So, we're back. It's been a long ten days, what with the funeral-after-funeral scenario, and the driving back and forth across Iowa--because we did, in fact, drive across Iowa for TTD's grandmother's funeral. His folks live six hours away, in the very northwesternmost (is that a word?) corner of the state, so we loaded Da Boyz into the van, along with the usual assortment of clothes, books, snacks, sippy cups, diapers, wipes, and small plastic objects which are supposed to be toys but are actually weapons for poking out your brother's eye, and Went West.
The drive itself was totally tolerable; it always is on the way out. We leave at a reasonable hour (i.e. noon), Urp naps for a while, everyone can get out and run around in daylight when we find a playground mid-trip, everyone eats an early supper, and we arrive at our destination before fatigue, irritability, and general disaster set in. We stopped in Ft. Dodge (I know: where?) and got subs, which the boys didn't really know what to do with, and Urp chased Rabbit all around a churchyard in the unseasonable but blissful seventy degree sunshine.
The trick, really, is what goes on after the arrival at the grandparents' house. I love them, they love us, they are wonderful grandparents, and it couldn't be a better place for the boys--lots of cousins, lots of love, and just down the road, the farm where TTD grew up and where his brother still has eighty (you heard me) cows and a bunch of crops. But on holidays, or at times like this, EVERYONE in TTD's family stays in the same house. Everyone. That meant that for two days we had TTD's older sister (1), the TTD family (4), Younger Sister # 1 and family (6), Younger Sister #2 and family (9), Younger Sister #3 (4), and MIL/FIL (2). That's 26 people in a house with two bathrooms and four bedrooms. Then, at mealtimes, MIL's four sisters and their spouses and offspring arrived, plus TTD's brother, the one who lives down the road, and his six offspring and the older two offspring's spouses and children. I think I counted 56 people at one meal. Fifty-six. People.
And it was all meals, or at least that's what it felt like. Mad-scramble breakfasts as we all tried to get our respective children ready for church; enormous lunches served in the basement, where about eight folding tables were set up; endless dinners in same, with tired children shrieking and stampeding in the living room overhead, or falling down the steep cellar stairs. And the food was beautifully midwestern, too. I counted five jello salads, three topped with Cool Whip, at one meal. Then I counted them again at the next meal, because they just kept coming back out until they were gone. Ditto the potatoes with cheese, the ham, and the bowl of lettuce which someone had shaken out of a bag. Ditto the brownies, the cake, and the pies. It was odd, in the midst of such bounty, to feel sort of starving after a while, because I am here to report that Vegetarian Girl cannot live on chocolate cake and jello alone. Oh, and carrot sticks. There were carrot sticks.
And there were Occasions. When we weren't eating, or preparing to eat, or cleaning up after same, we were dressing the children up, fastening them into the van, and driving off to church, to the wake, to the funeral, to the interment, to the funeral lunch. All of which involved me wrangling small children and trying to keep them quiet (their cousins are much better behaved than they are; what am I doing wrong?) during 25 minute sermons, or else supervising bunches of children playing tag outside the funeral home during the THREE HOUR visitation, or doling out buttered buns with turkey slices and potato chips to hungry children during the funeral lunch (on card tables in the church basement. With jello. And lemonade.). After three days I began to feel as though I had never done anything but stand around in my suit and heels, fighting off a migraine and trying to finesse maintaining some kind of schedule for my kids in the midst of the larger schedule (?) going on around me. Oh, and make conversation with distant in-laws.
Have you ever read The Secret History? There's a scene with a funeral weekend which pretty much sums it up. Go read it and get back to me.
Of course, there were some very good things too. There was an open casket, and TTD's grandmother looked pretty, and the kids crowded around and touched her and asked questions, which to me seemed just as it should be. I have a picture of Rabbit and his adopted Quechua cousin looking at the casket; small children, dead great-grandmother, there it is. The weather was glorious and the kids got to run around outside a fair amount. They had an uproarious time on the farm, with the calves and the cows and the cats and chickens and tractors and dogs and trampoline. They had a great time with their cousins. I do enjoy my SILs, actually, a lot. And it's always good to see a big family who love each other gathered together. So, that.
The drive home was...the drive home. From 3pm to 9pm is a little rougher, but the boys were angels and held themselves together, and everyone collapsed into bed by ten. Then TTD's sister and family stayed that night too. Then another sister and family stayed the next night. THEN, yesterday, we were on our own.
I am tired. But I am glad that my boys have a really big, loving extended family. I am glad it's a family which doesn't shy away from death and reality. I am glad I am back at work now, having a Grown-Up Moment or two when I can actually complete a sentence and think a thought. And I am glad that I am not, repeat not, driving out there for Thanksgiving. I just can't do that flooded shower with other people's hair floating in it again any time too soon.