Uncle Bill had just retired, after giving some thirty years of service to some of the poorest of the neighbourhood to the west of the Marquette campus, which is the epicenter of the drug trade and violent crime in Milwaukee. He still has a sense of the habit of needing to work around him, and so I think Helen is being really smart in insisting that he really take some time off – a bit of an extended break – before he commits himself to some more volunteer-oriented work in the area, and to take time to really look at the variety of options before him without any self-imposed "deadline" of his own hanging above him. Seeing how much my Dad has loved getting involved in reading education with a program with elementary school kids in his retirement, I'm excited to see Bill finding something of his own that he'll enjoy through and through.
The Feastday itself seemed wonderfully full and unrushed. The nieces were a bit shy when I first arrived, more like they used to be, even the usually gregarious Sophie, hiding out from everyone with their faces in their Nintendo DS games. But before too long they warmed up. Haley was still the most shy of the lot, but still made a point of sliding up every once in a while to speak her mind or say something funny before pulling back away. Everyone later remarked at how much more talkative Grace was, given how used to her being shy they all were, and so that was cool to see that they noticed. And Sophie continued to be pretty social, once she warmed up. When it came my turn to be passed the laptop and to have a Skype conversation with cousin Ben, who was spending his second year teaching English to grade school students in Spain, all of the girls slid over to watch Ben talk when I invited them to say Hi, although none of them joined in on the conversation. Given that only Grace, and maybe Haley, even knew who he was, I figured that that wasn't too unusual. Sophie was especially interested in the boy I was talking to on the computer, though I am not sure she even entirely understood that he was a real person. So she just sat on my knee and watched, occasionally smiling when Ben waved at her or tried to coax her into speaking. Too cute.
Lots of other little details. I missed the annual post-feast walk down to Atwater Park, which I was really looking forward to, given the mild weather, because I was still talking with Ben when everyone left. By the time we were done and I had passed the computer to Bill, it was getting dark outside and I doubted anyone else would be interested in taking off in a later walking shift. For the second year in a row, Becca's UW friend Nadia from Malaysia joined us for the Feast. I ended up being able to talk with her more this time around, and so there was a lot of interesting cross-cultural kind of chat, as she answered our questions about what holiday feasts were like in her home, as well as just the ordinary get-to-know-you kinds of conversation about what she was studying, what she found interesting about the States, and the like. First-timer Jessica won the annual Euchre tournament, with Helen crowing with excitement to have come in second, which she said was the first time she had "placed" in the history of the event. It was much closer this year than in many years, with half of the family within three or five points of winning the thing. After most everyone had left, the bulk of the remainder stood around in the kitchen, talking for some time. Somehow the topic of baptism or godparents had come up in one wing of the conversation, and I was called upon to explain how this worked to Nadia. The odd story of my own baptism came up. That Bill was supposed to be my Godfather, and was still sort of counted as such, despite neither he nor my Godmother actually showing up for my baptism (him because he was sequestered with radical Jesuits at that moment, plotting to burn Vietnam draft notices, and her because of car trouble on the way) left Bill roaring with laughter as the story came out and we came to the image of infant me being left in the socially awkward position of none of my spiritual mentors even showing up. Just lots of funny family moments like that. Good holiday.