There are stereotypes about in-laws, just like there are stereotypes about Detroit. I don’t identify with the notions behind either, really. This failure to identify might be reducible to my being a visitor, a traveler here, or because I married into an intransigently polite family. But I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt and say that the kindness and sweetness and the awesome beauty to which I was exposed while traveling in Michigan were recognized by someone, me, who knows a thing or two about these qualities in general.
I spent nearly a week “back home” with my husband’s family, mostly on the west side of Michigan, in order to celebrate the first birthday of Cameron Woodard and to take engagement photos of John and Emily in anticipation of their May wedding. This week was notable for the hospitality and joy I felt spending time with the Proctors and Woodards, and for taking in the overwhelming arboreal splendor that is Michigan. I’m not blowing smoke. Even driving down the freeway from the airport towards East Lansing and my husband’s alma mater, I was taken by the walls of green that towered on either side of us (prior to this trip, I had only the “pleasure” of visiting Michigan during the winter).
And then we spent the day in downtown Detroit, John and Emily and I, just wandering while my husband muttered half-rendered anecdotes and partially-recalled facts about the buildings and the things they are or used to be: a great metropolis having fallen on hard times, the evidence of those hard times, and the evidence that there are people that truly love this city and are working to make that love show. Beyond any mitigating and romantic reference to civic pride in a struggling city, there is so much beauty in Detroit, beauty that is expressed by the city and its denizens to a traveler curious as to where to find it. Discovering this beauty isn’t incompatible with recognition of hardship and the difficulties of the road ahead. And besides, these hardships and difficulties aren’t immediately mine.
But let me just say that when my mention of my trip to Detroit to spend time with the in-laws is met with expressions of sympathy and sequences of tired set-ups and punchlines, I couldn’t be further from understanding the impetus for such gestures.
I married into a pretty wonderful family. And Detroit is a pretty wonderful city.