This past weekend was the 5th Annual "To Ale (House) and Back" Chicago Pub Crawl. Each year since H moved to Chicago, her family and their friends and loved ones meet in Chicago (in January) for an all out assault on restaurants and drinking establishments with the inevitable stop at the Old Town Ale House for lewd wall art and perhaps the city's best all-jazz jukebox. This pub crawl, after Christmas and Thanksgiving, is one of H's favorite events of the year. She gets so geared up for it and is crushed when the last person leaves.
Each successive year the pub crawl (which is coupled with a Friday night dinner and meet and greet) has grown larger in numbers. Last year, I was shocked when we reached twenty-strong. This year - we were looking at 30+. Aside from H and I, we had 6 other people staying at our house. Rather than go to the 'important' Chicago places (read: Tourist Traps), H's family likes to seek out the city's best dive bars or the bars with some history behind them (think Green Door, the Lodge, Billy Goat and Twin Anchors). Its one of the reasons I like them all so much. There are absolutely no pretensions with the group. Simply, they all love being together, having some drinks and having a good time - even if that means giving you (meaning me) a hard time. They're all characters with good hearts and a great ability to let their guards down and laugh at themselves - which is rare.
Admittedly, it has taken a little for me to get use to this. The first trip - about a month after H and I started dating (sweet side story - we decided to be 'bf/gf' this same weekend) - I was quieter. A lot of "yes sirs" and "no thank you's" This was the first time I met her mother, stepfather, aunt Mary and uncle Gene that I had heard so much about. I was so frightened that I wouldn't make a good impression. Within two minutes of me arriving at the Lodge, H's Aunt Mary circled around me, told me I had a great ass (I do), and then grabbed it (she did), I had no idea what to do - I think they all loved the shocked look on my face.
I come from a relatively small family. Its my brothers, Mom and I, plus three aunts, two uncles, and five cousins. It is a rare occasion that I see any of this family - most live in Pittsburgh (um, Go Steelers). It is a little different for me, then, to now have this huge family that love to get together, drink together and actually are committed to doing so at least once a year in such large numbers. Other than Christmas and Thanksgiving, when my brothers and I get absolutely loaded on whiskey and Stella Artois, we don't all get together to go out.
This weekend (as well as the preceding "To Ale (House) and Back" Pub Crawls) has made me look at family a different way and I think they have allowed me to appreciate my family in a little different way. Family can be and should be, friends. I look at the relationship my younger brother and I have cultivated over the last few years and I wonder whether this is somehow indirectly correlated with the comfort and ease that H and her family seem to have around each other. If it is, I am greatly indebted to them.
Sometimes when something embarrassing happens, H's Aunt Mary will turn to me and say "hey, its Family!!" And she's right, this is part of my family (and by extension, so is my own family - who have since joined in on these events) These are going to be my holidays for the rest of my life - large chaotic affairs accented by tons of laughter (and bud light), singing, dancing and great company.
I better get padded pants.