It’s amazing how we insulate ourselves in our own little cocoon. The environment we create around ourselves in our everyday lives speaks to what makes us happy. It’s what makes us comfortable. Content. It’s only when you step outside your life tent that you realize there are other ways of living. Other ways of getting through your day. Other ways of living your life.
This notion hit me square in the face this past weekend. We have been to (what is affectionately known in our household as) Granny’s house before. Even both kids (at 4 and 6) have been there more than a couple of times. Granted, they were younger and probably don’t remember those trips at all, but technically speaking, they have been there before. In looking back at those visits, we seem to have only visited for a couple of hours and then headed back home.
You see, Granny lives in Dana, Kentucky. Where is that exactly? Yeah, I asked that too the first time Jayme told me about it years ago. Dana is a very small town between Prestonsburg, Kentucky and Pikeville, Kentucky. Still doesn’t pinpoint it, huh? It’s about 2 hours east south east of Lexington, amongst the foothills. Being about 400 miles from our house, and about 500 miles from where Jayme and I both grew up in Columbus, it’s not like we saw Granny too much. In the 15 years I’ve been with Jayme, I’ve probably been up there about 7-8 times.
Most of the time, we try to find a 3-day weekend that we all can go. By all, I mean her parents and maybe her brother and his daughter. As the kids have grown up (both ours and his), it’s become harder to get all of us together on the same page. And, to be honest, I’m not sure Granny could handle all 8 of us showing up at her doorstep. But, because we’re so far away, it takes us pretty much a whole day of traveling to get up there (roughly 9am – 5pm, including stops for lunch and restroom breaks). So, on a 3-day weekend, we normally have maybe about 24 hours actually in residence, so to speak. Like I said, mostly a visit and then we’re gone again.
Right from the start, though, something about this trip was different. For one thing, I took off Friday from work so we wouldn’t have to rush up there. We could take most of Friday traveling, and stay for all of Saturday and then the first half of Sunday before heading back. Granted, we’d be late getting back on Sunday, but that didn’t matter, as Monday was July 4th. So, off we went.
I won’t bore you with the travel journal-esque telling of our trip. If you’d like that kind of thing, see my visit and subsequent step-by-step retelling of my trip to San Francisco. No, what I really wanted to focus on here was the wonderful time we had during our visit. One that went so well, we even decided to stay an extra day.
The first thing you have to realize is that (at least where Granny lives), there’s not much to do in the “suburban” sense. Sure, you can travel a little bit and go to the movies, go bowling, and all that. It’s not desolate or anything like that. It is, however, a destination where there are no expectations of manufactured entertainment. Which is what makes it so special. The only expectation is to visit, and talk, and share some stories about the kids and family. It’s a chance to relax and tell some bad jokes and laugh about the little realities of life.
Most of the weekend is spent on the porch, not even a very big porch. The porch itself holds about 5 people, and is also conveniently set up so no one is directly in the sun (which can be deadly at times). And I’m not exaggerating when I say hours. Hours upon hours are spent on that porch. Talking. Laughing. Sharing. Can you imagine doing that at your own house? Jayme and I laughed at the very mention of it. That’s just not something that happens in our neighborhood. But then I started to wonder why. Why is this place so special in that way? Why is this place so different than home?
I think you have to begin with family. Sure, there are many families that live close to each other. Growing up, the vast majority of my family on my mother’s side lived in Columbus. Every holiday was celebrated with family. It was wonderful, actually, to have family that close. What’s different here is the degree of closeness. We all lived about 10 minutes away from each other (an eternity in Columbus, mind you). Close enough to gather for those celebrations, but far enough away that our everyday lives were silo’ed from theirs.
In Granny’s case, her oldest son (along with her great-grandson) lives right “above” her. A different house, but literally about a hundred feet away from her front door. Her youngest son (with his wife) lives across a grassy field from her. Her granddaughter lives three houses down from her, with her husband and now two kids. We’re talking walking distance to three separate family members. I live close to my parents now, and that’s a 20-minute drive from my house.
It’s so different. It’s not an odd thing, or a special thing, for them to have dinner with each other. It’s not scheduled. It doesn’t require a call. They just show up with food in tow. No one questions it. No one even thinks it’s odd. I am sad to say that I can’t say the same. If someone showed up to my door with food in tow, we would still let them in and proceed, but it would be weird. Out of the ordinary. I would expect a call first. I would need to schedule this get-together. Make sure the house is acceptable and the kids are “ready” and the food is prepared. All that good old suburban expectation stuff. It’s not like that there. It’s comfortable. It’s easy-going. It’s fun. It’s expected.
Another great example of this happened this weekend. My kids are learning to swim right now. They have been taking swim lessons for about 5 weeks or so and are progressing nicely. Dwight, Granny’s youngest son, has a pool in his back yard. (Along with that, he has a trampoline and a large tree playhouse thing in that grassy area that I mentioned. Needless to say, his house was the winner with the kids.) He invited the kids to come swimming Saturday afternoon and the kids were more than happy to accept the invitation. We got over there and Dwight’s oldest daughter brought her daughter over and they all played and had fun in the pool. A little bit into it, Dwight said they (he and his wife Shelia) were going to Lexington to visit their other daughter with their newest grandbaby. He told us feel free to swim and have a good time and that they wouldn’t be back until Monday or Tuesday. What? They were leaving for about 3-4 days and feel free to use the pool (and other play things) whenever you want? Unbelievable. We lock our house down, lock our fence from the inside, and would lock our mailbox (if we could). Again, a different world.
What you also fail to understand (if you’ve never been there) is that life doesn’t move at the same frenetic pace as it does where I am. Honestly, that may be because I don’t live there and I don’t see the happenings of a regular work week. If it is frenetic and fast-paced and all that, they certainly don’t talk about it. And it’s not that things move slow, necessarily. It’s that they seem to drift by, not fast, not slow. Just drift. Very easily by. They don’t stress about when they need to eat, or the errands they have to run, or the activities the kids have to be shuttled off to. Those things still happen and they still get done, but it just seems like there’s no pressure to “stick to the schedule”. It’ll get done when it gets done. Everybody breathe. It’s very relaxing (coming from that frenetic place) and it’s almost freeing.
The kids want to go jump on the trampoline next door? Cool. We’ll just sit here on the porch and watch them. No need to “prepare” to go over there just so the kids can jump. Just let them go. Want to go swimming? Let’s go swimming. It’ll be nice to spend some time with the kids in the pool. It’s like being there creates time to spend with the kids. (Yeah, I get it. There’s no need to go somewhere else to simply create time with your kids. It’s one of those things that I personally struggle with, though.) Want to eat lunch? Awesome, what would you like? Someone will fix lunch. No complaints. No resentment. Just a peaceful, easy fe…no, I’m not going to do that to you.
I think the final thing may simply be detachment. Detachment from the everyday. Detachment from the ordinary. Like I mentioned earlier, we don’t get to go visit Granny as often as we’d like. I have responsibilities. Jayme has responsibilities. Even the kids have responsibilities here in Kennesaw. Carving out several days to step away from those responsibilities is a chore, actually. Which is why when we actually manage to achieve stepping away, it makes it all the sweeter. It happened to be a 3-day weekend (with July 4th holiday on Monday). I happen to have some time off with nothing pressing for work. Jayme happened to be off from teaching on Fridays because it’s the summer session. And the kids happen to not have school during the summer. Worked out great. We were therefore able to completely detach ourselves from our everyday lives and simply enjoy the time together.
As I was saying earlier, I struggle with the notion of “family time”. I am an independent person. I am a workaholic. I often prefer being by myself and enjoying the solitude more than being with others. I like doing my own thing and getting things done (work or otherwise) that I need to get done so things are easier for me the next day. Sounds a bit selfish, doesn’t it? When family and kids are introduced into that mix, it’s a struggle to take the time and divorce myself from that individualism. I certainly don’t mind being dad and I actually want to be the cool and fun dad, but I know that my personality does not necessarily mesh with that philosophy.
That being said, one thing that this weekend allowed me to do was dive in headfirst. I had nothing to do for work that couldn’t wait until I got back. I had nothing that I needed to do “on my own time”. I was free to enjoy my kids. Free to enjoy my family. Free to mess around with them in the pool. Free to go play with them on the tree playhouse thing. Free to sit on the porch and just relax. Free to relish the time off from myself.
Sorry. I didn’t mean to get all navel-gazing on you. I was just struck this weekend at how different these people live their lives than I do. No one is right and no one if wrong. It’s just different. And it’s the differences that made me have such a great time. Could I live in that world? I don’t know. Could they live in my world? I don’t know that, either. But it sure is nice to mix the two every now and then. It really makes you appreciate both worlds!