my mother's twin visits the cabin
Saturday, August 13 2022
location: 800 feet west of Woodworth Lake, Fulton County, NY
We had our usual Saturday morning cabin routine with Spelling Bee, coffee, and various snacks (I mostly ate toast). Meanwhile, my cousin Deidre had set out from Woodbury, Connecticut with her mother Barbara (my mother's fraternal twin sister) and Deidre's brother Kent, and she was sending me updates from the road, beginning with Amsterdam. And then they arrived in a late-model Subaru driven by my cousin Kent. As Gretchen is quick to mention, mental problems are widespread in my family, and when this isn't manifesting as outright craziness, the symptoms include social awkwardness or even inappropriateness. So I was little surprised when my cousin Deidre immediately offered a hug. So it was hugs all around. (When I was a kid, hugging definitely wasn't much of a thing in my family or with the people in their small social network.) I was pleased that things had started with so little awkwardness. We all went inside, carrying the various bags that our guests had brought. This included a dufflebag with the pill bottles containing medications to hold Kent's schizophrenia at bay. Deidre had also asked if I wanted anything from Cosco, so she had a bag of groceries I thought might be helpful for keeping everyone fed this weekend.
Gretchen quickly put out the makings for lunch that included a big tub of chickpea salad, the kind that tastes a lot like white trash chicken salad. As we ate, most of the discussion was between Deidre and Gretchen about their many overseas experiences. Gretchen's mostly relate to her father's overseas health policy and medical assignments, whereas Deidre had worked as a teacher in various places like Ecuador and Pakistan, though of course in the past two decades Gretchen and I have traveled extensively just as tourists.
After lunch, the five of us humans (as well as the two dogs) walked down to our dock on the lake. My Aunt Barbara, who is 85 years old, had no trouble until we hit a steep section of trail just above the dock area. She lost her balance and fell on her ass, but the ground she happened to land on was a soft mix of soil, roots, and leaves, and she was completely fine. After that, though, I was more careful to make sure this wouldn't happen a second time.
Just because it's a wonderful place for doing nothing, we all sat around for awhile on the dock, all five of us and the dogs. I don't know what all of us weigh, but our mass was enough to press the dock's floats a good six or eight inches deeper into the lake so that the wooden structure it supported was only a couple inches above the water surface.
One of the first things I did at the dock was go fetch the canoe from where we store it (upside-down near the tree dock) and paddle it over to everyone on the floating dock. Ramona immediately jumped aboard, and then my aunt Barbara decided she wanted to join me too. She managed to get onboard almost by herself and then, because she was facing the wrong way, she managed to turn around all by herself (though it felt like we might capsize at one point as she did so). I then paddled us out into the outlet bay, explaining as we went various things about the lake, the beavers, and the home owners' association. Considering that Barbara is losing her hearing, doesn't wear a hearing aid, and was facing away from me (so couldn't read my lips), she followed what I was saying very well, and asked much better questions in response than my mother would've asked even in the years before dementia set in. The main consequence of Barbara's reduced ability to hear was her tendency to talk too quietly herself, which I had trouble following over the splashing of my paddle.
Meanwhile Gretchen and Deidre had jumped into the lake. Gretchen did her usual long swim, which was out to Pyotr's swimming platform (1300 feet away) and back, whereas Deidre just swam around near the dock. After offloading Ramona and Barbara, I docked the boat and then got onto an innertube, crouching on it face-down because I couldn't immediately commit to putting much of my body in the water with the air so relatively cool. Eventually, though, I was able to sit in it conventionally and paddle around near the dock like I like to do, chatting with my relatives about various things as I did so. Barbara had some long rambling story about my cousin Tom, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, and whom I haven't seen since the 1970s. Apparently the evident work that went into my dock was reminding her of Tom's construction business and how he has to figure out how to put houses on the sides of steep mountains and such. At some point Deidre asked about the "guy who'd been living with you." So I told her all about Powerful, starting with the crime that led to him being tried as an adult and serving a 25 year prison sentence.
When Gretchen returned from her swim, most of the conversation was between her and Deidre and covered such topics as unexpected very high medical bills. Gretchen suggested simply not playing such bills. Sure, one's credit rating will take a hit. But not, as it happens, a very bad one. Gretchen then detailed the time she refused to pay the multi-thousand part of an ambulance bill not covered by insurance. It went to collections and then it went away. Of course, it helps that we haven't needed a loan even once in the five years since then (although we easily obtained an auto loan that we only got because of a discount that came with it and then immediately paid off).
I was comfy so long as I was in the water, but once I got out, my wet clothing began cooling me down below a comfortable temperature. I broke away from the others and worked a little at adding sand and gravel between the gaps in the stone steps leading down into the lake, which was at its lowest level ever.
Gretchen was having issues with her bowels, so she returned to the cabin separately. Not wanting to head back on a steep trail out of concern for Barbara, I decided to lead the others on a rather long path home. I took us all along the shoreline to the northwest corner of the lake, taking Barbara's hand in multiple tricky spots so she wouldn't fall. And then I led us up the switchback path through the granite cliffs and then, eventually, back to the cabin. It's a fairly long walk, but Barbara didn't have trouble except for the occasional steep parts.
Back at the cabin, we all went out on the deck, Gretchen put out some crackers and vegan cheese and Deidre opened a bottle of red wine ("vegan wine," she assured us), though only Barbara, Deidre, and I drank that. Not long thereafter, Gretchen went inside to begin preparing dinner (which would be based around the chili I'd made the other day) and Deidre was with her. I could hear Gretchen telling her the story of how we met back in college and how our friendship had gone on hiatus for twelve years. Presumably she then told the part about how we'd reconnected as well. Then I heard fragments of a story Deidre was telling about the last time she'd seen me, which would've been fall break of 1988 (coincidentally during the brief first segment of my friendship with Gretchen). During that fall break, I'd gone with a group of fellow Oberlin students that included a good friend named Susan B. and a number of others to Susan's parents' house in New Haven. While on this trip, we picked up my actual girlfriend at the time, Lisa J. P., from her parents' place in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and eventually Lisa and I went on a side trip to visit my cousin Deidre somewhere up I-91 (it might've been as far as Springfield, Massachusetts). At the time, Deirdre was in her mid 20s and in a relationship with Dave, a much older man (at the time I remember him being something like 45). At some point when we were hanging out, I made the faux pas of referring to Dave as "middle-aged," to Lisa's immediate horror. It's one of those cringe-inducing memories that will always haunt me, because it was so inappropriate. But I was 20 and raised by housecats; I didn't know any better. Anyway, tonight as Gretchen prepared dinner, I could hear Deidre saying something about how I'd called Dave "old," which is not what I'd said, but that was definitely the implication, coming as it did from a pimply college sophomore. I could then hear Gretchen's horrified reaction. All these years later, Deidre is still married to Dave, though now she's saying he's 75, which can't be right if he was 45 in 1988, 34 years ago.
Meanwhile out on the deck, Deidre had given me a poster she'd made of my grandfather Clarence DeMar winning his last Boston Marathon in 1930. Barbara then went on at great length about Clarence's humble origins in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was named George Washington and he died during Clarence's childhood, leaving his mother Caro (a Canadian orphan of uncertain ancestry) destitute (as had also happened with my father and his mother). In their poverty, Caro, Clarence, and Clarence's many siblings were a burden to the local government, which soon arranged for them a one-way ticket to Boston (where Caro thought she had relatives). The DeMar's poverty continued in Boston, with some of the kids being put up for adoption and Clarence sent to a residential school for problem children. I knew the basics of this story, but what I didn't know was that many of the aunts and uncles my mother mentioned during my childhood were actually Clarence's siblings, some of whom had been scattered only to reconnect in later years. Clarence had been born into a large family, but for various reasons he was the only one to have any children. At some point when Barbara's rambling story ground to a halt, I mentioned some of the interesting things I'd learned and people I'd connected with after Gretchen signed me up for 23AndMe.com, the online human genetic database (which includes a crude gene-based social network). The best result of my 23AndMe.com membership was connecting with Tobin, a half second cousin on my father's side and a musician in New York City. He sent me photos of my father's father, a man whose image I'd assumed I would never see. I also mentioned the few surprises in my otherwise unremarkable geographic ancestry profile, particularly the trace amount of "Coptic Egyptian" the latest 23AndMe algorithm says my genes contain (though an earlier version of the algorithm with a presumably smaller data set had claimed I contain a trace of "Sardinian," something 23AndMe no longer says). But since the Coptic Egyptian seems to be coming from the maternal half of my genetic profile, I said that it was likely it was also present in Barbara, Kent, and Deidre as well.
Over dinner, there was more discussion, mostly between Deidre and Gretchen, of being a citizen of the world. This includes anything that exposes us to non-American things such as travel, working abroad, or just knowing people from other countries. At some point Barbara and Kent mentioned a young man from Ghana who had lived with them for a time. He'd been a good friend of Kent's, which was a little weird given that the guy was seventeen and Kent was about 50 at the time. (Kent is now nearly 62.) Unfortunately for the young Ghanaian, he returned to Ghana some time before Trump's election and then found himself barred from travel to America because of the "Muslim ban." (It bears noting that Ghana is likely included in Donald Trump's category of "shithole countries.")
For Deidre, there seemed to be a little torque on the fact that Gretchen and I (and Gretchen's family) have been able to travel the world so frequently. At one point Deidre said, "Well, we're not all doctors," referring to Gretchen's father. Another time Deidre made another statement about her limited resources and gestured at our surroundings, saying, "We don't all have this." She seemed hung up in a way that she needed to demonstrate on our evident wealth. It made for an undercurrent of discomfort that I found somewhat amusing and that Kent and Barbara didn't pick up on at all. Gretchen, though, was keenly aware of it, at one point responding with, "Well, we decided not to have children. We made other life choices." Oh snap; Kent might be childless, but Deidre had a daughter (now 30 years old) with Dave, and Dave has a couple kids from a previous marriage.
After dinner, the five of us (but not the dogs for some reason) walked out to Woodworth Lake, checking out Shane's dreary "slice of heaven" and Ibrahim's A-frame along the way. We then continued down Woodworth Lake Road to the old Boy Scout mess hall (now part of Mel's parcel). We went to the flag pole to look out across the lake through the small gap in the trees there, and while we stood there, a beaver was swimming back and forth in the lake nearby, seemingly observing us (since there was no other reason to be wasting so much motion). There was also a bat flitting about nearby, perhaps drawn to insects trying to bite us (though in this cooler weather they haven't been bad at all).
Later in the evening after dark, there was less pressure to constantly socialize, and I had a little time to check the news and such on my laptop. Evidently Salman Rushdie was more severely injured after being attacked during an appearance at Chautauqua than had been initially reported; now he was on a ventilator. As the guests drifted off to bed, I was secretly drinking some gin I'd mixed in with my lemonade.
Aunt Barbara and Ramona in the canoe in Woodworth Lake this afternoon.
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