I have struggled for months writing this. It got long and uninteresting. After dinner on Friday with good friends, the topic of what I’m doing and who is reading what I write came up. I was surprised in many ways. When everyone left, I realized that I don’t have the skills to do this topic justice. The best I can do is offer a glimpse of what this family means to me. I hope it’s good enough. I love you guys.
Jeff and Judy’s is, in general, a three-ring circus of life, love and laughter. It is held most summer weekends at their lake house and every holiday in their home.
I received season tickets from Tyler, one of my best friends, who happens to be their son. Tyler and I are close in age- only 28 years separates us- but I’m the same age as Jeff and Judy. I’m fairly sure they didn’t know what to make of me when I showed up for a long weekend over 10 years ago along with 29 other people and 7 dogs. True story.
I once wrote that Tyler came with a “large package of family and friends” which may appear to be awkward word choices, but they were purposeful. The “large package”, aside from Jeff and Judy, almost always includes Robin and Bess, Kathy and Holland, Fran and Earl, daughter Lauren and her husband Chad, and Kaity, Tyler’s wife. Recently, Carter joined the circus and, as the only grandchild, occupies center ring. More often than not, the gatherings include significantly more family, friends and family of friends.
Adversity is an odd duck, it can destroy you or it can goad you to be better- to rise above it. I have never spoken with Jeff about his childhood in any detail, everything I have learned is anecdotal. I do know that he and Fran didn’t have it easy. Maybe that’s why Fran goes to work every day as she approaches the end of her 7th decade (sorry girlfriend but I had to tell) and Jeff has dedicated his life to his wife and children- making sure they have what they need and then some. He is a generous, gentle bear of man who always sports a big smile. Fran is his mom and I call her girlfriend which usually elicits a giggle, while Earl, her husband, shakes his head. It’s a good thing Earl doesn’t like to fight. Earl is a perfectionist who can make anything with his hands; which is probably why he hasn’t punched me for flirting with his wife.
Jeff may be head of the family, but Judy is, without question, the Ringmaster- all 4 foot something of her. She keeps the circus fed and running. Don’t make the mistake of wandering into her kitchen when she is preparing a meal for 30 people; apparently, it’s stressful. Judy always maintains a watchful eye over her domain. Sometimes she is forced to babysit the rest of us who may, or may not, have been enjoying adult beverages all day and, if we misbehave, she takes our bottles and sends us to bed early.
In the years I’ve known this family, I’ve watched Tyler and Lauren fall in and out of love a few times until they landed in love and married- Kaity and Chad. Chad is a lot like Earl, tall, thin and patient. Patience is an essential survival skill in this family. On the other hand, Kaity can hold her own with the women. She is a doer with a big heart who isn’t afraid of speaking up. Kaity is also a natural born caretaker. Lauren and Chad are parents and I imagine Tyler and Kaity aren’t far behind, lord knows they practice often enough. I’m comforted knowing this next generation will be born and raised in a place of love and kindness surrounded by a truly good group of people.
Robin and Bess and Kathy and Holland are not related by blood, but they may as well be. I’ve never been to the circus when none of them were present. Robin likes to cook breakfasts, make ice cream and stay in the middle of whatever shit we get into. Kathy is never on time and marches to a beat only she can hear. I adore my conversations with her. Bess and Holland, like Chad and Earl, prefer to take it all in from a safe distance. I think they find the circus to be a comforting respite from their jobs.
As my own family was undergoing a transformation with the deaths of my parents and the inevitable separation from my brothers, I was welcomed into this circus. Judy texts me every holiday to make sure I know I have a seat at the table. She reminds me of my father who I loved dearly.
Christmas at the circus is something else. The meal is always great, but the gift exchange is the main event. It doesn’t matter who is invited or who shows up, everyone gets a gift or two. Think about it. Even if 10 extra people show up for dinner, everyone gets a wrapped gift. Since Jeff doesn’t shop, I figure Judy is clairvoyant or she has a serious shopping problem. I’ve written that Judy is not a fan of profanity; she abhors the f-word above all else. Her Christmas present one year was a remote-controlled helicopter with FUCK neatly written on the sides. Usually people don’t give a flying fuck, but this family is unique.
I admire the family that Jeff and Judy built. It reminds me of my own. They created a safe place for their kids to be kids and make the mistakes that all kids make. They looked after all comers and still do.
Every time I am around them, I am thankful for the support they have extended me. I hope whoever reads this has a place like Jeff and Judy’s.