Alone With J
By J SWYGART
Today’s entry will be the last one for a couple of weeks. It could be my final column ever.
Okay, truth be told, I guess the same could be said every week. I mean, life is fragile. There could be a car crash with my name on it just around the next corner. Then again, I could be the next victim of corporate downsizing at any moment, or — if the stars are incorrectly aligned and the tug of lunar gravity becomes just too much to bear — I could simply tell the boss where to politely stick this job on any given day.
But that’s every week. What lies ahead in my immediate future is something different entirely.
I am frantically preparing for vacation.
With my wife’s family.
All 30 of them.
In one house.
For a week.
At this point it’s a coin flip as to whether or not I’ll survive.
Let’s set the stage for what surely will be one of the more traumatic weeks of my life. I’m the only child of two only children — therefore I have no aunts, uncles or cousins. My grandparents came from small families. Swygart reunions could have been held in a phone booth. In other words, crowded family events have never been my thing.
That changed almost a decade ago when I married my wife and, by extension, became part of her large, Catholic family. Holidays and other social gatherings were now carefully orchestrated — apparently a necessity when dealing with two dozen or more extended family members — as it became required to announce several weeks in advance whether you would be bringing the baked beans or a dessert to whatever event was being celebrated on any given day.
But I’m getting used to the routine, and I’ve grown to love my wife’s family.
Okay, maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch. Let’s just say they’re all truly great people, and that we’ve developed a sort of peaceful coexistence, mostly through a largely unspoken agreement to leave religion and politics off the conversational menu.
What that means, however, is that when the brothers-in-law sit down to chat, the conversation goes something like this:
“So, how’s work?”
“Fine. How ‘bout yours?”
“It’s okay. Been up to anything new lately?”
“No. Not really. How ‘bout those Cubbies?”
Believe it or not, you can get through an afternoon pretty easily with little more than that on most occasions. But now we’re looking at a whole week in close proximity. “How ‘bout those Cubbies?” will only take a guy so far in a week.
On two separate occasions in recent years the entire clan — minus my wife and myself — has rented a large beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week together. We have politely excused ourselves, claiming poverty (not a lie by any stretch of the imagination) as our reason for passing up the opportunity. My flat out refusal to submit myself to a group vacation has remained our little secret.
We’re no less poor this time around, but some pending changes in the family dynamics have suggested that this could be the final time my wife and all her siblings could spend some extended family time together. So, against my better judgement, I agreed to put my aversion to all things communal on the back burner and to just suck it up for a week. Am I a great husband, or what?
Well, I guess that final chapter remains to be written. The upcoming week will probably answer that question — and at this point I’m a little worried about what the answer will be.
I’m not a big fan of children as a rule, and there will be a whole gaggle of them in the house in which I ... we ... will all be staying — for a week. But there’s a great, big ocean right out the front door — and beach as far as the eye can see in both directions. There’s a hot tub and a heated swimming pool at the house. There are fantastic sunrises, lighthouses and wild horses to see. Surely there’s a bar in the vicinity, and it’s always five o’clock somewhere. So this just might be doable.
To say I’m excited about this vacation would be a stretch; apprehensive might be a better word. But I haven’t reached the point where my whiskers are now grey without overcoming a few hurdles along the way, and surely at some point this upcoming vacation will nestle snuggly in that list.
But if I’m wrong, and I opt to take a long walk off a short pier at some point during the week, well ... it’s been nice knowing ya.