The family that I was born into, is, to say the least, unusual. I think we are peculiar and I think we've all felt the sting, as well as the grace of that, from the start. And I think much of that has to do with circumstances outside our ken and control, as well as with our own particular psyches and internal wiring.
The outside world has a name for people like us: "Those Armstrongs." This is not necessarily brag. It is a sometimes lonely, often prideful, sometimes very confusing and painful fact. It can also be snug and lushly comforting.
Of course, everyone thinks he and his are special; unique and more hilarious than his neighbor. I am not here to argue that. In fact I know that no one's joy or pain or disappointment in/delight with the world is deeper, stronger, nor more heartfelt than anyone else's.
I'm just here to tell a story or two about some of those sui generis Armstrongs, even as I know the telling will not necessarily illuminate the unusual. I just prefaced this story with that explanation because where unusual comes in is the not-easily-explainable nature of our ties to each other.
I've already introduced our seventh sibling, baby brother Michael. I can never write the pith and heart of his excruciatingly wondrous drop--from a hole in heaven--into our lives; his dazzling childish poise, that fierce doting hovering he engendered, especially from his older sisters.
Writing recently about him and me and our doing things together, I keep thinking about an escapade (so much of what we did, I would call escapades because I wasn't the brightest, most careful caretaker and we actually had some "close calls" or some experiences that certainly could have become close calls) that we shared with our sister, Deborah.
In my mind's eye, the cover photo of this memory is of Deborah standing on one side of a raging canal, two children... Michael and Margie-- standing next to her, me straddling the canal on the cement walls that contained it and Georgie flapping like a flag in a windstorm as I held him by the hands to swing him over the water for Deborah to catch, his legs buffeted by the current. She and I were grown enough to jump over, but the smaller, trusting children couldn't do that. Not a deterrent to our determination to hike the mountains in Ogden to the rainbow's end in Waterfall Canyon. We had successfully catapulted the others across without getting wet, but Michael had tried to put his feet down too early. My laughter weakened me and Deborah scrambled to save the day. Again. She grabbed him by his waist as soon as I was able to hoist him closer to her, and we all laughed at danger.
We hiked up the trail that, at points, crossed the full and fast river, in the days before bridges were invented. OK, well at least before they were placed over that river. It was early run-off, then. There was more hoisting kids over or sending and catching them on the other side. There was climbing steep and rocky surfaces and throwing slimy moss at each other. There was much chatter and laughter and many squeals at near misses on rolling river rocks. There were detours through the trees at places the river seemed to be too daunting and there was just plain grit at jumping from high rock faces into rushing water.
At one point on the way up, we had to cross where the river was too wide to jump and too deep and turbulent to enter. There was a large flat rock in the middle of the crossing which I could straddle on one side and swing the kids to land upon, one at a time. Then I would jump across to the other side of the river and each of them would leap into my arms, and I would cross again for the next one, but we lost momentum when Deborah suddenly panicked and couldn't jump to the mid-river rock landing. We encouraged and cheered and instructed, but she just couldn't brave it for a few minutes until she finally made the first leap onto the large rock, frightening herself so much that she had to lie down. Right there on that cold and wet and slippery rock. Face down, her arms sprawled out to the side in an effort to grip and ground herself, she just lay there exclaiming that she couldn't move. When I offered to cross back and help her up, she was adamant that I not come near her. For several minutes she lay there, resembling a slow-moving, resting alligator, the roiling river disregarding her, swirling around and past her. And then suddenly she was up, fairly flying into our midst on the other side.
On the return trip, she opted to forge her own trail through the trees, taking the two youngest, Michael and Georgie with her, to bypass that crossing. Margie and I decided to try to take the shortest route, because, frankly, were just about done with that great adventure.
There was much well-deserved relief and gratitude in the dark by the time we reached our car for the trip home.