“Do you have real lemon?”

Traveling with my siblings in North Dakota involved some strategic planning. Where were we going to eat each day? I did not sign on to the trip until this question was answered. The first day we stopped at a wonderful small town cafe. Since the town boasts a population of 300, everyone knows everyone else and their business as well.

When we walked into the cafe, we stuck out like the big city kids we are, and then we opened our mouths. First was the question, is this a seat yourself or a wait to be seated establishment. Take a guess. After some raised eyebrows, we conspicuously made our way to a table. My brothers looked at the menu for about five seconds and then crossed their arms. I took slightly longer, but since we have a long history of visiting small town cafes the fare was standard and I soon made up my mind. My sister opened and read the two page menu, then closed it as she looked at the front cover, then the back cover and then, once again, opened the menu to study it in great detail. The waitress came up, removed a pencil from behind her ear, pulled a green pad out of her apron pocket, licked the tip of her pencil and said, “Whattle ya have?”.

We knew to let my sister be the last to order. When it was her turn she hemmed, she hawed and then said, “I guess I will just have a salad.”
Waitress: “What kinda dressing?”
My sister: “Do you have vinaigrette?”

My brothers raised their eyebrows and rolled their eyes. The waitress just stared at my sister, not saying a word. The prolonged silence began to become uncomfortable. My sister, forgetting everything she had ever learned about small town cafes, finally broke the silence by asking, “Well… what dressings do you have?” The waitress didn’t even move. She just stood there with the same expression and silence. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I looked at my sister and said, “French, thousand island, blue cheese, ranch, Italian.”
My sister said, “I will have ranch.”
Waitress: “Do you want anything to drink?”
My sister: “I would like iced tea with lemon. Do you have real lemon?”

The waitress just turned around and walked away from the table, my brothers dropped their heads in their hands and I burst out laughing. My sister said, “What?”

Sometimes if we know something bothers or annoys you, we do it again

This past June, I traveled to North Dakota with my siblings. Now that we are middle age orphans, we felt the need to embark on a tour of remembrance to the prairie towns where our parents were born and raised. We visited the old farmsteads, a few people of our parents age that are still around and, of course, the cemeteries where we found grandparents, aunts, uncles, distant relatives and acquaintances. We talked, we laughed, we had moments of silence, but most importantly we forged stronger bonds in our relationship with each other.

All four of us have very strong personalities. Our spouses doubted we could survive this trip in harmony. We not only survived, we thrived. We found our personalities continue to have much in common. What drove one of us nuts, drove all of of nuts. What made one laugh, made all of us laugh. My husband started calling our road trip the kumbaya tour and wished we would all return to normal.

While traveling, my sister recorded a list of traits we share in common. Mind you, I am not proud of all of these traits, but they are acknowledged similarities due to our DNA. We blame our father’s side of the family.

Our Shared Traits:

  • Sometimes if we know something bothers or annoys you, we do it again. Weird quirk, I know, but we get endless entertainment from this.
  • If you set a timeline, you better follow through with it. In other words, when you say dinner is at 6:00, expect us to be in our chair with fork raised at 6 on the dot. Whoa to you who is not feeding us on time.
  • If you say we can’t do it, you will be proved wrong in short order. Saying we can’t do something is akin to a motivational speech for us.
  • If you tell us to calm down I pity you. If we could calm down we would, but we can’t so stand back because you have just poured gasoline on our fire.
  • Good luck to anyone who tries to control us. Many a brave man and woman have tried. Mom and dad had to rely on long lectures and the fly swatter.
  • If you insult a family member, even if we agree with the statement, we will have to defend them. You have just waved a red flag in front of a bull.
  • We will always share the details and facts about a tragedy or death. Our morbid side was nurtured hearing many a small town story about life, death and survival.
  • We will ask you several times if you are having a good time or whether you like something. We have a strong need for affirmation and hearing how much you appreciate us.
  • We love to all talk at the same time. This is very disconcerting to people who marry into our family and are actually used to polite conversation.
  • We enjoy embellishing a story and tend to be repetitive, telling it over and over again. We know our stories improve with the retelling.
  • We need to know the plan, especially where and when we will eat next. Our daily life revolves around our meals for the day, secondary to that is what we will actually do.
  • We enjoy laughing at ourselves and retelling our most embarrassing stories.
The picture you see at the top of this post was taken on the last day of our sibling trip. We are holding hands while standing near a field on our dad’s childhood farmstead outside Harvey, North Dakota. We continue to communicate weekly and I am happy to report have kept that loving feeling. Hold on to your family. Kumbaya!

Just because I am doesn’t mean I always should be

I was taught to “know thyself”. In other words, dad and mom grilled me with questions to help me become better acquainted with, well, me. Questions like: What are you good at? What do you enjoy? Why did you choose that? Why do you think you feel that way? Why, why, why. All of this introspection at an early age was somewhat unnerving. Little did I know these dialogues were my first steps to self-awareness.

Self-awareness is a not so funny thing. Getting to know yourself does not, I have learned, excuse you to be yourself anywhere at anytime. Especially if your natural, this is the way I have been since my first breath, behavior has a negative impact on someone else. Take impulsiveness. I was born with an impulsive nature that I have learned to curb but not extinguish. There are a few times in my life in which I am quite sure my impulsive nature has saved a life. These stories come instantly to mind and because I can’t stop myself, I will share just one. During a canoe trip my 6 year old son stood at the top of a small waterfall and then slipped and started to go over. I dove across the water, grabbed hold of him and went headfirst and backwards over the waterfall, shielding his body as we went. My husband stood calmly at the top of the falls holding our two canoes and watching this spectacle. My 12 year old daughter, impulsive in nature also, dove after us to save her mommy. I grabbed her one handed and dragged her to me and then hauled them both to the side of the river (note: the adrenalin rush strength thing really does work). On the flip side, there are many more instances in my life when my impulsive nature has lead to some ridiculous social gaffes. I am sure we have all asked a woman who is not pregnant “When is your baby due?” right?

So, “know thyself” is the first step in learning to understand why you do what you do when you do it. Now the hard part of the lesson. Just because you are a certain way, doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. Hey, but I was born this way, right? Evidently, according to dad and mom, we are human therefore we have the intelligence to work with the gifts and the not-so-gifts we are presented with when we enter this world.

Meanings are in people, not in words

When I was growing up, Dad and I had a standing appointment every Saturday. This was our special time each week to spend together. We did a variety of activities on these days, but the tasks were not the main goal; communicating, laughing and working side by side as we deepened our relationship was the primary aim. I didn’t understand this at the time and, I must admit, not even until recently as I was going through the boxes of dad’s life I inherited when he passed away this past spring.

Looking through dad’s files, I realized Dad taught me the importance of building a relationship by spending time together communicating face to face. As a doctoral student at Michigan State University in the early 1960s, dad learned that words hold superficial meaning outside the context of human interaction. To truly get an inkling about what a person is saying to you, you need to listen to their words as you think about the way these words play out in the context of the speaker’s life. Meanings are in people, not in words. Dad’s words of wisdom paired with our rich relationship and shared experiences formed a foundation of understanding that, while I didn’t always agree with him, helped me to at least be able to reason out his side.

Lessons from life are passed down generation to generation. If we are lucky enough, these relationships nurture us as we grow and form a foundation which we can stand on as we become who we were meant to be. I had such a foundation.

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