Reunions are funny things. I had two this summer that were very different from each other. One was my 25th (!) High School Reunion and the other was the reunion with family and friends in Lake George, NY.
A lot of my High School reunion seemed to be about how I was presenting myself. It was one night. One dress. One shot at my hair being "right." What image was I going to project?
My niece called me on the day of the party to ask, "Are you walking in alone or are you meeting a friend before? Do you at least have friends holding a seat for you at a table?" I hadn't even thought about these things. I will walk into anywhere by myself. I have never been intimidated by social situations of any kind, and I wasn't this time either. But, how do you sum up 25 years over the course of a few sentences:
I graduated from St. John's with a degree in Communications.
I got married to my college sweetheart.
I worked in radio in NY.
I moved to Ohio and worked in radio there.
I have two children.
I am a stand up comic.
I am a substitute teacher.
Great. What does that really say about me? Am I the same girl they knew from High School or am I changed? You know the answer dear reader, I am both.
My true friends from way back when, they know this. The acquaintances were perhaps intrigued by a couple of the facts and maybe surprised that I wasn't an awkward 16 year old any more. To quote a classmate on my Facebook page, "I have to say, you look great." This is a perfectly lovely compliment that I cannot help but think implies that I am something other than what she expected based on the girl she knew back then.
And that's great. 16 is not fully grown. Not physically, not emotionally. Sometimes I don't think I really came into my own until 20 years later.
Geez, the more I write, the more narcissistic I sound.
The second reunion of the summer - the Lake George/Casale/DiBella/Leo reunion - was easier. Let's spend some real time together. Let's feed each other. Let's meet each other's kids. Let's play cards. Let's be ourselves and laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
You would think there would be a moment of awkwardness or times of stilted formality with people you haven't seen in decades.
You would think that my brother Paul would think twice before bursting into our "cousin" Diane's cabin saying, "Who said something about coffee?" in his typical funny way. No. There isn't a second thought. Instead it's just Diane laughing that laugh she's always laughed as she puts up a pot of espresso. Cabin G (for Graziosi?) quickly became the coffee house all week.
Charlie DiBella has suggested that the whole thing is genetic. Casales love DiBellas and Leos and back and forth and sideways because our fathers love each other. It's on our DNA. Because they are comari - an Italian word that means they are closer than friends - we are all bound. It's scientific! He might be right. It makes as much sense as anything. Thank you Science!
I think about my Dad and the relationships that he has had with Sal and Uncle Frankie since he was 10. How remarkable that is. How rare. And I wonder - What kept these relationships as a constant through his life and ours? What is the tie that binds these men and these families together? And one word comes back: Love.
I love my uncles and aunts and cousins and friends of our family because my parents have. In turn, we, "the kids" are bonded and want to know each other's spouses and children. We don't worry about what we are wearing. This is a true reunion. These are the times where I see my brothers and sisters for who they are. These will be the strongest memories my nieces and nephews will have of me. This is the kind of experience you build on. But you have to continue to make the effort. The vacations of our childhoods have brought us here. In so many ways it's due to my father.
My father. My relationship with my father has gone through many stages. He was my first love. My definition of a man. He was my adversary even as he was the one I tried to please. He was my harshest critic at times and completely in my corner at others. I think I confused him sometimes. I'm not sure I'm what he expected. He yelled a lot and was, it can be argued, unreasonably strict, but he has the softest heart. He worries even as he beams when he sees my children. He puzzles me. I graduated from college and got a medal from the University's President, but when does he tell me he's proud of me? When I pump my own gas at the BP.
But now Daddy is mellow. At 75 he is sometimes not himself. But his love for all of us is always there.
And I wonder what I don't know about him. What has inspired the love and loyalty that his friends convey? Why is it that Sally DiBella tried to explain how he felt about my Dad to Frank's parents and got so choked up that he couldn't speak.
It's back to love again I suppose. Both of my parents have given me the gifts of their families and their friends because they decided to. They loved through the years, over the miles, in spite of the faults. They extended grace because they needed grace. They made the time. The gave in times of need. They held on to the people they loved through trying times and shared each other's joys literally, in sickness and in health.
And years ago my parents said to the family and to their friends, "Come with us to Lake George. It's beautiful. You'll love it. We'll have such a good time."
And we did.
Here are some photos my brother Louis took that I wanted to share. More to come....
Angelo and Diane Graziosi with my Mom. Diane is in her natural state: mid laugh.
My little cousin Cristina, SIL Doreen, Diane and Aunt Maria at our community lunch, lakeside.
Brother Louis, Aunt Maria, Rosemary and Sal DiBella, Dad and Mom
"The Boys" - My brother Louis Casale, Joe DiBella, my brother Paul, Charlie DiBella
Another family lunch poolside. My niece Jessica, Niece Megan, and Frankie. (More on the reunion and the importance of food soon.)
Will post HS reunion pics another time.