Sunday, March 29, 2009

"There's a Family Story . . . " by Robin Minnick

Robin Minnick was born without a mean bone in her body. She had to work hard to develop them; her children would say she was reasonably successful.

She has spent the 24 years prior to the last 1 1/2 (you figure it out) living in Nashville, Tennessee where she and her husband spent most of that time partially raising their family. (They ain’t done yet!)

Before that she lived in various places including but not limited to – and not in this order – Brookview, North Syracuse, and Oswego, New York; Laurel, Maryland; and Winooski, Vermont.

She is sister to 4, wife to 1, mother to 6 and mother-in-law to 1 (that she knows of) and is a friend to all who don’t get on her bad side.

Her writing credits have as many ancestors as her friends and are just as colorful, in a minor sort of way, and with hope, one of her many irons-in-the-fire will light her proverbial star, allowing her to mix her metaphors with abandon and still expect her cake to come out all right. Even with run-on sentences and fragments.

She is very grateful for the existence of blogs as they allow her to live out her dream of writing helpful, humorous columns like those of John Maguire on the Albany Times Union in the ‘60s and ‘70s without having to worry if they are good enough to be paid for. For proof, see:

In fact, Robin is working hard on finishing up two book projects and then will be digging up the courage to write synopses and go agent-hunting. (she suggests some of you duck!)

note regarding photos:
"pictures courtesy dkminnick (except the boat; I don't know the source for that one)"

"There's a Family Story . . . " by Robin Minnick

There ‘s a family story that tells how my mother-in-law, on a family trip to Disneyland, spotted then-governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller. My future husband was in his early teens and could only look on aghast as his mother walked right up to Rockey, stuck out her hand, and said, “Hello, I’m Virginia, one of your constituents, and here’s my family. This is…” She then proceeded to chat with the Governor for ten minutes while her children looked anxiously for places to hide. I never did hear what her husband thought of it all.

It was, I think, this story that told me my mother-in-law and I had much in common. I was also fascinated by events, coincidences, but above all, connections between people. Mom was always on the alert for making a connection.

If she could make it in person, a la Rockey, so much the better, but even third-party connections were not below her.

If my husband’s brother was going to be in a certain city – he travels in his work – she’d pester him to look up her dear friend so-and-so who’d lived there for years.

“Be sure and call Eleanor,” she’d say. “She’ll have you over for dinner one night, if you just call her.”

Sometimes it was annoying because, as her sons and daughter pointed out, these were her friends, not theirs,
and schedules didn’t always allow for extra personal visits. They usually ended up going along, however; it was just Mom’s way of connecting people.

If she wasn’t forging a connection herself, Mom was searching to see if one already existed. She had a knack for it. The first visit I made to her house,
she quizzed me about my hometown. On hearing its name, she asked if I knew a Muriel H.

I stared at her. “Yes! She’s our church organist! I went to school with her kids, and she always looked out for me when I sang in choir!”

They’d been best friends when her husband was in college after WWII. In fact, Mom and her husband introduced Muriel to her husband. And she, my lifelong friend from church, had babysat my Dave when he was an infant. Does it surprise anyone to hear she was the organist for our wedding? Mom had struck gold again.

Connecting the dots wasn’t understood by everyone. Especially everyones who lived in small towns in upstate New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s. When I tried asking people about relatives or if we possibly knew the same people, I’d get puzzled looks that said “Why would you think that?” “What do you care?” “Are you nuts, or just nosey?” I was surrounded by people who didn’t care about any connections they might have to some other person I knew. While my need to know was thwarted, it was even more frustrating to realize these people just didn’t understand what I found so fascinating.

Fast forward in my life about 10 years. Dave and I married, and our little family (we had 1 child then) moved to Nashville, Tennessee. If you’re a Southerner, you probably see where this is going; bear with me.

Our first trips to church were marked by questions about where we came from and who we might be related to. “Do you have family over in Mt. Juliet?” “Did you grow up up North, or do you have relatives there?” (They always looked so glum when we admitted to being Yankees.) “I had a friend from Buffalo once; know anybody named Christantello?”

These people spoke my language! They were trying to place us, to connect the dots and see what our lives and relationships looked like. That similarity, the sharing of that little quirk of my own nature did more to make me feel at home in Nashville those first months than anything else. The longer I stayed, the more I grew used to the idea that the trait everyone I’d grown up around thought was odd seemed to be firmly rooted in the Southern gene pool.

I think it was in an Anne George’s Southern Sisters mystery where I first read this, but it rang true as Gospel when I did. Southerners simply love to connect the dots. They look for connections between you and them and the rest of the world, trying to place exactly who you are and how it all fits together.

Which takes it all a step farther.

Because, you know, it’s really a giant game of “What if?” What if your cousin is my cousin-twice-removed’s sister-in-law? What if my best friend’s brother kissed her full on the lips? What if, because of that relationship, his furious ex, hellbent on making his life plumb miserable, ran her down with a bass boat?
And so it goes, with Southerners and other people of imagination, ‘what-iffing’ their way through the world.

Some of us ‘what-if’ our way through an outline or a storyboard and eventually put it all down on paper. Maybe it’s easier for Southerners to write because they grow up with all that incessant searching for connections. Maybe that’s why the ‘Southern Writer’ evolved. Regardless of place of origin, I can’t help but think that the best writers among us are those whose unharnessed imaginations are continually finding ways to connect the dots.

I’d love to someday feel I’d earned the right to join those ranks. Maybe, if I’m lucky, eventually I’ll have linked enough dots together to create a picture rich enough and vibrant enough to qualify for that right. Meantime, I have to ask, any of you related to Kaye Barley here?


Vicki Lane said...

Great post, Robin! I grew up Southern and this is so familiar -- my brother and I shared a joke, whenever our mother or grandmother got going on the subject. "Now wasn't she a McKay?" one of us would ask innocently, and she would labor to find the connection -- which, in our group of acquaintances in Tampa, almost always existed. (I myself am not related by blood to the McKays but I married someone who is.)

Meredith Cole said...

My grandmother always gently interrogated everyone she met until she discovered a connection. Maybe that's why she fit right in when she moved south, too! And she always remembered all the details of their children and grandchildren. I think that's how I inherited a good deal of my curiosity from her, too!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

This was a wonderful post, Robin!
I'd say, my friend, that you were indeed born with a fair share of "southern genes" running through your bones.

And I learned stuff about you. Like six children! Now I need to hear every detail' all about them all. And here I thought there were only the twin girls!!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Kaye, for the opportunity to take up space on your blog. And Vicki and Meredith, thanks for the comments. It's always nice to know that my ideas live someplace besides my own head.
Kaye, you know how I go on, are you sure you want to hear about our 6 kids?

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Robin, YES, I'm sure! Every detail. All six of 'em! Six! You have boggled my mind!

Earl Staggs said...

Hi, Robin. I loved your take on life and the people and stuff in it, even tho it's a bit south of center. No, wait a minute. That's exactly WHY I liked it. Hmmmmm. Maybe we're related.

Anonymous said...

Ha, Mom, you've passed that trait along to us. I look for connections to Nashville wherever I go. And, funnily enough, there's plenty, especially among the elder staff at school. :)