Monday, September 24, 2007

Family Reunion

(Thanksgiving 1967 - My grandfather, Pa Sullivan, holding my cousins Joey, David & Joan; Me in the suit.)

So, there I was eating some breakfast on Saturday morning when the phone rang. MY WIFE answered it. From the other room, I heard, “Yes, he’s here. Who’s calling please?”

I was slightly perturbed that she had told someone I was here before she found out who it was. We generally screen each other’s calls for telemarketers, politicians, bill collectors, fundraisers, IRS agents, and other potential scumbags. However, surprise soon replaced budding anger. It was my Cousin David.

I hadn’t spoken to or seen my cousin in close to forty years.

(Well, OK - that’s the truth, but still a slight exaggeration. We’d seen pictures of each other, exchanged e-mails, and – most important – been reading each other’s blogs. We’d had a chance to “meet” electronically. I just hadn’t actually heard his voice, or seen him in the flesh, in four decades.)

To set the scene more fully, I need to give you a bit of background.

Last weekend, Boston College had defeated Georgia Tech in a football game. I’m a BC fan, so I enjoyed that. My cousin is also a fan of BC, so he had made a bet upon the outcome of that game. He bet another blogger – Plez – that BC would win. The loser had to display the other school’s logo on his blog for a week. BC, and thus my cousin, won.

Plez, being an honorable alum of GT, made good on the bet. He displayed the logo all of last week. My cousin, being the winner, couldn’t be blamed for wanting to publicize his victory. He wrote about it on his blog. You can read about it, if you want. I made four or five different comments, since I enjoyed the victory so much myself. Anyway, as you'll see if you peruse the comments, I decided to go to BC’s next game, vs. Army.

I went to a website that re-sells season ticket holder’s tickets when they aren’t able to make it to a game. I was able to score an excellent seat in the first row of the upper deck, on the 30-yard line.

(On the left, my Cousin David, with his redheaded son. On the right, my Dad, with his redheaded son.)

And now, we return to my breakfast table, MY WIFE handing me the telephone, my cousin on the other end. Rather than recount the entire conversation, I’ll give you highlights.

It seems David had been playing in a golf tournament on Friday. Part of the tournament was a long-drive competition, and in that, he had won tickets to the BC game. He wanted to know if we might get together before the game.

I was up for it. From everything David had written on his blog, as well as from correspondence, he seemed like a good guy. He’s blood, of course, but he also appeared to be someone I’d like hanging with even if he wasn’t. He was driving to the game from his home in western Massachusetts (about an hour’s drive) while I planned on parking at my place of business and then taking public transportation. We arranged to meet in front of a movie theater in Cleveland Circle, about a 15-minute leisurely walk from the stadium.

(On the left, my Dad as a toddler. Compare to my Cousin David's boy above. On the right, my Dad. Compare to my Cousin David above.)

I arrived at the theater 10 minutes in front of our arranged meeting time. While I was waiting, I wondered what it would be like to see David in person. In pictures I had seen of him, he had a great resemblance to my Dad. Since my Dad has been dead for 13 years now, I wondered if seeing David might be a bit more emotional than a general reunion with another family member. Would it be like seeing my Dad walking towards me?

David pulled his car into the parking lot and got out. He was immediately recognizable to me, of course. He DID look a lot like my Dad, and if he had been wearing a suit and tie, I might have freaked. However, David is a casual dresser, as I am, and that tempered the effect. My Dad almost never wore shorts, a baseball cap, and a jersey.

(In my usual self-absorbed fashion, I never considered that I might resemble someone David knew. As he later told me, I bear a bit of a resemblance to his brother.)

We shook hands, and then hugged. We started walking towards the stadium. We passed a ballfield that I had mentioned in my blog. He asked me if that was where I played my games. I said yes, telling him a couple of small peculiarities about the field. We made small talk about sports, but easily fell into conversation about my Cousin Joey (deceased in the past year, from a drug overdose) and that led into deeper family subjects, such as about how David’s father, my Uncle David, had abandoned him and his mother at an early age.

David told me about the spotty meetings they had through the years; a few minutes before school here, a bit of conversation someplace else. He related to me how he wished his father had done things differently. He said that he had pretty much reached a stage of forgiveness – or at least acceptance – and if his father had made a little bit of extra effort at that point, they might have had some sort of real relationship. Uncle David never did, though. One of my cousin's big regrets is that he had never really had a chance to know the Sullivan side of his family. His memories of family members – people I knew well, spent lots of time with, and loved deeply – were just shreds and shadows.

(I don’t want to paint David as some sort of pathetic character. He’s far from that. He seems to have his shit together like very few people I’ve known. He’s successful in his field. He’s happily married with lovely kids. He’s self-assured, confident, outgoing, a real nice guy, and I can’t imagine him backing down from much. He wasn’t crying while he told me these things, so I want to make sure that in no way I leave you with that impression concerning him. More than anything else – even during the talks about things that might have hurt – we were both smiling.)


We reached Alumni Stadium and went inside. It was still about a half-hour before game time, so we just walked around the inside perimeter of the place, first searching for a beer stand (it turns out they don’t sell beer at Alumni Stadium – Horrors!) and then for a hot dog/sausage stand. Finding a place that sold sausages, I bought one with peppers and onions. David opted for a hot dog. We stopped our walking, ate, and talked some more.

Sometimes the son of an alcoholic becomes a teetotaler, a response to the sadness caused by his father's addiction. Similarly, David has become a devoted family man, in response to his own father's abandonment. He is as much of a good father and husband as his own dad generally wasn't to him and his mother.


The conversation reverted back to sports for a while. Talk of my arthroscopic knee operation led into David relating a painful story about an injury in high school football (which I won’t go into detail about, but it concerned a bruised testicle, which should be enough said) and we easily fell into casual conversation about a variety of subjects - family, youthful indiscretions, life in general. I wasn’t looking forward to us splitting up when David went to his seat in the end zone and I went to mine on the sidelines. I suggested that he accompany me to my seat and that he join me, if there was an empty seat next to mine.

As it turned out, there were a few empty seats in the front row and we were able to sit together throughout the entire game. As we watched BC defeat Army, 37 – 17, we talked about family, the Red Sox, illegal drug usage common to both of our pasts, politics, whether Matt Ryan has a shot at actually winning the Heisman Trophy (we think yes, but definitely a longshot), more family, more drugs, the Patriots, the Celtics, our respective jobs, gambling, and that we both share a similar fear of heights, therefore making our seats in the first row of the second deck a source of slight recurring vertigo for both of us. The conversation flowed effortlessly, and I had a very enjoyable afternoon. To me, it seemed as though we had been friends for forty years, rather than not having seen each other in that long a time.

After the game, we hugged again, and I said that we’d have to do something else soon, maybe with OUR WIVES along. I headed to the Chestnut Hill train station, to ride back to Newton and my car, while David walked back to Cleveland Circle to retrieve his car. I hope we DO get together again fairly soon. It was a fun day.

I bought a ticket to a football game, but what I got was an excellent family reunion. Way cool.


Merisi said...

This is really cool, actually liking someone you meet for the first time, relative or not.
So, are you planning Thanksgiving yet? :-)

Suldog said...


I wouldn't mind having David and his family to our place, but MY WIFE and I already host my Mom and her husband, Bill; my Grandma; my Uncle Rick; and my cousin Scott and his wife, Andrea. That's 8 right there and we sometimes also have a family friend, which makes 9. Adding another 4 would push someone out the front door at our little place!

I assume David already has Thanksgiving traditions of his own, too. If not, though, maybe we could work out something...

Stu said...

Call me a wuss, but I teared up at this entry.

And sausage with peppers and onions, oh my! Makes for a great sandwich as well, especially with a little marinara and some mozzarella. Yum!

CapCity said...

this was WAYYY cool to read, too! it's a great thing to rediscover family members who can also be friends.
it's also a funny phenomena to me how children often resemble an aunt or uncle more than their parents. i've seen that so much! great photos - i love old flix! said...

Way cool post too!

I like you both and you should get together more often.

No beer at a football game? Wow, that's like going to a NASCAR race and not drinking! Well, I actually did 'cause it was too cold to drink one!

Suldog said...

Stu - Peppers and onions are a good enough combo to make innertubes taste good. Grill me up some and give me ANYTHING with 'em. Yum!

CapCity - Yeah, it's interesting how the genes travel, isn't it? Some kids look like Mom, some kids look like Dad, some kids look like the milkman...

(In our case, that was alright. My grandfather WAS the milkman.)

Mushy - Yeah, it surprised the hell out of me. I figured every football game just automatically comes with beer. Oh, well. Not a killer, as I was only going to have one or two, but still a minor drawback to an otherwise excellent day.

david mcmahon said...

G'day Jim,

Great reunion. And a pleasure to read about it ....

All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

family is the bomb man - count your blessings

Lisa Johnson said...

OMG this is wonderful!!! I thought you guys saw each other all the time from reading your blogs, but I'm SO happy that you got together! And such nice family pictures! Thank you for sharing!

plez... said...

WOW! What a touching story about your reunion with David. Based on your blogs, I thought you guys were really close (and the resemblence in the pictures is uncanny). So it makes me feel even better if plezWorld played even a small part in you guys finally getting together.


Unknown said...

Great story Suldog, you never disappoint.

I was glad to see the wager made and lived up to. I know it had to be difficult for the loser. One of us will know the feeling soon.

Melinda said...

Sully, that was a great post to read - I'm glad that you & David got to spend time together like that - it would be great to meet fellow bloggers in person - especially family!

Also, I'm sure I speak for many of us when I say that I'd hang out with you anytime :)

Suldog said...

David - Glad you enjoyed it. I'm still working on the dishwashing story :-)

Torrance - Indeed. I'd count my blessings, but they're too numerous.

Anali - Thanks! I'm so glad you liked it. As for the pictures, I wish I had thought to bring a camera to the game. It would have been nice to have one or two photos from the day itself.

Plez - You played a rather large part in this, so THANKS!!!

(Sorry that GT went down again this weekend. I still think they're better than that.)

Barbara - Yeah, it's going to be painful for one of us, but it should be fun while it's being decided.

M - You know the feeling is mutual. Thanks!