Breaking from the pack

October 4, 2012

By Pat Detmer

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I’m originally from the Midwest, where people travel in packs. An example: When the Seattle family vacationed in Quincy, Ill., a few years ago, Aunt Joan and her extended family took us out for dinner at a pizza and beer joint on a hectic Friday night. When we arrived, she asked a harried waitress for a table for 23. Seriously.

When I questioned the wisdom of that, she said that she wanted to make sure that everyone felt included, even though this meant that we wouldn’t be seated for three hours and that some of my tablemates would actually be in Missouri and I would only be able to converse with them if I had binoculars and a bullhorn.

We’re planning another family trip to Quincy this fall, and with it will come the feeling that I’m part of a never-ending census-taking process, one that I consistently fail as I attempt to slip through the counting bonds and sprint from the pack to freedom. If I leave a room without announcing my intentions, all eyes will follow me even if that room is filled with a roiling mass of cousins and their children and their children’s children. Aunt Joan will call out to ask me where I’m going, and if gone for more than 15 minutes, the alarm will go out: Where’s Pat?

There may have originally been an excellent reason for this mentality. Out on the prairies in the 1800s it would have been critical to keep count, because if Jonathon went out in a howling snowstorm, it made sense to ask “Where are you going?” or “Why isn’t he back yet?” because there are probably some Jonathons who tragically lost their way while heading out to the barn to milk the family cow.

I broke free of the pack when I moved to the Northwest 40 years ago. Gone were the Giant Book of Rules, the family members squeezing my cheeks at weddings and saying, “You’ll be next,” and the need to always be present and accounted for. A closet introvert, I had escaped and found the right place for me.

Now in her 80s, my aunt seems to have finally forgiven me for my insurrectionary ways. While we’re there, my sisters and Newcastle Niece and Nephew will stay at Aunt Joan’s place, while the Sainted One and I — with my aunt’s blessing — will stay at the family camp on the Mississippi, miles from nowhere.

But I’ll admit that even though I am way past middle age and should have worked through my neuroses by now, I’m still a little anxious about facing the census-takers. Don’t get me wrong: I love it there, and it was a great place to be a kid and a great place to grow up. And actually, I would move back there in a heartbeat if the continental landmass cracked at the Mississippi River and everything west of it slid into the sea.


You can reach Pat Detmer — who counts, but doesn’t like being counted — via

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