They arrived, in the snow, yesterday afternoon. The emotions were palpable, but no one came right out with it. I didn’t want to cry and I’m pretty sure they didn’t either. We hugged – good, tight hugs – and then went immediately to retrieve the food goods that Betsi had packed away in the trunk of her new car. “Not you, Stacey! You let Pam and I lift it!” stated the Matriarch.
“Honestly, I’m okay, Betsi! Watch!” I retorted. But there was no way in Hell Betsi was going to allow me – the youngest cousin who just fought a battle with cancer, to lift that heavy cooler.
Besides, I was quickly blocked out from within reach of the “golden-stocked-cooler” by Pam and handed bags of goodies including home-made pie crust, to occupy my otherwise idle hands.
“Okay, then”, I resigned myself. My cousins jockeyed themselves into position to best extract the cooler from the trunk – so as not to scratch it’s maiden form – and away we retreated into the house.
Even then, it was down to business right away. Betsi, in whose new car the duo traveled, directed the LePage children to “put” the home-made pies and treats and meals to their rightful spots. Betsi, the Matriarch of the Malloff clan, eldest daughter of Michael Malloff, was exercising her matriarchal duties.
This position was transferred to her last fall when our beloved Helen – the last of the four siblings, born to Michael and Anastasia Malloff, passed away. Pam, only child and daughter of Anne Rebin (nee Malloff) had then become the Matriarch-in-Training (MIT). She also, however, carried the extra responsibility of family historian as she was the only one who was fluent in Russian and had actually understood the nuances of the family roots and history. It was she to whom we turned when we wanted to know how to say, “good-night” or “I love you” or “more raspberry pie, please”. And then – there was me – the Adviser to the Matriarch. I made that title up so that I could feel somewhat important and, being the youngest, had the ability to give in-put in an otherwise uncontested serious of decisions regarding family outings and fun during our reunions. I thought it quite clever as this role would never expire and never be contested.
Back to the story.
Once everyone was settled and the food – which is one of the most important priorities for our Russian family – was placed in it’s rightful positions (one of which being the oven getting itself ready for dinner) we sat. Pam had a glass of her red wine, Betsi a glass of her white, and I a glass of my cancer-fighting, organic, low alcohol red.
The conversation was simply buzzing. Truthfully – if anyone from outside the family had been listening they would have been dizzy. There was so much to talk about and it had to be discussed right then and there. We flitted from one topic to the other as though we would burst if we didn’t. I think I nearly winded myself at one point! It was decadent. Here I sat with my cousins, whom I had know all my life and whom had looked out for me for the past 52 years. They were the history keepers. They were those who had read to me, sang with me, danced with me, and tucked me in at night as I grew up. I wanted to spill out everything to them about the things my family and I had gone through over the past winter, but I held it in. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to complain. I didn’t want to go down that road again. Cancer was history – and not the history I wanted to remember. Yet – I also didn’t want to not talk about it. It had become part of who I was and part of my biology. They knew that. Finally – there it was. And I found myself trying to turn things around to back out. “I have no right to complain. How can I complain when so much has gone right?”
“Of course you have a right to complain, Stacey” iterated Betsi. “You have gone through Hell and back. Go ahead and complain.”
And with her permission, that was that. I was out with it. I purged like a sick puppy who had gorged itself on an over-filled bowl. And they sat and listened with eager ears. We would never be the same, we the Matriarch, the Historian, and the Advisor. We had all grown into our new selves, forever changed by our circumstances. And that was a good thing because I also realized that we were still all together. Throughout this whole time – we had always been together. Though Pam was at her family home in British Columbia she had carried me in her heart. Though Betsi was at her family home in Ottawa, she had carried me in her heart too. And they – had been in mine. Distance was but a mere veil. We were blood and blood never separates.
After dinner and desert and further schizophrenic conversation – Betsi and Pam left for their hotel. They had insisted so that I would not be “burdened” with extra work. (Fat chance of that – but as I had a bit of pain yesterday, I must confess I was a bit relieved)
Today, this morning, I anxiously await their return. I have found poetry, written by Pam’s mom, Anne, and other historical documents that we will likely discuss today. The Malloff family photo album lays waiting for our review as well. I can’t wait to hear stories and make plans for day! There is so much I have to share with my cousins and so many questions I have to ask! But I have to wait. It is difficult to wait. Our time together is so precious and it will be so soon over.
“Get up!” I think out loud. “Get up!” I feel like a little kid again. “Get up!” There is so much to do – and none of it has to do with cancer. With my cousins, all is well in the world. With my cousins, I am young again. With my cousins, I am free!