There is a story that swirls around my family, of a long time ago. The details are non-essentials; the lack of specifics invites the listener to settle in and make this story one’s own. Like most good stories, this one has taken on a life it’s own, and it’s boiled down essence has become a maxim of sorts. It’s a parable in my lineage full of it’s own teaching, providing my family with a common language.
This story begins on a crisp spring day more than thirty years ago. My parents were young, younger than I am now (a fact that has me doing mental gymnastics to even consider). They were married but my sister and I were only unspoken glimmers of hope for some time in the future.
In order to understand this story you need to know a few things: my dad, this humble pie guy on the outside, is pretty remarkable. He’s the sort of guy that you could know for a while, and think you have a good sense of him. I mean, he’s pretty straight forward. He likes his coffee black. He works hard, and plays hard. He’s never more at peace that when he’s in the woods. But he’ll surprise you. Casually, in conversation, talking about this episode of Amazing Race where they were skydiving, and all of a sudden he’s telling stories of jumping out of planes. And what’s that? When did you do that, you say? Oh, when you were a Green Beret, right. Because he had nothing else to do. That’s my dad.
My renaissance man of a father at one point had his pilot’s license, my guess is as a result of his time in the army. And when you are married with no kids, sometimes it’s fun to jump in a plane and fly around a bit. Check out the scenery from a different vantage. My folks were making plans to do just that on this spring day. The dogwoods are beginning to bloom, and the air smells of fecund mud. But there is a breeze, as most spring days have, and it’s this breeze that is a point of contention.
A breeze that is mild, like spring’s gentle kisses, while sipping coffee on the back deck, can, however, be difficult to predict and treacherous to navigate with a small plane and a mere hobbyist’s interest in flight.
“It’s not looking good to fly today” one of them says, watching the trees shake their budding branches against the pale blue sky. “It’s windy out here.”
“What do you mean?” the other responds, surprised at the declaration. And here it comes: the words that echoed, not just that day, bouncing around the air, picked up by the birds as they chatter to each other, but echoed through the years. “It’s not that windy.” The qualifier in that sentence is doing all the work. A mere matter of a different perspective, perhaps, or a strong desire to hold fast to plans. A simple conviction that one opinion is more right than another, or merely semantics arguing the same thing. It doesn’t much matter, and I’m not sure either one of them knew.
I don’t think they ended up flying that day. I don’t know how they decided this, or who spoke loudest. I don’t even know who was on what side of the discussion. But I do know that the conversation escalated enough to highlight both the typical differences in perspective of my parents, and to become endeared to us family legacy.
With repetition, this vignette of a particular place and time has given us a vocabulary to use with each other. “It’s not that windy.” It’s quipped and quoted from all sides of my family, including my married-into-the-family husband. This can be offered as reminder of perspective. Where is the line between sweet breeze and blustery storm? And who gets to draw that line? It can infuse lightness and humor into a potential escalation, and reminds us that we share this vocabulary. It makes us insiders together, in on the joke, and helps us find a bond of togetherness, even if it’s only in that moment of this common story. More often than not, it’s the jolt that I need to figure out which battles are worth fighting. Because, you see, sometimes it is that windy. And sometimes it’s not.
***This is the beginning of a series that I will post occasionally about the family sayings and folklore that are meaningful to me, especially in my family history, as a way to explore my own Story. A similar post, that I wrote last year, can be found here: ‘near nough. What are some of yours?