Part II: Journeys (Chapter 40)


I just don’t understand why Nicole couldn’t get time off from work,” Nana says.

Shel helps her from the car and into her chair. “It’s not like she didn’t know about this reunion in advance.”

“These things happen sometimes,” I say.

We are outside the Winnehaha picnic complex, which is all indoors now.

Sal has reserved the Northwest Quadrant for the reunion.

“I smell a great big rotten fish.” She rearranges her legs.

“Oh, Nana. Must everything have a hidden agenda?”

“With you, I never know. It’s no secret you and Nicole don’t get along.”

Shel puts his hand on Nana’s shoulder. “Well, Nana, I can assure you that Nicole is working her tail off today.”

Shel surprises me sometimes, his loyalty, his willingness to lie for me, though he’s not being totally dishonest; life with Roger is not exactly an easy one.

And about working her tail off...

“Now let’s go inside and have a good time today,” Shel says. “Find out where we’re supposed to be. Then we’ll come back later for the coolers.”

I can’t believe that my daughter would find her life with Roger and his piggy friends an acceptable one for a woman of the 1990’s.

I’m so angry with her, I could –

Still, I know that Nana’s feelings are deeply hurt by Nikki’s absence, and it’s all my fault –

“How about if we call Nicole a little later?”

Nana nods. For now, she seems content with that possibility.

How could I ever make Nana understand what Nikki must be going through when I’m not so sure myself?


Inside, the Quadrant bustles with activity.

I have never seen so many relatives, well over 100 people, congregated in one place, so many unfamiliar faces.

Many people look confused as they wander around, looking for their tables.

Sal has arranged the places at the long tables so that feuding relatives would not be stuck together. How she keeps track, I’ll never know – clearly, Sal has taken over the duties of matriarch from Nana, and yet Nana’s hand is felt.

The Quadrant itself is glassed-in – it looks like a giant geometric dome and is filled with birds, plants, and various trees, giving you the sense of being outdoors. A constant 75 degrees is maintained year-round, except in the pool area, kept at 85.

“Progress,” Nana says, as Shel wheels her chair inside. “In my day, we took whatever came our way.”

“The good ‘ole days,” Shel says.

“I like being comfortable on a hot day,” I say. “Growing up, I hated Sioux City summers. I hated laying in front of the fan, sweating like a pig. Why do you think I spent so much time at the swimming pool?”

“Young people are so spoiled. A little hot weather, and you’re ready to fold it up. Get a little cold or fever, pop a pill. In my day, we made do. When you got deathly sick, the family doctor came out to the house.”

“A lot of people died young then,” I say.

“That, too,” Nana says, sighing.

“This is great,” Shel says, looking all around. “We should have something like this back home.”

“You hear anything from Doug lately?” Nana asks.

“Doug? What makes you think I’d hear anything?”

“You do have a daughter together, don’t you?” Nana rubs her hands together. “Doug and me been keeping in touch for five years.”

I must look totally surprised and shocked because Nana keeps repeating “Yep, for over five years now....”

I am shocked because I can’t think of two least likely co-conspirators.

“He tells me things,” Nana says.

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