Recently got back from Wisconsin Dells, where most of my family lives, for a family vacation. It was a fine time, everyone pretty much put away their differences and tried to enjoy a beautiful day of food and games and the weather was hot and the state park was beautiful. I went on a hike, which is not my usual M.O., and had a fantastic time doing it even though it almost killed me.
But what really struck me was a birthday party I went to on Saturday. One of my cousins was throwing it for her son, so we went on over. My birthday is in the dead of January and the weather usually feels like you're on the surface of the moon, so birthday celebrations were pretty limited, but even the best birthday memories were nothing like what my cousin did for her son.
There were about 25 kids there, running around and having a blast. They'd set up a wrestling ring in the backyard and my niece and her fella were filling water balloons to drop into it. All the kids were selecting pro wrestler names, based on birthdays and formal names and they were pretty hilarious (Sneaky Sneak Fancy Dancer; Charming Smokey Hot Dog), and the adults were helping them assemble wrestling gear from old tie dye shirts and such. Scissors were flying, bandanas and knuckle wrapping were wound with precision and there was nothing but laughter and joy in that house.
My cousin also let the kids select an entrance song for when they came into the backyard, which she played through a karaoke machine that she was also using to announce the wrestling teams. The kids would come out, strut their stuff, and go into the ring and explode as many water balloons as they could using pro-wrestling moves.
My stomach hurt from laughing, mostly from the kids who took it seriously, with a look of fierce determination. 100% in. I also stuffed my face with food.
Both my folks are gone now, and that has hit me in ways I haven't expected, and life throws other things at me out of the blue that sometimes make me feel like a marked man - but I'm not. There was so much love in that home, my cousin and her impressive husband, speaking our Native language to their children, the laughing children, the adults watching quietly and happily as the kids enjoyed themselves. It reminded me of when we rolled up to Standing Rock the first time and were greeted at the gate with, "Welcome home."
I've been a city boy for over 20 years now, and I feel Chicago is where I belong, but I felt something stir inside while I was in the middle of all that, some kind of hope I'd forgotten exists. And I don't know why my relative, a man I admire, said this to me as I was shaking hands before leaving - but he looked at me and smiled and said, "Come back home more often". And I just nodded and thought about that for a good long while after.