I am not from Minnesota.
The first time I was ever there, I was a year old, or near enough as makes no matter.
The number of summers I haven’t spent some time in Minnesota are, I think, only two. Maybe three or four. Certainly not enough to be counted on more than one hand.
There are two things that pull me.
One is family. My mom grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, and she is the only one of her siblings to not make their home near her parents’.
The other is not a family, though we often call it that – the transformative language camp where I was a camper as a teenager. I was also a counselor as a teenager, albeit briefly. That is weird to think about. (Teenagerhood, from the other side, is continually making me think, said the old, wise, not-quite-twenty-one-year-old.)
I was thinking today about how long it’s been, how long it might be, before I really go back for family family again.
My first summers at camp were managed in tandem with the annual family visit. A week or so at my grandparents’ house in the suburbs, eating outside all the time, hanging out with the cousins, lake shenanigans, and then two weeks up in the north woods with a bunch of other word-nerdy teenagers. When I decided to go for high school credit the summer before my senior year, we changed our usual driving route to go through Bemidji first, I was dropped off, and my family continued south. When the end of camp came, my grandparents arrived to pick me up, as they had done all the years before, and then took me back to Minneapolis to put me on a plane back to my parents in Idaho. That night I had the chance to catch up with my aunt and cousins for a few hours.
After graduating, I didn’t go to camp, and it was the summer my cousin got married, so everybody was together. The year after that, I crashed at my aunt’s house on the way home from camp, but every other part of that journey was done on my own. Last year was a week of family visit before I hopped on a bus again and headed north for two months instead.
During the week, another cousin who had just finished high school had her graduation party. It was the first time we’d been around for that kind of event for this side of the family, and it was good, but it kind of showed me how sad and deep the schism that timeandspace created between some of us. We love each other; that’s what you do with family. But there’s so much I’d missed about my cousins’ growing up, and they about mine, and it felt weird to try to be close to them without that understanding there.
Then I looked at my sisters and felt the same thing, and that felt even sadder.
I don’t know when I stopped paying attention to other people, especially my sisters, but also the cousins who are around my own age. We were kids together. Why did I pull away? What happened?
(Part of me feels like this is overly melodramatic, but I genuinely feel like I missed something I could have been part of.)
As I wrote about when I discussed my experience of the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter, it came as a bit of a shock to me to realize that I was the distant older sibling. Ow.
I’m kind of at a loss as to how to bridge this gap sometimes, but that’s a worry which deals in concrete possible attempts to bond that aren’t quite as wiftily theoretical or self-introspective as I want this blog post to be.
I want to wonder about myself. What did I think was so important?
(Maybe it was this damn blog.)
One of my favorite books as a middle schooler was Catherine Marshall’s Christy. I still quote it (“Nobody deserves anything. We couldn’t, no matter how hard we tried.”), and I will forever love its final line (“The joy of the children was in his voice.”). It’s about a young woman in the early 20th century from a privileged Southern life who goes to teach in the very backwoodsy Appalachians. In embracing her new role, she finds a Danish educational philosopher named Grundtvig and reads his book, and then ends up talking about it incessantly to the people around her. One of the things mentioned is that adolescents, to keep from getting into trouble, should occupy themselves with physical exercise and manual work. Or just keep busy.
Apparently I took that more to heart than I realize; my high school years, once they got off the ground, were filled up with too much to do. I don’t remember wanting for anything to take up my time, especially in the last two years.
Maybe, I say to myself now, I shouldn’t have.
The idea behind it was that I would not think too much about teenage angst. It worked, for the most part. Not all of teenage angst is escapable, I think. But I was a mostly happy, productive teenager.
But I wonder if I shouldn’t have paid more attention to the people around me. I was passionate about everything I did, but maybe there should have been a bit more room for the people who would end up being much more permanent than my interests in journalism and jazz. (For the record, I will always have an appreciation for those things and what they made of me.)
I am grateful that no events have rendered it too late to keep trying.
This got a little away from Minnesota, didn’t it?