Moving Clouds


By Louise Ure


Alafair was right yesterday … the weather does affect us in inestimable ways. It was 109 degrees when I left Sydney and it snowed here in Tucson Sunday, for the first time in decades. (Of course, it’s70 degrees here today, but why let a good whine go to waste?)

I’ve returned to Tucson to finally settle my mother’s estate. She died two years ago this week, but the whole family got caught up in other – and in my case, more dire – circumstances and we couldn’t get things settled until now.

It has been decades since I’ve been here for longer than the expected four day Christmas visit. This time, although it’s fraught with potential conflict, I have the time to see the whole extended family, to eat at all my favorite restaurants, and to drive up to the foothills to see the snow if I want to.

My family numbers in the hundreds here, although there are probably only six or seven surnames involved. (No jokes about white trash marrying cousins of the same name, please. We have lots of males in the family and they in turn married into big families and sired lots more males.) But it’s the women in the family that hold it together. The women who care for the generations before them and behind them, who safeguard the memories, who tell the stories, who dust off the pictures. I celebrate them all.

If I knew that the bombs would blast on a certain day, I would make sure to gather this whole extended clan of siblings and cousins and nephews and in-laws. Among us there is a farmer, a rancher, a chicken breeder, a scientist and a teacher. There’s also a judge, a bookkeeper, a house builder, a songwriter, and a couple of nurses. In going through all the old family papers these last couple of weeks, I see that I am not the only or even the best writer among us. Taken as a whole village, the people I am related to could recreate the world.

Of course, we’ve got our fair share of ne’er-do-wells and dope dealers and scalawags, but that’s what makes it interesting.

In all my visits these last few decades, I’ve stayed at hotels here and maintained a polite but friendly distance from my three siblings. They didn’t have room for us to stay, and it felt intrusive to me. This trip we’re all staying together. We rise together and go bed together. And in between, we eat too much and laugh at jokes both old and new.

I have rekindled my happiness in making calabasitas and chorizo in my mother’s kitchen. I have once again recognized how important my siblings are to me.

In the 1970’s, trying to describe my brothers and sisters, I wrote a short essay about how each of or them would react to a boulder in the road ahead of them. I wrote that my eldest brother, Bill, who died of cancer at 29, would not have noticed it, intent on an architectural challenge he was working out in his head. My only sister, the other half of the coin to my lack of empathy, would have placed hands on the rock to understand why it was there and try to love it out of the way. The middle brother, a scientist and thinker, would have fashioned a giant lever to move it aside. And the baby brother, faster with fists than with rationale, would have beat against it until both he and the boulder were depleted.

They have not changed since then, nor has my opinion.

But we’re laughing together again. And together, whether it’s with love or a lever, we’re going to get this god damn boulder out of the way.

Tell me a story about families, ‘Rati. Either the one you have or the one you wish you had.

23 thoughts on “Moving Clouds

  1. Lesa Holstine

    We don't realize how much our siblings mean to us, Louise, until we need them. I have two younger sisters, and one of them has been with me every step of the way. She broke my heart with her love when she offered to fly out and just sit with my husband. She was there the weekend after he died. And, she continues to make me laugh. Some weeks I get two or three cards from her. She just writes to say she loves me. The other sister loves me, but she's caught up in a busy life with four children.

    But, when I went home to bury my husband, my mother and sisters were there, to take me to dinner, and to spend the evening telling stories and laughing. They are the only ones who share my childhood stories with me. And, laughter is the best healer of all.

  2. Alafair Burke

    Enjoy your time with your siblings, despite the circumstances. I have three siblings, and it gets so hard to find time to spend together at once.

  3. Karen in Ohio

    Sometimes it takes going through adulthood to appreciate siblings, I think. My sister apparently thought we had some kind of animosity going for the last 40 years. Last summer we talked about it, and I think she finally realized that was not true at all. We're still not super close, but at least she doesn't think of me as the enemy any more. I envy women with close sister relationships.

    Louise, will you still be in Tucson for the Festival of Books? I'd love to meet you! Reine and I will be there.

  4. Louise Ure

    Lesa, I can see how important your family has been this year. Their love shined through you.

    Alafair, distance won't matter when you need them.

    And Karen, how wonderful that you've reconciled. I saw notice of the Tucson Festival in the paper. If I'm still here I'll take a stroll around.

  5. Murderati fan

    I’m the oldest of the three girls, three years younger than my brother, now deceased. He was a magnificent fellow who could lift your wallet, remove the money, replace the wallet and make you feel you looked slimmer with a trimmer wallet.

    While he never did drugs and seemed to be allergic to alcohol, he became a magnificent scammer. At one point he left his two children and ill wife behind and faded, like the opening of Without a Trace. He eventually divorced and remarried three times that we knew about. He flitted around the country enjoying success wherever he landed. True love trapped him and he gave up his evil ways, fathered his step daughters, stripped his past from his history, and reappeared to reconcile with the family.

    Cancer cut him down too soon. As I listened to his friends and fellow employees relate their admiration while his ashes weighted an urn, I realized he scammed them all, including himself. Before his demise, he transformed himself into a beautiful soul

  6. Zoë Sharp

    Another gorgeous post, Louise – are you SURE you aren't the best writer in your family …?

    Some parts of my family I'm very close to, other parts I have not seen for more than half my life. C'est la vie.

  7. Barbie

    I have a really small family. I have one half-sibling from each parent (though, another one on the way, my dad's wife's pregnant), and that's it. My extended family is so small, the denomination doesn't seem right 😛 Both my parents only have one sibling, and my dad's sister died. I'm not really close to anyone, but less distant from my mother's family.

    I'm the oldest, at twenty-two. My sister is eighteen, and we never lived together. I wouldn't say we're close. We're sisters. We talk sometimes, mostly superficially. We don't have much in common. But I love her and I'd go to hell and back for her. My brother will be 16 on the 10th, and he's lived with me his entire life. I love and adore him, and he's probably the person who gets me (as in, my sense of humor, the way I see the world) better than anyone else. he's the only person who perceives the world like I do, and, though we're not close as in sharing personal things, we talk a lot. I just adore him.

    Having said that, I'd love to have been the much younger child of a big family, like, maybe have four much older sisters and two much older brothers 🙂

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    And how would you approach that boulder, Louise?
    I think I would build a house on top of that boulder and say, "Well, I guess this is where I'm supposed to be."
    I have one sister, and, although I love her, we are absolutely nothing alike.
    I am: Jewish, vegetarian, hippie, Democrat, Californian ocean-lover.
    She is: Born-again Christian, Republican, married to a hunter, Texas farm-lover.
    When I was just getting into great California wines I visited her in Texas and she suggested I have a glass of wine or a beer. "Oh, what wine do you have?" I asked. "I don't know, whatever it says on the box in the refrigerator in the garage."
    "I'll have a beer."

  9. Reine

    My parents were the worst and died young. I had no sibs, just an infant brother born dead. Grandparents, aunts and uncles from both families took me on. It was a cultural-racial-sexuality-religious war. Then along came Auntie-Mom. She is the best mom ever. I am so happy to have her in my life.

    The other great mentor in my life, the Rev. Peter Gomes, university minister and professor – who kept many alive at Harvard with real food at his afternoon teas at Harvard – died last night.

  10. Louise Ure

    M-fan, I think your brother was a chameleon, but a happy one at the end.

    Zoe, you picked the parts of your family that please you the most. Very smart.

    Barbie, I love the relationship you have with your brother.

    And Stephen, yes, you'd build a house there. I'd probably hire a bunch of strong-backed men to pick it up and move it.

  11. Pauline

    I have 3 siblings, 2 brothers 5 years and 12 years younger than I. My sister came along 2 months before I moved to go to university, 19 years younger than me! Not much in commom, me being the oldest when parents just starting off in their life together. Then the surprise baby girl of the family, not saying she was spoiled but the rest of us thought so at the time.
    She was 6, my flower girl, when I got married. She fell asleep during the mass.
    She's recently married. We did the clean up at Christmas, dishes and stuff like that, while Mom relaxed with the rest of the family. My sister and I talked and talked, I think it was the most we had ever talked to each other at one time. That was nice.

  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Just a beautiful post, Louise. I love that you have taken this opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your siblings.

  13. Reine

    Karen, I think I have to go to the book fest on the 12th, because the 13th, your preferred day, is a Sunday. Sundays are almost impossible to schedule with the local paratransit van.

  14. Louise Ure

    Reine, I'm so sorry about the loss of your Harvard mentor. He sounds like a fine man.

    And Pauline, that's a great image of you and your little sister.

  15. Ray Rhamey

    A delightful and touching post, Louise. I think you are lucky in your family. My truest siblings are the siblings of my wife–two brothers and a sister. We are far more connected than I think I've ever been with my "real" brother, who I haven't seen in 20 years and don't mind. I think my in-law siblings are the real ones–that's where the love is. Thanks for making me think of this.

  16. Reine

    Karen, that didn't sound right. Chalk it off to my supreme lack of keyboard ability and English not my first language. I don't think I can go on the 13th because of van scheduling. Can you make I on the12th? I'd be very pleased to meet you then. Really sorry how the above might have appeared.

  17. Catherine

    Boulder approach methods. Wow this gives such a snap shot view of how we live.

    I'm an adoptee. I found my natural family exactly 21 years to the day I was adopted. I love my adopted parents. They are my Mum and Dad. Finding my natural family answered a lot of questions. Not so much why I was given up for adoption…more for me how much shared DNA influences my actions. I've ended up deciding that it's about a three way split. Environment/DNA/free choice…

    I have mixed feelings about my sisters. I have the sister I was raised with, and the sister I found. The sister I was raised with is also an adoptee and we often sound alike on the phone…but on things that matter we're miles apart. Like light and shade. I'm mostly open and she hides. Although she is a shocker at revealing other people's private dealings. I seem to hold a lot of other people's secrets.

    My natural sister ( she is called Louise [obviously an excellent name]) and I have a natural ease with each other. We don't agree on everything…our politics are quite different but how we care for people is very similar. I also have two natural brothers. One who drives us all a little nuts. And our baby brother (38) who is a sweet heart. He's like a big enthusiastic dog who bounds through life, sometimes shaking water on people, but with the biggest heart.

    It's over ten years since my natural siblings and I gathered to settle our mother's house. It brought out everything we were to each other that weekend. Previously we'd celebrated weddings together, and shared old huts, however this transition built something different with a deeper tone. An adult shift.

    Louise I've been so pleased to see your enjoyment in Australia reflected here in your posts recently.I was also glad to see how much you took to Peter Temple's sparse prose. Have you read all of his back list yet?

  18. fantasy books girl

    What a lovely post – thank you for this, Reminded me of how much I miss my family and love it when we gather together, though never often enough. As many others commented, enjoy them.

  19. Murderati fan

    Louise, There were sixteen in my dad's family (his hers theirs) and nine in my mom's family. What a great rag tag collections of aunts, uncles and cousins. I was so very lucky. Strange, all the nine boy first cousins who hung together are all deceased but we sisters all live on. Families are a marvelous adventure that changes with the years and the bends in the road.

  20. Louise Ure

    Ray, your inlays sound like your true family. I'm glad you found them.

    Catherine, I didn't know about your adoptive family but I'm glad you have an enthusiastic fog of a brother . I have one, too. And I did read the whole Peter Temple backlist.

    FB Girl, call your family.

    M-fan, that's a whole brood to catch up with.

  21. casino på nätet

    My sister apparently thought we had some kind of animosity going for the last 40 years. Last summer we talked about it, and I think she finally realized that was not true at all. We're still not super close, but at least she doesn't think of me as the enemy any more.

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