Sunday, August 22, 2010

Part 2: The Bergmans

My father, a man raised in a Jewish family in largely Jewish Chicago neighborhood, jokes that he makes a point not to marry anyone who isn't Episcopalian. Our family gets complicated that way.

In most practical senses, I grew up an only child. But I have a half-brother and half-sister through my dad's previous marriage. I've been an uncle since just before I turned nine years old (a cause of much disbelief in 4th-grade Spanish class family tree projects). As of last February, I now have five nieces. What you see here is my dad with one of the two youngest. We came out to Chicago for the baptism of my brother's new baby twins, Sophia and Madeline. As my father says, they're "clearly superior babies."

Recently, for the first time, a good friend asked me point blank why I came home. My immediate answer was my nieces. I'm not letting them grow up without their Uncle Joel around. Supposedly there was a betting pool going among some friends of mine that I'd never come back. At least one side of that pool hasn't met these girls.

Or my half-siblings, come to that. My sister lives with her family just a few blocks from my parents' place, in a gorgeous house they've remodeled from the basement on up. I say goodbye to them with pizza made from a stone oven that had been hauled up on a trailer into their driveway. Great pizza, and a great time my my sister and brother-in-law, their two daughters, and the three respective packs of friends acting as entourage. If I'm going to spend my last night in my hometown with anyone, it'll be them.

Well, them, and some theater friends later that night, but that's another story. We'll skip ahead to the 6am flight to go see my brother, and baptism of his baby girls instead.

My brother is busiest person I know. Like me, he got the travel bug, and like me, he decided to go traveling after college. The way he did it was to become a flight attendant "for a little while," and he got some travel perks that would be almost impossible for me to give up if I had them.

Well, he still hasn't. He became an active and very successful member of the union, led a strike against his company, and won. Then he decided his family could use a little more income. So, while keeping his job, he became an RN, and took another job as a nurse, specializing in hospice care. Then, while still working both jobs, he decided to run for a local political office as a democrat against an entrenched republican in a traditionally republican county of Illinois. Then his wife gave birth to twin girls.

As soon as we walk in the room, the in-laws greet us enthusiastically, and hand us envelopes to stamp for the campaign. Soon after, my brother is checking with his airline's internal system for our sister's chances to join us via standby flight. I'm swapping jokes and bouncing babies with my oldest niece, my brother's daughter by his first marriage. Meanwhile my mother and my half-brother's mother are quite happily making a salad together in the next room.

Because of my dad's legendary appetite (his friend, author Calvin Trillin once wrote him up as "an eater of serious scope"), we end up ordering eleven Indian dishes take out for nine people. I tour my end of the table around the paneer, baigan bharta, and biryani while people rip chunks of spinach and garlic naan to chew with the talk of politics, medicine, travel, and of course, the babies. After all, just like most babies, they're the cutest babies in the world.

None of us get enough time with each other, but we never feel like we do, anyway. Part of working two jobs, running a challenging, winnable political campaign, and having twins. It's all a whirlwind. We roll to the church, The babies are each in pretty white dresses longer than their heights (lengths?) combined. Someone hands me a video camera, and I get to work. Reception. Cake. Book signings. Back to the house for sandwiches, laughs, stories, and whoosh. Gone.

We need to do this more often, we think.

Check out this entry's Photos.

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