Family Tradition

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Nick attends a family reunion in Idaho. What happens at the reunion reminds him that no matter how appealing it may be, you can never go home again.

Submitted: October 07, 2016

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Submitted: October 07, 2016

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I think that there is a reason that they say "You can never go home again."


My belief is that it will lead you to an early grave or a possible jail sentence.


Being in Montana was improving my self esteem. A change that was vastly warranted. I loved the feel of the wind on my face. The smell of pine and dirt and animals near by. I really liked how you had two choices for dining out when in actuallity, they served the exact same things on the menu. I loved how I could live without pressure from people. Friends or family or even fans. Every once in a while someone came up and asked for an autograph and I obliged their request. Even posed for a few pictures. It didn't come across as a nusiance. I really appreciated that about Montana. 


As much as I loved my new found solitude, there were somethings that I just couldn't escape from.


My sisters and mother.


I have two older sisters. Janice and Lindsay. 


Janice lives in Boise. She is the oldest. She was the Superstar of the family. Sports, school, life, she excelled in everything. Janice was the brunette with glasses that hid her beauty but when she took her glasses off, look out world. Janice was a professor at Boise State University, teaching Journalism. She married Barrett. A guy with the first name Barrett, I thought it was a joke but nobody was laughing with me. He runs a successful Concert Hall in town. They have a son Joseph. Sweet kid at 12 years old. I haven't had much contact with them in the past 25 years. I traveled the world and never really went to Boise that often to see them.


My younger sister Lindsay is 4 years older than me. She was a beautiful red head that reminded me a lot of Jessica Rabbitt. Growing up I was always closer to her than to Janice. Lindsay stayed in McCall and lived with my mother at the family ranch. She works as a Photographer, often taking photos for the school events in town. Lindsay always felt an attachment to the area that I or Janice never could understand. Maybe my comparison wasn't accurate. I guess I'd say she looked like Jessica Rabbitt but had the strength of John Wayne. 


Which brings me to my mother. Debbie Johnson Brennan Kolter Lindstrom.
My mother is in her early 60's. She's a beautiful woman. Full of life and adventure and just a real kick for all of those people who meet her. I had some great times growing up. The only problem I had with her, were the two guys she married after our father passed away.


The first guy was a real winner. Mickey Kolter was a logger who desperately wanted to be a rancher. He married my mother in 1980, approximately 5 months after Dad died. Once he married Mom, he had what he wanted. The biggest spread in Central Idaho. Close to 100,000 acres of Timber and Cattle and Horses. Thought he was gonna be like the dad on "Bonanza". Except this genius forgot that on any ranch, you have to actually work it. He thought that if he had it in name only, that would mean something to his drinking buddies at the Cahill Club, the local hangout he frequented. My sisters and I did a lot of the work ourselves and our new daddy ultimately drank himself into a divorce and the local trailer park.


My mother's current husband is Carl Lindstrom. Carl was the fire chief of McCall and McCall County. He was a big strong man and at 6 ft 8 in, he was as tall as some of the trees we had. Carl was very strict and demanding, especially of me. The girls, including my mother he doted on, but the boy he often worked like a dog. I never liked him and I was always convinced he didn't like me. We often came to shouting matches. One night I can remember of one incident that changed me and how I viewed my family. 


I often described Ridgeview as my home. The reason why was from the time I was 11, I was sent to live with my grandparents. My father's parents. My grandfather and grandmother sought custody of me due to the fact that they thought my mother and Carl were not able to take care of me. My sisters were older and on the way to their own lives. So my mother made an arrangement with them. During the school year, I would live with my grandparents and in the summer I would be with the family in Idaho. My grandparents were influential in my life, they inspired me to become an author. They were both English teachers at Ridgeview High. Every day was wonderful with them. From 11-18, I honestly could say that those were the happiest days of my life.


My father passed away when I was 5. He had a heart attack when he was driving back home from a Rodeo in Nampa. I never knew him and didn't have any particular memories of him. My grandparents made sure that I never forgot him. 


The reason I said I couldn't escape from them I guess had to do with a letter I had recieved in the mail last week. 


It was from Janice and Lindsay, inviting me to go to a family reunion to be held at the ranch this weekend. 


I shook my head. The last thing I would ever want to do is go to a family reunion. Nothing good ever comes from these things. A family reunion is nothing more than a regular visit from people you had no interest ever getting to know when you were younger and as you got older that reason became more and more apparent.


Only things I had planned this weekend were a visit to a friend's house to help build a fence and to just drink beer in my living room all weekend.


Maybe a phone call will straighten everything out.


I dialed my mother's phone number

.
"Who's this?" A grizzled old voice said.


"Hello Carl, It's Nick," I said.


"Nick, how in the hell are you?" Carl asked.


"Fine, I suppose." I said. "How have you been?"


"Can't complain, I got a good looking woman right here and my health is good. What the hell else can I complain about?" Carl said.


"I know of at least 30 years of complaints, you old bastard." I thought.


"Well that's good," I said. "Can I talk to Lindsay?"


"Sure sure, you don't want to talk to your mother?" Carl asked.


"Put her on then," I said.


"Hello, sweetheart." My mother said.


"Hello, mom. How are you?" I asked.


"Oh I am fine. Just was out in the garden. We have some wonderful Cucumbers and Tomatos this year. Are you gonna come for a visit? Everyone would love to see you at the reunion." Mom said.


"Well, I don't know. I'm kind of busy. I have to take a trip to New York to meet with my Publisher about a new book. I also have some classes and workshops I am teaching too. I'm kind of busy." I said.


"I see," Mom said. "Carl, our boy is too busy to visit his family."


"Well damn him, what the hell is so important that he can't come visit us for a few days?" Carl asked her.


"You know you have me on speakerphone, right?" I asked.


"Here talk to your sister." Mom said.


Lindsay came on the line. "Hey little brother, how's life in Montana?"


"Just groovy," I said. "How have you been?"


"A little busier than normal," Lindsay said. "I've had to help Carl plan this reunion. Mom wanted it and delegated all the responsibilities to Carl and I. You know how it is." 


"Boy do I," I said. "Why a reunion now?"


"Truthfully, I can't answer. She has been a little secretive. Well not little, totally secretive. My impression is that she wants to give a big announcement. We tried to tell her that Janice isn't coming. She wouldn't believe it."


"Why is that?" I asked.


"Barrett had back surgery a few weeks ago and is recovering." Lindsay said.


"So he does have a spine? All this time I thought he did not." I said.


Lindsay lauged. "Shut up. Your gonna be here right? I could use some back up here."


"I do have a meeting in New York. You know what? What the hell. I'll be there." I said.
"You mean it?" Lindsay asked.


"Sure. I mean it." I said.

We hung up with the assurance that I would be there on the day of the reunion. I couldn't believe that I had actually agreed to head back home. For the first time in almost 25 years, I was going home.


Nothing good was gonna come from this visit.


II
I arrived in McCall on Saturday. It was a pretty warm day. Off to the distance I could see smoke from where a forest fire was burning. In town I saw the tourists filling up the streets, going into the shops. I decided that the drive through town would be very leisurely. I had all the time in the world. Well at least a few hours to kill before I had to show up at the reunion.


After spending a couple of hours at The Elkhorn Resort visiting some old friends, I made my way to the ranch. It wasn't that far from The Elkhorn Resort. Just 10 miles. 10 miles till I made it to the worst nightmare I could possibly imagine.

The JKL Ranch was the largest in the area, possibly in the state. Over 100,000 acres of prime land. Green grass and a lot of timber pasture land. I saw Horses running across hilly terrain. I also saw Cattle being fed hay by the ranch hands. As I was driving up to the main house I was taking as many deep breaths as I could. I wasn't sure what I was walking into.

As I parked my car, I saw a little boy, about 5 years old run towards me. He hugged my legs. I raised an eyebrow and patted him on the head. I took my time walking up to the house. Looking around, I noticed that a lot had not really changed. The house was still the same shade of Forest Green as I remembered it. Maybe it was smaller now, or I was older and larger than the 18 year old I was when I was here the last time. 

I made it to the front door, looking down at the ground before deciding to open the door. As I reached for the door handle, the door opened. I looked up and saw my step father in front of me.

"Hello Carl," I said.

"You made it," Carl said. Typical. Always to the point.

"I did," I said.

"You look well," Carl said. 

"You look old," I said.

"Still quick with a quip, huh, wiseass." Carl said.

"Are you gonna let me in? If not, I'm gonna go get drunk at the Elkhorn." I said.

Carl moved out of the way. I walked in to the living room. Brand new furniture all over the room. It looked like the walls were recently painted. A large group of what I assumed were cousins and other relatives were sitting in chairs and couches talking aimlessly. I saw Lindsay talking to someone. I walked over towards her.

"Hi good lookin," I said.

"No way," Lindsay said. We hugged. She was wearing a McCall sweatshirt and basketball shorts. I had to laugh.

"You wanna play some one on one?" I asked.

"Nah, one of our little cousins spilled his juice all over me. This was the first thing I had to put on. It is good to see you. You have gained weight." Lindsay said.

"Nice to see you, Sis." I said.

"Mom is out talking to Aunt Marleen and Uncle Orel." Lindsay said.

"Good lord," I said.

"Be nice, they are your relatives. This might be the last time you get to see them." Lindsay said.

"Oh boy," I replied.

Lindsay escorted me to the guest bedroom, where a couple of young kids were playing with some of our old toys. I had to laugh at the sight. It is weird when you see your old possesions as an adult. It brings upon this sense that you cannot honestly believed you had something so cheesy, but yet at the time it meant everything to you. I was picking up some of my toys and looking at them as Carl came into the room.

"Never thought you would see those again, did you?" Carl asked.

"Never thought I would ever come back here. Didn't have a good reason too." I said.

"Rather harsh don't you think?" Carl asked.

I shook my head no.

"You really do look well, Nicholas," Carl said. "25 years is a long time to not come and see your family."

"I made a life for myself. Besides, I seem to remember an old man threatening me if I ever showed up here again. I believe the exact words were, the next time I see you I'm gonna give you the ass kicking of all ass kickings. As much fun as it would have been to see you try, old man, I figured I had better things to do." I said.

"You know I never meant any of that," Carl said. "That was how a father was supposed to motivate his son. Light a fire under him. Make sure he does better than his family ever had done before." 

"Might have adopted me, but let's be clear about something. You are not, nor have you ever been, my father." I said. "I've done alright because of me. Not because of you. If anything, the only reason I haven't stepped foot on this hellhole is because of you. What you did to my mother and sisters I will never forgive you for. Carl Lindstrom I hope you rot in hell. Maybe I can send you there right now."

I started to walk up to Carl. Carl started to walk towards me. As we came within a foot of eachother, the one person who could calm the both of us down came in the room.

"Hello Nicholas,"

"Hi, Mom," I said.

My mother was 60 but looked 40. She had short Brown with hint of grey hair. She was wearing a Black button up shirt and blues jeans. She walked up and hugged me. 

"You look great," I said.

"You do too," Mom said. "I see you two are still going at it. Talk about a blast from the past."

"Oh hell, Debbie. We were just playing around," Carl said.

"Have you had anything to eat?" Mom asked.

"I had something in town," I said.

"Have you talked to any of your relatives?" Mom asked.

"What are we doing right now?" I replied.

"Come on," Mom said. "A lot of people are fans of your books." 

I walked out of the bedroom and made the rounds. Talking with Aunts and Uncles that I hadn't seen since I was 9 years old made for some awkward conversations. Family reunions had that tendency. All they really are, is a party for a family that has no real interest in being around eachother. Once a year, for a few hours, they have interest in being around eachother. Sharing pleasantries with the sincerity of a car salesman, conversation that could clearly have been stolen from a television show, photos taken that you will never see. 

Hours passed and with each hour, family members left. Promises were exchanged, I even signed a few books, life was going swimmingly. As the last member left, my sister and I were in the living room with our folks. We walked over to the kitchen table. I sat next to Lindsay.

"Well that was fun," Lindsay said.

"If you say so," I replied.

"You had a lot of pictures taken. One girl even kissed you hard on the mouth." Lindsay said.

"That was Cousin Mark's wife Lucille. Apparently, she went to one of my signings in Provo Utah and we spent the whole night making out. Wanted me to see if I remembered her." I said.

"You remember her?" Lindsay asked.

"I was really drunk that night," I said.

"That is what a Mother wants to her from her son," Mom said.

"Great night," Carl said.

"For sure," Lindsay said. 

"How have you been, big sister?" I asked Lindsay.

"I've been good. Been taking some more private photo sessions. Senior photos mostly. I have a new boyfriend I'm really excited about. Lance Harper. He works over at the Tractor Supply. Great guy. You would love him Nick." Lindsay said.

"I'm sure I would." I said.

"How about you? How's life in Montana?" Lindsay asked.

"You moved to Montana?" Carl asked.

"That's right. I did just that." I said. I turned to look at Lindsay. "It's great actually. I haven't been writing as much. I'm the varsity Boys Basketball Coach. It is a lot of fun. I'm actually looking into becoming a Teacher. Either English or an Elective Teacher. Creative Writing. Something like that."

"That would suit you just fine," Lindsay said.

I smiled. My mother sat down.

"This is so nice. My children are home. It has been a long time since this has happened. I just love it so much." Mom said.

"It is nice to be back here." I said.

"You should come home more often," Carl said.

"We shall see," I said.

"What the hell does that mean?" Carl asked.

"You know what it means," I said.

"Still holding a grudge." Carl said.

"You know what you old son of a bitch," I said.

"Guys, please." Mom said.

"Carl, stop it," Lindsay said.

Carl grabbed a beer from the table. My mother looked at Lindsay and I.

"Kids, it is really good to have you here. I miss you Nicholas. I wish Janice was here." Mom said.

"Barrett had back surgery. Didn't know he had any trace of a spine." I said.

"Knock it off," Carl said.

"Shut up, you old drunk." I said. 

Carl stood up from the table. "What did you say?"

"You heard me. Your an old drunk. You conned our mother into marrying you." I said.

"How do you know what I did or didn't do?" Carl asked.

"Please," Mom said. She was pleading with us. Lindsay was standing behind me. 

"For almost 35 years, you terrorized me. You bullied me and made me believe I wasn't worth much as a person. I know it was you who had me sent to live with our grandparents in Ridgeview. I know that you took advantage of our mother and married her for the money she had from our father's insurance." I said.

"I adopted you kids," Carl said.

"Bullshit, you adopted me. Lindsay was old enough to be considered an adult and Janice was married to Greg, her first husband." I said. "I remember that night when I graduated High School. You came up to me and told me I had to vacate the ranch immediately. You wanna know what you said?" I said.

I looked at my mother. She was always an actress, she had the look of shock on her face. "Your wonderful husband told me, no son of mine is gonna live here now. Pack up and leave. Your mother and I have discussed this and this is what we want. Yes Mom, my supposed father told me that. So you remember what I did next. I took everything I couldn't pack into my duffel bag and burned it in the yard. You asked what was the fire. I didn't tell you through the tears." I said.

"I don't remember any of this," Mom said.

"Of course you don't. He probably told you that it never happened and that I never came back cause I was a bad son. You know what always struck me? Why Lindsay stayed. She deserves better. But I am not talking about her. I'm finally gonna answer the question you always wanted to know. What have I been doing for the last 25 years?" I said.

Mom focused all her attention on me.

"I went to College on a Scholarship from the English Department at Stanford. I graduated with a degree in Journalism. Then I became a world famous author. You know people read my books, I have traveled the world and became a Journalist. I have come a long way. I did the best I could for myself. No thanks to you and especially that old son of a bitch." I said.

"Now you listen to me," Carl said. 

"Sit your ass down, or I will give you the beating that I have waited 25 years to dish out." I said.

Carl and I engaged in a staredown. Mom walked to the living room. Lindsay and I followed her.

"Mom, you know that we have never liked Carl," Lindsay said. "He has always been a hardass."

"He was strict but well meaning," Mom said. "If Carl was so horrible, why did you stay Lindsay?" 

"Cause I was worried about you," Lindsay said. "I knew that you were in tough shape when Nick left. I wanted to be here for a while once I knew you were OK. I didn't realize I would stay for 25 years." 

"I'm not here to stir up old ghosts," I said. " I came to see you."

"I just don't know what to say," Mom said.

"Let's just go back at eat some dessert." Lindsay said.

We walked back to the table. Carl appeared to be opening another beer. My mother walked into the kitchen. Lindsay and I were poking eachother, just like we were kids. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Carl glare at us. I turned to focus on him.

"Something wrong, Father?" I asked.

"You think you are better than me? You think that you can come back here and brag about how you have been better off, abandoning your family? Where do you come off acting high and mighty? You are nothing. You understand? You are nothing. Just like your father. You are an awful excuse of a son. Your mother didn't want anything to do with you and this only reinforces what I have been saying." Carl said.

All those words, plus the years of anger I had been holding in. All the lies Carl had been saying. I couldn't take it anymore.

I hit him with a overhand right hand as hard as I could.

Carl fell to the ground. My mother ran over towards him. Lindsay held me back. I felt tears start to well up. I walked out of the house and went to my car. Lindsay followed me.

"Don't leave Nick," Lindsay said.

"I have to. This is why I left in the first place. That old son of a bitch has ruined this family. You know what is hilarious? She is right there with him. Didn't ask about me. Or want to see how we were. Lindsay, pack up and come with me to Montana. You can live with me. Hell Lindsay, I am getting back into publishing. You can work for me." I said.

"I don't know." Lindsay said.

"Think it over," I said.

I hugged Lindsay. I got into my car and started down the driveway. I stopped about 50 feet from the house. I turned to look at the house. My mother was staring out at the driveway. I wanted to get out and say goodbye. But I didn't. I just drove off. I wanted to cry.

Sometimes we all need our mothers. More often then not, we want something that we think represents our mothers. You can never go home again. It's best not to try.

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Robert Logan. All rights reserved.

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