Sunday Morning~ Tybee Island
October 8, 2017
Another sublime spot to write. I’m on the balcony of a huge house we’ve rented for a long weekend on Tybee Island outside of Savannah. The sand dunes and ocean are in front of me and it is so hot we are sitting inside with air-conditioning. Even I am on-board with that. It’s the annual reunion of the original twelve who went to Malawi in 1979 as traditional Peace Corps volunteers. It’s a unique group, family really. I wrote about us last year when we all met in Carmel Valley or Pacific Grove (are they the same place?) when we had so much fun we decided to meet again this year. We have money now. Some of us are retired. We value our relationships and can travel. It’s a fine life.
Joe, my ex, was one of the twelve. He is the only one not invited and after two mimosas I’m wondering if that’s a good thing? He’d never come, of course, but I wonder if someone should invite him? Last year George was able to be with us, and he was welcomed with open arms. Everyone was so happy for me that I’d found someone like George. He fit right in. He’s back in Malawi now and wasn’t able to be here this year, but we toasted him last night and I thought about what it would be like to have the two of them here together. Awkward at best, buzz kill surely, and the whole thing might turn into a therapy session and who needs that when you’re on vacation? Nah. Plus, Joe is not the same person he used to be. The rest of us though are remarkably the same. A little heavier, a little grayer, wiser for sure, more perspective, but essentially the same. There is something very comforting about that. Ten of the original twelve made it, the eleventh, Jeff, got sick at the last minute and couldn’t drive from Waco, Texas. Bummer.
When Joe left me sixteen years ago, to say I had a hard time accepting it was an understatement of epic proportion. I was completely broken. It was not only my sense of failure, but the destruction of our family I could not accept. There were many people, angels really, who swooped in to help me through it. One evening, my friend Carl called to talk to me and I was crying so hard he told me he was taking me out to his island for a couple of days. He has a place on Gott’s Island where I could really get away from my routine of looking at the house we’d built together and falling apart. He collected me with his boat at the Bass Harbor dock and I sat in my depressed stupor for two days while he cooked for me. He left peppermint patties on my pillow at night. He invited a couple for dinner who were summer residents, professors at Princeton. One was a sociologist who had written a book on the history of the family. I borrowed it. It was immensely helpful for me to read about how our notion of “family” in the genetic sense, is a relatively modern concept. Throughout history the concept of family has taken on various forms. For instance, in medieval times, “family” was whomever happen to be living in the court at the time. That book made me reframe my idea of what “family” meant. I considered what I could control and what I couldn’t. I couldn’t make Joe stay and be the person he used to be. I couldn’t keep our family intact. I could, however, reconfigure what I embraced as a “happy family”. I thought how grateful I was to Carl for encouraging me to go out to Gott’s, for even calling me in the first place to see if I was okay. I looked at other friends in my life and how they supported me and cared about me. I started looking at “family” with a broader lens.
Friday, ten of us arrived on Tybee throughout the day from various locations. Ralph lives in Savannah and came after work. Ken flew in from Portland Maine. Donna and her family flew from Wisconsin to Atlanta, visited family there, then drove here. Lynn rearranged a trip to Hawaii because she didn’t want to miss this and flew from Las Vegas. I drove from Tennessee. As we each arrived, the welcoming chorus grew louder and the conversation more animated. Steve and his wife had driven from Pennsylvania with a cooler filled with beer. He handed one to each new arrival. We sat and talked. I thought, “This is family.”
We were thrown together as young volunteers into a country where Peace Corps had been previously expelled. We were warned to behave. We were young. Ray was the oldest of the twelve and he was only twenty-nine! I was the youngest at twenty-two. We lived together in training for three months then were assigned to our various sites. We communicated with each other by writing letters…on paper…with a pen. We visited occasionally, but travel was difficult so it wasn’t often. When Matt was born there they all treated him as their nephew. Several made the long trip to Karonga to see him.
Last night we cooked together rather seamlessly. There was toasting and story telling. I’d scanned old slides and we looked at ourselves forty years younger. We laughed enough to add a few years to our lives.
We started making plans to do this again next year. Maine was one location tossed around. Ken and Margo just bought a place in Belfast so that makes two of us in Maine. We’re gaining on California. Suzanne thought we could combine the reunion with a wedding between me and George, but I told her that was very unlikely. She insisted it would be perfect. I emailed George to tell him. He said fine for Maine reunion, not fine for wedding. A little later the venue’d been changed to Wisconsin at Donna and Larry’s lake house. Suzanne was disappointed that the wedding’d been cancelled. This led us to a discussion about how everyone had found the perfect spouse. When we all met I was the only one married. Now, I’m the only one not. (No pressure, honey.)
I told them how things had changed in Malawi since our time there. The mountains are mostly treeless. There is trash everywhere. The population has more than tripled. But the people are the same: loving, friendly, and welcoming. The game parks are fantastic; the landscape is still stunning. Birth control is legal! People actually go on strike and protest! Lots of people have cars. There are traffic jams. There is mass communication and everyone has a cell phone. There was a collective feeling of nostalgia for the way it was way back when, but where has it stayed the same for forty years? There are houses cheek to jowl on this beach where I sit right now. I’ll bet there are some who see this and get nostalgic for the good old days when the dunes covered the island and you could see the beach from the road, if there was one.
I’ve got an unscheduled week ahead of me, which I find enticing. By checkout time tomorrow I’ll have to figure out someplace to go. For now, I’ll head back downstairs and see what’s so funny.
Love to all,