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2020-05-03 14:44:14 (UTC)

Prompt 072: Weekend with Extended Family

72. You are spending the weekend driving out of town to hang out with extended family. Is this positive or negative and why? What will you do when you get there?

I have an aunt from my father's side of the family, and I think she's the only remaining extended family I want to visit or hang out with. My mother's family is all estranged and/or deceased. The rest of my father's side of the family kind of scattered and never had a reason to bring itself back together after he and his older brother passed away. All of my grandparents are no longer alive.

My aunt lives on her own in the same house she and her late husband, my uncle, first built and then lived in since the 1960's. The two of them purchased land in the middle of Ohio, on the outskirts of a tiny town. My uncle designed the house. They made their living as school teachers in the same community they lived. My elderly aunt, until COVID-19, volunteered for the town council and historic one-room schoolhouse.

Their yard is immense, having been used as an orchard that - again - the two of them planted and maintained since they built the house. There's a large metal-sided barn at the back of the property where my uncle stored his tractor and a host of old-skool woodworking and milling equipment. In recent years when I've visited, there have been groundhogs living in the gravel underneath the barn. Likely making more groundhogs. A large open field is off to the side, doing its thing.

It was my uncle who first took me out to the woods at the back of their property and taught me how to shoot a shotgun and to treat the weapon with respect. "You never shot a gun?" he asked. I shook my head. He shrugged, nodded, and then put on his boots. He tied a plastic gallon jug to a tree limb and I blasted it until my shoulder ached and we ran out of ammo.

It was my aunt who first showed me a college basketball game and how exciting it could be. There's apparently a massive rivalry between Michigan State and Ohio State, and one year when I visited there was the annual game between those two schools. It went into double-overtime and was intensely dramatic. OSU won the game, if I recall correctly. My aunt's brother called her from Arizona not 30 seconds after the final, final buzzer to share the vicarious victory.

After my uncle died, my aunt was deep in grief. A short time after that, one of her grandchildren died by suicide. Years earlier, her own son had died of cancer at the age of 37. She has one remaining son: a college professor and bird-watcher in the Carolinas. He and his remaining daughter visit my aunt a couple times a year. I visit between times, but hope to cross paths with them all sometime soon.

The last few times I've visited, my aunt and I would schedule one early morning to go out in the open field near the orchard, and "burn the brush pile." When you have trees, you have a lot of branches that fall off over time. So throughout the year, my aunt drives the mowing tractor round the trees, picks up the branches, and deposits them in the same place each year. It has to be burned or otherwise dealt with, and at the end of the autumn when the trees are resting we'll step out there before the sun is up, stuff balls of crumpled newspaper between the branches, and set it all alight. Never far away and me standing near the fire extinguisher I'd brought out from my car), we tend it to make sure everything burns, poking and paddling it with shovels. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is advised.

The morning dew turns into mist, and we watch it flow through the grasses into the burning pyre, swept up into the sky with the smoke. As it smolders to black and grey cinders, our tending done, we go inside for a cup of coffee and the rest of the day.

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