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Michelle's column: Having family far from home can be a challenge

I think I was 18 when my godfather, my uncle David, and his family moved from Rochester to California.

I remember going to a picnic to say goodbye to his family. I remember taking pictures of my sister and my cousin, Molly, who were only a month apart in age. Since my sister started kindergarten the same year I started college, I suppose they must have been 5 or 6 at the time.

David and his family never came back to Minnesota to live, although they have come for visits several times over the years. And I guess I never really thou-ght too much about how my mother felt about having her only brother so far away.

I was, you know, a college kid. I was in a haze of hairspray (it was the 80s), parties and homework. Probably in that order. So it never really occurred to me that maybe my mother missed her brother. That maybe she wanted to see her nieces and nephews more, but simply couldn’t, because they were so far away.

But I was in college, too, in Mankato, when my only sister was just learning to read. I missed that phase in her life. I missed her learning to ride a bike, and I miss-ed her losing her first tooth.

For-tunately, I realized after college just what I had missed with my little sister. And I made it a priority, as she grew through middle and high school, to make it to as many of her volleyball and basketball games as I could. To be there to take her prom pictures, and to hug her when she graduated.

But then she had to go to college. She chose to go to the University of Nebraska, Omaha. It was within driving distance, so I spent weekends driving down for her volleyball games there. And then she met this hockey player, so I wound up going down on weekends for his games, too.

Long story short, my little sister married her hockey player, and he went and got himself into the National Hockey League. And save 2 ½ years when he was with the Wild, my little sister has lived everywhere but Minnesota since she left for college.

I guess I have an advantage now — I can still see pictures of her beautiful daughters and son when she posts them on social media. And we can shoot quick texts or emails or chat messages to each other here and there. Still, I get very little time to hug and squeeze those babies of hers, and they’re not babies anymore.

Well, the whole clan is “home” this week. The hugs and kisses and smiles are just as wonderful as they were last time I saw the kiddos last September. I just can’t seem to get enough of them, though. I squeezed my niece Alayna so much Sunday, she said I was “squishing” her. I didn’t care. It felt pretty good to me.

A few years ago, my mom talked about the time she gets to spend with her brother when he’s home. She said it wasn’t as often as she would like, but that almost makes the time they have together more special.

I get that. And I’m pretty happy when I do get that special time with my sister and her clan, too.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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