Today’s installment of the Thanks Series is, due to a moral imperative, about family.
1. Annemarie Hintze Garrett. I met Hotness in Honors Writing class. I was early; she was late. I was nearly 23, was very single, and had very recently returned from a church mission. So it won’t surprise you when I say I had already noticed every cute girl in class and decided who I might want to ask out on a date. Then this tallish girl, wearing comfy-looking earthy colors and a long bob, walked in. My first impression: She looks smart. Her first impression (I was wearing a sweatshirt that said “Animal Liberation” on it): He looks weird.
She became my best friend, then more, then my wife. All despite my past, my strangeness, and a future that she surely knew would be eventful. She has stuck with me, has convinced me she actually loves me, hugs me fiercely, depends on me, and kissed me daily.
Annemarie, I thank you for your trust, love, support, goodness, discipline, kisses, and for the certainty that I will get to be with you for eternity. You have taught me how to be a man, a husband, and that my dreams are worthy. Your steadiness and sweetness are balm to my soul. I thank you for 14 incredibly joyful and blessed years.
2. Matthias Fripp. Matthias is my brother. We both grew up in the cult. He is about 3 years older than me. Being siblings in the cult was kind of a challenge, mainly because it was hard to really know how to treat a sibling. I knew we shared a mother, but he was older and I spent time with those of my age group. And we were all pseudo-siblings anyway.
But I thank you, Matthias. I have spent over 25 years looking up to you and admiring your discipline, enjoyment of and dedication to learning, and ability to be kind. You’ve been there for our extended family, have helped shed light on our family and its history, have made a valiant effort to stay in touch with me despite our travels and my laziness, and have generally set a standard that I have wanted to live up to with your integrity.
When I think about how different our lives have been, but how you have made a difference in my life, I have to say that you have shown me how to live above whatever refuse or crap you might be surrounded by. You’ve shown me it’s possible and have been a strong example of steady goodness. Thanks, bro.
3. Emma Vreeken. When you were 13, you and I agreed that weird is good. You’re my little sis, my SSS. When you were first born, I didn’t know what to make of it. But then I ended up baby-sitting you many nights over many summers. I thank you for The Little Mermaid and the fact that I used to know every song in that movie, word for word.
I thank you, Emma, for your honesty. I thank you for being so kind and ready with your generous love. I thank you for helping me have a nearly normal sibling relationship for a lot of years. I thank you for your choice in husband; James is a high-quality fellow and I thank you for knowing that you deserved such a good man.
I thank you for your principles and for influencing me to ease back and be compassionate, to think about others more. You have made a real difference in my life.
4. Bruce Garrett. You’re my dad. Our relationship is unique. I love you and have felt so much support from you. I know you don’t agree with me on many of my choices, but your ability to extend love and support– hard though it must be when you don’t like what I’m doing at times– is extremely impressive.
When you took a stand for family- against the cult- and were then forced to leave– I cheered. You had made a choice to change things and to make a better life. That stance made a difference in my life.
I think about our conversations over the years. I remember being in Angel Canyon and telling you that I didn’t believe in God. You didn’t overreact; you respected me. I thank you for joining the fire department. I joined because you already had. The experiences I had as a firefighter left deep impressions on me; I think about them often. They affected my character in profound ways. That is because of your example.
I don’t really know how to be a normal son. I don’t know how to talk like a normal son to his father. But I do know how to be your son and you make it a pleasure. Thank you, Dad, for being who you are and for being true to yourself. And thank you for the cooking genes. Really. My family thanks you too.
5. Magadalen Eckhoff. You were born Katherine Eaton. You went through names like many other women go through hairstyles. You were once called Seraphina. You adopted the last name St. Claire. I called you Magdalen. I never called you ‘Mom’ and I don’t know if I ever will understand how you could choose to give up that tremendous privilege of being called ‘Mom.’ But you are my mother.
I thank you for your smile in that photo on our wall. For the joy I see I am feeling as an infant playing with his mother. I thank you for my hatred of coffee. Serving me over-sweetened iced-coffee for my 5th birthday’s treat was a coup; I never drank the stuff again.
I thank you for our lunches at the Wok Inn. I thank you for our shared love of reading, especially Stephen King novels. I opened It because I remembered you saying you loved Stephen King. Knowing you loved his books provided me with easier birthday shopping for you over the years.
I thank you for your honesty. It was painful at times; and I never took enough advantage of how honest you always were. But you were true to yourself throughout your life. I thank you for your delight in your relationship with Paul. That was such a source of joy to me; I wish I had made a stronger effort to build a relationship with him. He was my stepfather, after all. But I thank you for saying yes to him.
I thank you for my life. I thank you for your calls on my birthday and on Christmas. Thank you for joining the cult and giving birth to me while you were in it so that I could grow up that way. I was angry, bitter, and very resentful for a very long time about the way that I grew up. But I am a product of that life and I, and this is still surprising to me, really like who I am becoming.
Magdalen, thank you for my life. All of it. I wasn’t a great son. You weren’t a great mother. But you are and will always be my mother. I loved you in my way while you were living and love you more now as I have matured and learned more about you. I regret not trying harder to grow closer. Physical distance should not be an excuse for emotional distance.
Thank you for Gum’s red hair. Thank you for my brothers. Thank you for who you were and how you always seemed to know precisely who you were. Thank you, Magdalen, for giving me a mom who everybody seemed to always respect and love in a very special way. I think people saw you as a woman truly at peace. I know you are at peace now. I wish you could have been a grandmother before you died. But families really are eternal.
I promise to make sure your grandchildren know who you are. And I thank you for the cooking genes and for the times I worked with you in the kitchen at Angel Village. You taught me to never fear food and ingredients. You were disappointed in my lack of enjoyment of tofu. I’ve come around. I hope I make you proud. And Paul Eckhoff, thank you for making my mother so happy for the last years of her life. You were an extraordinary gentleman.
6. Susan Garrett. I got to see you run a family. My experiences with you, my dad, and Emma were my first real exposure of any significance to a real family. You were a devoted mom and wife. You still are a devoted mom. Your intelligence, love, and remarkable ability as a mother left a strong impression on me. Much of Emma’s fortitude, principle, and spine are a direct result of you.
I thank you for taking in a 17 year old. I am sorry I broke your trust but I thank you for your forgiveness and love and kindness. And hugs. You were and still are, as far as my concerned, my stepmother. You are the closest I have come to having a son-mother relationship that approximates semi-normal. I love, respect, and cherish you. You are saying, “Then write me and call me more.”
I will. But I need to thank you for welcoming me and being a listening ear and an influence in my life. You taught me by your example that women deserve respect and reverence. You also taught me a great deal about cooking. I thank you for the times we spent in kitchens around the country.
Thank you for being a grandmother on my side for my kids. Thank you for loving me, despite the fact that you knew I was capable of doing bad things and had done bad things. Your love was inexplicable to me, but it meant and means the world to me. I thank you for welcoming the girls I dated. I thank you for listening to me and offering advice. I thank you SO much for your love of Annemarie.
You have so much of my heart. I am sorry we are so far apart.
Thank you for being you, for taking a kid in who had no idea who he was, and for loving me for no reason I could think of.
You deserve more.
7. Daniel Eaton. I worshipped you. You had been outside the cult. You knew both worlds. You were my oldest brother. I would do anything you said. Thank you, Daniel. Thank you for catching flies out of the air and feeding them to your dog, Amy. Thank you for leading us in building a real log cabin. You siphoned gas from the cult’s cars, but that was necessary, right?
Thank you for being yourself. I never knew you well. You left, it appeared to me, abruptly. I hallucinated you had come back soon after. You called me when I was 9. It was a shocking call. I couldn’t believe it. You talked about your dreams and hopes. You made your baby brother feel special.
You died violently. I was eleven, twelve, or thirteen. But I will never forget being told what had happened– although Matthias and I have different accounts of that event. Your death and the memorial service held soon after were defining moments in my life at the time. You gave me focus. I won’t thank you for your death; you made stupid mistakes. But I forgive you for it. And I thank you for being my brother and making my life so much richer; adding the texture of rebellion and independent thinking to it.
Honestly, I also thank you for my stories.
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That’s it for today. I figured I had better start with family.
Have you thought lately about what your family has done for you? Even I, with an odd family, have plenty for which to be thankful to all of them. I bet you do too.