgeous historical home with a wraparound porch. The railing were spread with red, white and blue bunting, and similar crepe paper wound around every porch railing. The house was filled with friends and relatives, cooking, talking, cleaning, carrying plates in and out. Overwhelmed, I went upstairs to use the bathroom. I stuck my head into the open door of a guest bedroom. The afternoon sun glowed through the window. The room was simply furnished with an antique bed, dresser, perhaps a small side table and rocking chair. On the dresser there was a pair of Ben Franklin-style spectacles lying on an open book from a similar time. I could hear the distant, happy din of the party downstairs, but in the room it was quiet. It was the most calm, tidy, lovely room I had ever seen. Nanna’s house was always clean and homey, of course, but this was something else. Someone has put thought into this room, composed it, created a haven. It was so completely different from Nan’s house. I knew then how I wanted my life to be.
The person responsible for that room was Bobby’s wife, Mary Alice. She had married into the the Lindsay clan but she might as well have been one of them with her blonde hair, rosy cheeks and laugh that pulled you right along with it. She was her own person, though. More upbeat and bubbly than the deadpan Lindsay style, she was a terrific foil for Bobby, who was very much a Lindsay himself. I liked her immediately. She was a teacher, and while some people there thought of me only as Harry and Peg’s granddaughter (to be clear, an honor that suited me just fine), Mary Alice thought of me as Ann, as a person in my own right, in a way that only people who spend a lot of time with kids can. She was enthusiastic but not in superficial way, and she changed my life that day.
The party was one for the ages. People played horseshoes on the lawn, ate and drank and laughed. Women crowded the kitchen, with its high ceiling and plush appliances. At dusk we all walked over to a neighborhood park to watch the fireworks. There was a little brass band playing Sousa marches, blankets and folding chairs on the grass, kids with sparklers. There, surrounded by relatives, watching Nanna and Pop-Pop so happy and in their element, I was as happy and safe as I have ever felt in my life. Everything was so beautiful. It was like something out of a Sunset magazine or Martha Stewart Living spread, long before Martha. It was the genuine article. And it forged a vision for me of what life could be. In a way, everything I’ve done since then was to get myself back to that place, to make it my own, to make it permanent. It was a beacon for many, many years.
Mary Alice, too, made a tremendous impression on me. She paid attention to me, talked to me, showed an interest. Maybe she was just being a teacher, a good hostess, a fine person, but it, too, made a lasting impact. She read something I wrote, and she told me I could write. I hadn’t thought of myself as a writer, per se, until she said that. Her words crystallized that idea in my mind, though. I was not a writer when I went up to Philadelphia, but I was one when I got back. It helped me define myself. Mary Alice says I can write, so I can. It wasn’t that she bestowed any talent on me; she recognized something, pointed it out, and brought it to my attention. In doing that, she gave me a real gift. I began to think of myself as a writer, to work toward that goal, and now it is the most valuable skill I have to offer. That trip, and my friendship with Bobby and Mary Alice, was quite literally a life-changing experience for me.
I never got back up there, though. As I got a little older I became more absorbed in my own selfish life, and Nanna and Pop-Pop went without me. Because I was young, and they were the keepers of the family flame, and because I assumed they were going to live forever, I never much worried about keeping in touch with Bob and Mary Alice. But they didn’t live forever. And when they were gone, I completely lost touch with that part of my family. A great loss, indeed.
But that’s not what I’m here to tell you about.
Somehow we got back in touch a few years back. Since then it’s been Christmas cards, the occasional phone call, all thrilling. But earlier this month they wrote to say they were spending the winter in Nevada, just a few hours from where we live in Utah. Joy! I replied and offered to drive down and visit. But they beat me to the punch. They drove up to Salt Lake City a couple of weeks ago, and I got to see them for the first time in 33 years.
They were staying at the Staybridge Suites on Main Street, and I met them at their hotel. Standing in the lobby, I was nervous. What if it was weird? What if there was nothing to talk about? What if they didn’t even recognize me? Then I saw them. I’d have recognized them anywhere. Mary Alice looked exactly the same, and Bob, a bit older now, looked every inch a Lindsay. Mary Alice immediate ran over to me, gave me a big laughing hug, took my face in her hands and psaid something I was unprepared for: “You look just like Peg!!” Peg. Nanna. Nobody ever told me that because no one in my life knew us both. I’m bawling just writing about it now. It was the very best thing she could have said.
Then Bob was there, giving me the biggest, best bear hug. And I’m not gonna lie, I know them and love them for who they are, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was seeing Nanna and Pop-Pop again. It was like they were there. I don’t know how I held it together. I guess it was just the joy of seeing them again. The joy of having family.
I needn’t have worried. We had a long, lovely dinner, never stopped talking, and just barely scratched the surface. They spent two wonderful days touring the city and visiting with Ed, the kids, and me. The kids, grandparent-deprived as they are, were thrilled to pieces to meet them. They came over to visit and I made Nanna’s sticky bun recipe and showed them dozens of family pictures they hadn’t seen before. Ed was a prince and scanned them all, so they could leave with high-res copies they can share with the family back east. Family I hope to meet someday soon.
The most astonishing part to me was how easily we all fell back in together. Mary Alice was such a delight to be around, with the same infectious enthusiasm I remembered, The woman is like bottled sunshine. And Bob and I had a great time trading quips, just like Pop-Pop and his brothers used to do. He has a sly, sharp sense of humor that was totally familiar to me, and that I love. And he looks like a Lindsay—same face, voice, mannerisms, accent. And just like 33 years before, it was deeply comforting. I come from somewhere, I thought again. There is more to my family. I am truly blessed.
So thank you, Bob and Mary Alice, for all you have given me. I resolve to do a better job staying in touch in the next 33 years that I have in the last. I love you both very much.