One of the many pleasures of having remarried later in life is getting close with Douglas’ family, which is now my family, too. From the very first time he brought me home to meet the clan at his mother’s house — it was at Thanksgiving in 2012 — I have felt welcomed and embraced, for which I am most grateful.
My own family of origin is far flung geographically and a little stand-offish emotionally. After all of us kids grew up and moved off into our adult lives, it seemed we got about as far apart as we could, geographically, without actually leaving the continent. Our parents were firmly rooted in Virginia, where we had all been raised. But my four siblings drifted off to Oregon, Los Angeles, Colorado and Minnesota, while I settled happily way up here in Maine.
There’s been some reconfiguration over the years, and some solid relationship-building. My brother Chuck and his wife moved to Maine to raise their family in the early 1980s, for one thing, and that’s a warm connection now. But I don’t see the rest of my siblings as often as I’d like, or hear the timely news of their children and grandchildren, or bring them up to date regularly with changes in my own life. My two sons, after their father died in 2011, went off to seek their fortunes in warmer economic climes, one in South Carolina and the other in Oregon. I’m in touch with them pretty often, but I feel like a bit of a free agent sometimes.
By contrast, Douglas’ family has remained centered in New England, and largely in Maine. He’s in close contact with his three sisters and, through them, their children. I always look forward to seeing them at holidays and family celebrations and, in the summer, at the family cottage. And his two grown daughters have settled right here in Maine, so we spend time with them often, along with our perfect peach of a granddaughter, Hazel, who is about 20 months old.
Last weekend, we had another opportunity to visit with Hazel and her parents, who live in southern Maine. At a fundraiser for the Maine Press Association last October, I had bid on and won four tickets to the show of my choice at the City Theater in Biddeford. My thinking at the time was that I would use the tickets as a catalyst to reconnect with old friends in Saco and introduce them to Douglas. As it turned out, they weren’t able to join us, but serendipitously, Douglas’ daughter and her husband were.
We arrived at their house in Arundel at mid-afternoon on Saturday, in time to enjoy Hazel before the babysitter arrived. Then we ventured off into downtown Biddeford for dinner at a surprisingly wonderful Indian restaurant, The Jewel of India. The place, a small storefront on a side street, was empty when we arrived, but filled up and livened up quickly. The menu was diverse and authentic, the service was efficient and the food was fresh and delicious. We were all impressed.
Then we walked around the corner and down the block to the historic City Theater. Designed by famed Portland architect John Calvin Stevens, the former opera house opened in 1896 and, after more than a century, recently underwent a major restoration. It features beautifully hand-stenciled walls, a fabulous horseshoe-shaped balcony and modern, comfortable seating — and plays a vital role in what turns out to be an ambitious revival of arts and culture in this longtime mill-town community.
The show we saw was a local production of the 1982 musical, “Pump Boys & Dinettes,” a light-hearted and intentionally cornball revue that featured likable characters and some pretty great country-rock music. We all agreed that it was short on substance but long on entertainment, and that counts for something in these serious times.
Douglas and I stayed the night and left Arundel early the next morning, while Hazel was still a little sleep-fogged and grumpy, to get back home to our own lives and obligations.
I wish my own kids lived closer, so both Douglas and I could get to know them better and so we could enjoy hanging out together like this once in a while. In my heart, I hope someday they’ll move back to Maine to be nearer to us and to their their father’s family. But in the meanwhile, I’m grateful that Douglas’ daughters, and the rest of his tribe, accept me as kin and so easily share their lives with me. It’s a gift I’ll never take for granted.