One of the advantages to living across the country from your family is that you can recreate them as the sitcom siblings you wish you always had.
I imagine the Brady Bunch and they imagine Will Truman. Neither could be farther from the truth.
“Is that mom and dad’s ugly old coffee table?” I ask my sister on a recent visit home.
“I thought you would have burned that,” I say, sounding like one of The Fab Five.
“Are you nuts?”
Looking around her house I’m struck by how Portuguese it is. I can’t turn around without knocking over a souvenir of Portugal, soccer trophy, or statue of Jesus. The only thing missing is Elvis.
Standing in front of The Last Supper I almost ask, “You don’t still believe in that crap do you?”
That same trip, I go with a different sister and her family to visit my brother in Pennsylvania. On the way down I accidentally launch an ancient roach into the air while showing off my new iShuffle to my sister. As I blindly search the floor for it with my fingers, I lock eyes with my niece who is doing her religious studies homework on abortion. She is not impressed. Thank God for the roach.
We stop at an Olive Garden for lunch. Killing time between courses my brother-in-law asks about my minor successes as a writer. “What triggered that?”
Before I answer I consider my surroundings. Coming here, billboards have reminded us that Jesus loves us. In this part of the States he probably hates fags too. But if I censor the truth, the story isn’t worth telling.
When my mother started losing her memory my sisters made a conscious effort to master her recipe for Portuguese sweet bread. One by one the five of them went through the paces of making it with my mother. None of them were able to perfect it. If I kept censoring myself, I ran the risk of going the way of the sweet bread.
“Well… it all started when I did drag as Nelly Furtado,” I say, and continue from there.
I can see the anguish on my sister’s face and I want to reach across the table, squeeze her hand and tell her, “It’s okay to talk like this.” But I don’t, and she pulls through and takes interest in my story.
As I wind my way back into my sisters’ lives, I notice each of them has “Live well, love much, and laugh often,” inscribed somewhere in their kitchens. I am both touched and amused because, like my family, it’s cheesy and it’s true.
Unlike mom’s bread, some things come to us naturally.