Until I was twenty-two, I mostly thought of the word “reunion” in the sense of potluck lunches in the park pavilion, with multiple variations on baked beans and seven-layer salads, and distant relatives you were supposed to know but didn’t.
Then I moved far away from home for the first time and learned how it feels to anticipate seeing loved ones or dear friends after months or years apart. Then I had kids and learned the joy of bringing your children and their grandparents together after time apart. A year turned into twenty-five years away from my little hometown and the friends and family there. Now I thoroughly understand the word “reunion.”
I look forward to every trip back to my hometown to see my parents and my sister and her precious and adorable family. I’m grateful to get to see my sweet grandma, who still has a sense of humor at 92 and only stopped zipping circles around everybody with her walker this year because of a knee injury. I’m so happy for any time I get to spend with my aunts and uncles, and cousins (like drinking Pimm’s in the front yard with Aunt Terri, my cousin Jason and his new wife Laura; or the too-short stop by Aunt Lana’s house one afternoon). And there are still a few close friends who live in the area– like Sue (who shared a nuns-on-a-tour-bus sighting with me this summer), and Jill (who waited patiently while I drove circles around her brother’s house, trying to find it). Sometimes I get lucky and a friend who has moved away just happens to be in town at the same time I am– as was the case this summer with my fun childhood friend, Emily, who happened to be in from Chicago the very day I chased her mother down on the downtown sidewalk just to say hello.
Sometimes we try to orchestrate a big family gathering– not quite the old-style reunion with seven-layer salad, but maybe a party at the town pool, or a picnic at the park (okay, that sounds kind of reunion-y, doesn’t it?). I always end up feeling weird about that– like we’re demanding that everyone come see us now instead of letting it just happen or not. But then if we don’t do one big activity, we end up running around a lot of the time to see people, or waiting at home for them to come see us. So it’s kind of a tricky thing, and even after twenty-five years I still wouldn’t say we’ve got it right.
This summer there was a different kind of reunion for us. If you’ve been around here sharing a cuppa with us for a while, then you know of my heartbreak over leaving my sweet, rescue dog, Gus, behind in the U.S. when we moved to London last year. If not, well, I did write about it a few times– like here, and here. My amazing, fun, big-hearted cousin– she is my hero– took Gus to her home in Indiana. He has acres and acres to romp in, a pond, two doggy brothers (including Marley, his best friend and larger twin brother– who’s actually a Great Dane…), and loving ‘parents’ in Josie and her husband, Mike. Gus’ life is wonderful, and I am so grateful!
I wasn’t sure what to do about trying to see Gus this summer. His home is a few hours away from where we were staying with my parents. But more than that, I was worried about how the kids and I would feel after seeing him. Of course, it did occur to me not to rock the boat for Gus and his new family as well, but anyone who has read a book about dog behavior knows that that is more something we project on dogs than they actually feel– given that they live in the present and all. Right? (I was so sure of this when I was reading Cesar books, but how can we really know?) Anyway. All these things were swirling around in my head leading up to and during the first week of our trip, and in typical me fashion, I simply chose to do nothing.
Then one day I woke up knowing I deeply, deeply wanted to see Gus. It all clicked into focus and I realized that, for example, even though I really missed Will last year when he went to college, and even though I knew I would cry when he left again after a visit, that didn’t mean I didn’t want to see him when I could. The same could be said about Gus, my fuzzy, four-legged son. I also realized that though I was worried about protecting the smaller kids from more hurt, they really wanted to see him, too. How could I have forgotten Claire’s poem about Gus?
So I got in touch with Josie and she– wonderful lady that she is– went way out of her way to make a reunion happen for us. We spent a few precious hours with her, my aunt, and Gus. He knew us and was ecstatic to see us (photo, above), but he clearly loves Josie as well, and is her dog now. He would lie down by me for a while, then get up and go for a drink and lie down by Josie. Seeing that was like balm to my soul and closure to all my wounds about betraying the rescue dog I had promised to give a ‘forever’ home (as they say at the shelter). I felt peace about something that had pained me for the last 12 months. That is, indeed, a happy ending.
I do love happy endings. As an aspiring writer of fiction, I struggle with my innate desire to orchestrate a happy ending, versus the prejudice against a tidy and upbeat wrap-up in contemporary fiction. Things are supposed to be messy in serious fiction, as well as in our dystopian world. Maybe that’s part of why I keep stalling out near the end in my fiction efforts (the other part is that I’m afraid to finish things– but that’s another blog and another course of therapy). I’ve written three-quarters or more of three novels. Mathematically, that should be 2+ novels, right? But I guess it doesn’t work that way…
And then there’s a fourth piece, for which I’ve written a very rough, but complete first draft. This one I wrote for Quinn and Claire– it’s a middle grades story involving a dog and his family caught up in the conflict between rebels and establishment in a magical world they didn’t realize was right under their noses. The dog is a hero in the story, but the wounds he sustains in saving the children make it impossible for him to come back to the children’s world with them. He must remain in the magical land. And though he can be happy there– and the children know he will be happy– they are heartbroken to lose their beloved pet. Are you getting any ideas about when I wrote this and why?
I finished that draft a year ago, but have never been happy with the ending. My kids really liked the first chapters, but I’ve never read any further with them. Maybe now it’s time to go back and try a rewrite– you know, now that I’ve seen an unhappy ending transformed? I have no idea how our reality changes the fiction, and I won’t write something that ends in some folksy bit of wisdom about time healing all wounds. But I think if I could find a happy ending in the real life story, there must be some way to pull out a better ending for the fictional Gus and family. Any ideas out there?