A devastating hurricane helped one woman accept her husband's raucous relatives.
Our families couldn't be more different. I come from a household of introverts and nerds. We're quiet. We don't draw attention to ourselves. We don't play practical jokes. We don't laugh loudly, and we never, ever bellow. My childhood home in Tennessee was dark and hushed.
I remember my childhood dinners as a time to discuss politics, religion or philosophy. We debated, but politely. As a child, my goal was to blend in. I hid from attention. I was an excellent student, but I never bragged about my accomplishments–it just wasn't seemly.
His clan on the other hand, seemed like it was from different planet.
The first time I attended his family reunion in Florida, shortly after we married, I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide. What a boisterous bunch of people! They talked too much and they laughed too loudly, at each other and at themselves. They put bugs in each others' beers and ate off of one another's plates. They shouted and laughed as they dug a hole and barbequed a pig whole. They even poked fun at me! My face turned red. I stammered. I had no idea how to respond.
They hugged and they laughed and they cried and they wrestled–in the house! Chairs and lamps flew and pictures fell off walls as they grunted and grappled and cursed and pinned each other down. And they looked at me as if I were the one from another planet.
In the beginning, I begged out of his family get-togethers.
They terrified me. He, on the other hand, relished the opportunity to make my parents blush or laugh, and my parents quickly grew to love him and to eagerly anticipate his visits. "Where's Keith?" they'd ask, disappointed if it was only me coming to visit. He brought life into my family.
But his family. . . his family frightened me. They were so rambunctious. And they hugged and touched so much. I didn't know what to do with them and they didn't know what to do with me.
And then, in 2004, Hurricane Charley struck central Florida devastating our town of Deltona and injuring my husband as he tried to lift a tree out of our doorway and tore the muscles in his back. His father, sister, and brother-in-law jumped into gear, driving for hours from Jacksonville, loading up ice, candles, chainsaws, and water. They spent days sawing and stacking and raking in terrible heat and humidity. I worked right along with them.
I cooked food on the grill, as we had no electricity. I provided cold beer, and his father's favorite, cold wine. And we all sat on the porch in the evenings, trying to cool off. By the end of the week, we had a new appreciation for each other.
I understood that their garrulous interactions were a sign of love.
When they teased, they teased with affection. I saw that they meant me no harm, that they wanted to make me one of the family. And they, in turn, realized that I was neither snobby nor uppity, merely shy and reserved.
During the hurricane cleanup his father and I talked through the night, sometimes into the next morning. I learned that he loves the ocean, and he learned that I love his son. We came to understand each other.
I still can't be loud — but I can laugh at myself.
And now, in the middle of the chaos when I'm overwhelmed and seek refuge, his father shares a glass of wine with me and we talk about the ocean. It took a hurricane to bring us together and to teach me that familial love comes in many different forms.