Here's a question from the "which Romantic hero(ine) are you" department: Have you ever moved across the country to where you think you are completely without kindred, only to discover that, in fact, you've got cousins in the neighborhood -- and that you've already met them? I have. Turns out that plot point in Jane Eyre wasn't so far fetched after all (though, to be fair, my cousins didn't find me unconscious on the moors or ask me to join them as a missionary in Africa; and I'm still waiting for one of them to tell me that I've inherited a fortune so that I can share it with them while remaining independently wealthy).
Here's the story:
My paternal grandmother is a McKay, and there's a branch of the McKay family that lives in Arizona, mostly in the Mesa area, I think. Because of geography and life, my generation never really got to know this side of the family -- all we knew is that there were a bunch of "Arizona cousins" that everyone liked, and with whom I associated fuzzy childhood memories of busy holiday dinners and scavenging for Indian pottery shards in the desert.
Fast-forward to last fall. While I was holed up in my apartment waiting for Hurricane Sandy to blow over, two Arizona cousins -- Joan (my first cousin once removed) and her daughter, Joyce (my second cousin) -- who had apparently seen my cutting edge weather reports, messaged me saying that their son/brother, James, also lives in Arlington and that we should connect. I looked James up and, lo and behold, discovered that I had actually met him a couple of years earlier in the singles ward I'd attended when I first moved down from New York, and that we currently lived about a mile from each other. We connected on Facebook and, after juggling conflicting schedules for a couple of months, finally planned to meet up for dinner on the first of February.
In a completely separate track, my dad emailed me a couple of days ago and told me that another Arizona cousin, Kirt, was living in Virginia Beach (he's a Navy pilot), and that he'd given Kirt my contact information.
Next thing I know, it's Saturday morning, I'm on my way to ballet class, and I get a call from an unknown number that turns out to be Kirt -- he's driving up from Virginia Beach to meet James; they're going to the Smithsonian that afternoon and do I want to join them?
Sure! Who cares that I'd planned to spend Saturday afternoon running errands and catching up on work projects -- I wasn't about to turn down an opportunity to connect with family. (How's that for uncharacteristic spontaneity?) As Kirt finished the three-hour drive, I managed to finish my class and brunch with Amy, run home and change, and then drive over to James's place to meet them.
|Moi, James, Kirt|
On the National Mall.
We started out with the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum -- and let me just say that it's a completely different experience when you tour that museum with a Navy pilot! Normally my eyes glaze over after about half an hour in there, but this time I thoroughly enjoyed Kirt's running commentary on all the flying machines we saw -- his expertise and enthusiasm were way better than any museum docent.
|First jet engine to break the sound barrier.|
Thanks to Kirt and this display, I now understand
how jet engines work.
|Cockpit simulator of an Airbus jet.|
Kirt explained what was happening as the simulator
went through take-off and landing.
After Air & Space, we ran across the National Mall . . .
|pausing briefly for a shot in front of the Capitol Building|
. . . and into the National Gallery of Art. We only had an hour before closing, so we just got the "highlights" map and started running. Here the roles were reversed -- this was my element and I enjoyed sharing some of what I knew about art history and the individual artists and paintings that we saw (though I also tried to keep it toned down and not be an obnoxious art know-it-all).
|Madame Moitessier (Ingres, 1852)|
My single favorite comment of the day came from Kirt when he saw this painting:
"Now there's a woman who has never run a day in her life."
|I love how I can be surprised by this museum no matter how many times|
I visit. I used this image of Saint George and the Dragon as my Facebook
profile picture for a long time and had no idea that the original was here.
After finishing our run through the art museum, we walked slowly back to the car, stopping (as one does) for some pains au chocolat at Paul Bakery. They were delicious on the chilly afternoon, and I was happy to have gotten to know James and Kirt a little better over the course of the afternoon. It's funny how "family" can bring together three different people like that, out of the blue, and facilitate a connection that might never otherwise have been there. Kirt will go back to Virginia Beach after the long weekend, and I'm not sure how often he'll be back up here. James lives here, though, and I'm looking forward to building the acquaintance into friendship, so that "family" will mean more than just a diagram on the family tree.