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Other Family

I had a post about our nephews the other day, the Kids in Our Lives . They are our family. Blood family. We have other family in our lives, and to me, that part of my extended, chosen family, is the Grieco/McNealy family. My finding this extended family begins with Julia. Meeting her 10 years ago stirred up the writing bug. I had that bug for a long time, and then stopped for almost 10 years.

With many bumps in the road, I found myself, in the spring of 2007, going back to school in Presque Isle. This time in Lit class, it was an excuse to read. And boy, did Jen Graham make me read. I convinced Jen to allow us to write a short story for extra credit, even though she told people that no matter what I did, I would only get a C, I wanted an A. She allowed us to do this extra credit. I wrote a little ditty called I Remember. It was my first piece in the first person. After two weeks of handing it in, I’d reworked it and gave her a second copy. That’s when the real fun began.

Jen asked me to meet her in her office one afternoon, after sitting down and telling me a few bad things about the piece, she said, “April 17th, you’re going to read this in front of the school, Jan Grieco has a creative writing class that is reading pieces, I’ve slipped you in.” The true panic began, what was Jen thinking? I reluctantly agreed, only because she didn’t give me much of a choice in the matter.

So April 17th arrived and I was, to say the least, about to have a heart attack. I met Jen at her office and she led me to the library, a place I’d read in several more times. I’d make people blush in that library too. She pointed to the “other Jan” and off I went to introduce myself. Our first meeting, oddly enough, was quite humorous. Jan asked if I preferred Janet or Jan and I told her, I didn’t care. When she introduced me, this was her opening that I didn’t quite care what I was called, “Janet or Jan is going to read for us a piece she wrote for her Lit class”. I got up and read: fast. I’m French, it’s part of the repartee. At the end of the section, there was the oddest silence, then clapping. I walked away and hid. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I hadn’t hated it up there so much and I think I liked Jan Grieco. She was a kick-ass sort of woman, quick witted, knew every book ever written (or so it FEELS like it). When we trade emails for our Writing Group, I always sign it “The Other Jan”. She came first and now I’m just trying to live up to her.

Spring came and went and I had summer classes, in the fall, I looked up Jan Grieco’s classes. Media and Culture, that went right along what I was doing for work. I signed up and that is where our creative friendship began. My papers were all written in the middle of the night, so they were quirky and filled with my odd look on life. I began stopping in at Jan’s office before class and we’d walked there together. I learned about her daughter, Kasey, whom she adored. Her mother who lived with her in a separate section of the her home, Jan’s love for Saturn cars (it’s funny we both got rid of our Saturn’s and now drive Toyta’s), and how much we had in common. Our Media and Culture class had a fun Jeopardy game that pitted students and faculty against one another. This was the day that I met Kasey and Silas.

Embarrassingly enough, even though Jan had hardly read anything more than my papers for school, and I am assuming, I Remember, my introduction to Kasey was: ‘this is Janet Grivois, the wonderfully prolific writer I was telling you about’. I will never forget it because I know I blushed. I was prolific? And she was telling her daughter about me? Oh lord. I was quick to refute that it wasn’t true, though I think Kasey would now argue that point with me, that I am prolific or horrific, I’m not sure sometimes. Kasey was a quick to smile and thoughtful woman. She was younger than me, but I was sure she didn’t think so. I have the habit of acting rather young unless someone is bleeding and then I’m all business. I also met her adorable young son, named Silas. I didn’t see Kasey again until a few months later, while I was in Jan’s creative writing class. Which, Jen Graham had told me I was taking. So much for choices. Kasey, now pregnant with Emerson, came to class every once in a while. Jan would constantly keep me up to date on how Kasey was doing, since I was always asking.

It is interesting where friendships begin, and sometimes you don’t quite know where that starting point is. Each time Kasey graced us in the classroom, we would easily bounce off one another. As the semester came to a close, we had a date for a BBQ at Jan’s house. A few came and a wonderful time was had.

On the drive home, Julia laughed at me. It seemed to her as if I’d known Jan and Kasey for an eternity. And that all that writer talk was boring. Julia is my opposite in that manner, but always quietly encouraging. If I ever publish anything worthwhile, she’s the one who gets to cash the check. Jan and Kasey are not the usual mother/daughter duo, oh no! They went to college together at one point, they finish each other’s sentences and sometimes Jan says things that make Kasey put her fingers into her ears and say, “lalalalalala!”

(please note Kasey is knitting)

Jan had invited me and a select few to a writer’s group, at her house, weekly. We have gone through several members, some good, some not so good, and some that we couldn’t figure out what we had been thinking. Of those that stayed, Brock, Dustin, Aileen, Jan, Kasey and I are the original three. At some points it was JUST us.

Each week we meet at Jan’s and build a stronger bunch of writers. We keep growing as writers and as people, which is the more important of the two. We broadened our circle, yet, the three who were always there are Jan, Kasey and I. I’ve started to think we have guest appearances by… someone each week, and some of them stuck. Friendship is not always something that is easily forged, there are bumps and we are all crazy women. Yet, we sit, eat, tickle Emerson, Kasey’s thoughtful looking little boy and pick the hell out of each other’s writings.

Emerson has grown up so much in the last few years and we are lucky to have been a part of that. From the ragdoll little guy in the 1st picture to the shy, but mischievous guy in the second picture, he smiles, talks and climbs, a lot, so much so that he drives his mother crazy! We were lucky this year we had some time to go visit Kasey at her place at the lake for a while, play with Silas and charm Emerson. Kasey invited us to Silas’ birthday this year and I came armed with my camera (a gift from Julia) and took an obscene amount of pictures. I’m rather sure Kasey kept the last one of Emerson above as her Facebook profile for AGES. I’m voting to ride my 4-wheeler up there this summer with a tent and camp at their place for the weekend, and I’m pretty sure Silas will be in our tent the whole time.

I had to do this project a few years ago, Silas wasn’t in school yet and I picked him. I had to ask him questions and have him draw stuff. At one point he said, “So when do the hard questions start?” Needless to say he scored at an 8 year old. He wasn’t even in school yet. He’s smart, scary smart, and like every other child in our lives, the minute he sees Julia he lights up. On our visit to Kasey’s she was the one who went in the lake with him and he was quickly becoming enamored. If same-sex marriage doesn’t pass, either Tyler, Rhys or Silas might marry Julia before I do! He loves to read, he eats books, he talks like a much older child and we sometimes forget just how old he really is!

That’s my extended family, at least, a part of it. When Jan needs medical advice, I’m the one she calls “Find this out for me” she says. When I need someone to bounce things off of, she’s the one I call. When her mom wasn’t feeling well this summer, Julia and I dropped everything and haul our butts up to Perham to see if there was something we could do. When I needed a plumber to fix a busted pipe, Bruce, Jan’s husband, came down in the freezing cold of February and did an estimate and was back the next day to fix it, at half the cost of anyone else who’d come. When Kasey needs someone to talk her down off the roof (as she likes to say when things get crazy) I’m the one she calls. A few times this past summer, my cell phone would ring and Kasey would say, “So now you have to talk me down.” It is NOT every day you come across people who fall seamlessly into your lives, but we are lucky to have found them, or they found us. Either way they are family.


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