The past three weeks have been a hazy blur. A rotation of sleeping and bathing and working and driving. Laundry and dishes and chickens and dogs. We hit the ground running after Vermont. We had a housewarming party that I hope to write about later this week.
It's a stressful time, a time when I want nothing more than for it to be the grey period of unplanned weekends that comes more so in the winter than in the late summer for us. The Sunday we got back from Vermont, a few of my relatives from Indiana visited. They wanted to see our house, having done a long and winding coastal tour of my siblings and their children, we were the final stop.
I do not have a relationship with my extended family. Or, I should say, it is always in the fractious stop-and-go phase. A mass of aborted potential stands between us when we are all in the same room together. I see them so rarely, I forget they exist sometimes. Both sides of my family are from the same small town in Indiana, a county that rests on the border of Ohio. I am the outsider, having grown up in Pennsylvania and not the true Midwest.
And because of this, I cannot remember the last time my grandfather called me. I do not think my aunt ever knew I lived in California for those five years. I was forgotten about; and it was mutual in many ways. Though not bitter. A difference, so out of each others' control it has always been better to leave it as is.
I had these thoughts circling my head all of Sunday. I told Nolan I was nervous to spend so much time with them with no distraction. I hoped they would have canceled at the last minute. I thought of every excuse I used up in high school to play hooky. To be faced with silence is a nauseous feeling for me.
But instead, they did come. They met the dogs and hugged Nolan. They saw the barn. They got the tour. They commented on the bones of the house, the structure. They asked what we paid and forgot what we did for work. They laughed at our jokes and my father held out his arm when my grandfather needed help down our staircase. My aunt hugged me tight and she smelled sweet, like a citronella candle. I loosened up enough by dinner time.
And it was then I remembered how deep my roots go. To sit across from my family was to look in a broken mirror, a thousand small and shattered version of myself in their mannerisms and expressions. My uncle holds his fork like my mother. My grandfather stays quiet during meals. I share my nose with his side and I saw a withered, but vital, older version of myself--a version of myself who hobbles from age and beer and who has worn the same suspenders for the last 30 years. My uncle, who spoke a little loudly at the table, commented on the menus and everyone's dinner choice. In the awkward down-tic of conversation, I find myself doing this too.
And even though I am not from that town anymore, there are bits of it still left in me. I am my family's as much as I am my own self. It is the Midwest that stays deep in the crags of my personality. It comes out most when I'm around them. And maybe I need to stop running away from that side of myself. Maybe it's time I embraced those who didn't call for so long and understand that there is an unspoken resolve to being from the same small town as the rest of them was never a bad thing to begin with.
I thought about all of this as I read through Vegetarian Heartland, by Shelly Westerhausen and made her dish below. I found that I could be so connected to where I am from, but adapt to who I am now and that isn't a bad thing. That fearing it can only make it that much harder to resolve yourself to it, whenever that may be. Whenever I am ready to do so.
Baked Ricotta and Tomatoes with Thyme Butter
The recipe, which can be found by picking up a copy of Shelly's book, is so simple and truly delicious. I ended up doubling it to my pie pan, which worked well. This is a recipe that can stand up to variation and adaptation and I can't wait to see how it will bring me into the winter months, when I'll be dreaming of these gorgeous heirloom cherry tomatoes!