Cousin Linda Comes to Town
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Cousin Linda Comes to Town

Chana discusses some of the anxiety that comes with having family visit.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

My cousin Linda emailed that in less than a week she was bringing her daughter to grad school at Emory University. While Linda was in Atlanta, they were looking forward to spending time with us. My first thoughts were unwholesome, reprehensible and unworthy of someone who has often moaned, “Why does our family live so far apart from each other?”

I should have been thrilled that one of my all-time favorite relatives, the one who was the flower girl in my wedding, the one who is devoted to community service and who recycles with passion and dedication, the one who can still fit into her wedding dress, and the one who, by the way, I haven’t seen for eight years … yes, were I a decent human being, I would have been overjoyed to welcome Linda and her daughter Julie with a full heart and open arms.

I was determined to get there.

The news of my cousin’s imminent arrival, instead of filling me with joy and jubilation, sent me into a downward cycle of self-evaluation. How, for instance, had I managed to increase my weight by several kilo in a mere eight years? Additionally, how diminished is my formerly thick and lush head of hair? Would my cousin somehow make her way into my closet, innocently seeking a sweater, only to discover that I now wear only flats? How about the linen closet? Would there be time enough for me to speed-organize everything so that pillows and sheets of the same set lie in close proximity to each other?

I knew I’d have to remove the potted plants from our guest bathtub, but where to put them? Not on the front porch (where they should have been all along), because that would force me to rearrange the furniture, which just barely cleared the front door in the best of times. One of our neighbors had always coveted those plants, remarking about their unusual location when she used that bathroom, and this upcoming necessity put me into a gift-giving mood. My neighbor has plenty of room on her porch.

Even though I occasionally regret the spots on the living room ceiling from the time my daughter and I painted the walls, there wouldn’t be time to repair the errors before Linda’s arrival. In spite of their natural optimism, our guests must be kept from looking up. Literally.

The rest of the living room seemed OK, given the fact that one is not required to hang drapes within the first 19 years of moving into a house. That’s why the Almighty invented Venetian blinds, and mine were fully operational, except for the cord at the very end on the left.

Looking on the bright side, it would be a pleasure to prepare healthful meals for my cousin and her daughter. I’d heard from other relatives that they are both pescatarian. Everything goes with a nice piece of salmon, especially baked potatoes. Unfortunately, when I checked the basket of potatoes, temporarily stored in the laundry room, it was clear that the majority of them were about a month past their prime. Who needs more starch in their diet, anyway? Especially my cousin, who can still fit into her wedding dress (see above).

Actually, food was the least of my worries because one can easily buy vegetables, but it was unlikely that I could have the windows in the guest bedroom replaced in their entirety within 72 hours. It’s true that people had warned that cracked panes and splintering frames weren’t optimally energy-efficient, but, again I ask, how much can one do in the first 19 years of home ownership?

Thinking strategically, I tried to convince our grandchildren to provide entertaining distractions with song, piano and tricky math problems after dinner, but they had too much homework and were only marginally useful. Kids nowadays!

So what happened? While in Atlanta, Linda ended up staying in Julie’s co-rented house. The salmon dinner (three vegetables) was lots of fun. We told family stories and laughed and cried. No closets were opened, no baths were taken, and we permanently bonded while separating after-dinner recycling.

“Hurry back!” we called out as they drove away, and we meant it.

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