EXCERPT: 'The Kids Are All Right'

At the top of the two- by- four- foot sheet of thick ivory paper, Mom had written "Ann Morgan Williams married Robert Daniel Peter Welch on September 19, 1964," in her near- perfect curly cursive. Our names and birth dates: "Amanda Gordon Welch, August 15, 1965," "Elizabeth Morgan Welch, February 3, 1969," "Daniel Merryman Welch, March 24, 1971," and "Diana Rebecca Welch, September 30, 1977," floated above our parents' names like tethered balloons. Dad beamed. On the bottom right, you could see that his family came to Boston from Ireland in the early 1900s. On the left, in a longer entanglement of roots, you saw that Mom's family came to Mary land from Scotland and Wales in the 1600s. One ancestor, Mary Ball, married Augustine Washington. They had a son named George.

"Bob, your children are descendants of the first president of the United States," Mom boasted as Dad studied the tree.

"Not from your side, Bob," Aunt Barbara shouted out above the crowd. She was Dad's older sister, and she pronounced his name with a thick Boston accent so it sounded like "Bab."

"You got that right," Uncle Russ, Dad's brother, chimed in, and all his siblings laughed their distinct Welch laugh that sounded like a drunken, jolly Dracula.

Aunt Gail, Dad's youngest sister, gave her gift next. It was a potato that she had written a poem on with a calligraphy pen, decorated with small green shamrocks and shellacked.

"To keep you connected to your roots, Bobby," she said.

The room grew quiet, someone murmured "How sweet," and then Barbara gave him her gift. It was a book called Sex After 50. All the pages were blank. The room filled with laughter again.

AMANDA I have our family tree hanging on my wall in my house in Virginia, where I have most of our family heirlooms— the two grandfather clocks, the hand- carved wooden Etruscan trunk, even the unfinished oil painting of some cows on the beach that our great- aunt did when she was at the Corcoran Gallery of Arts in Washington, D.C. It's funny, because back then, when I was sixteen, I couldn't have cared less about our genealogy. I didn't even like the family I had. Why would I care who came before them?

That was around the time I stopped going on family trips. A month after Dad's birthday everyone went to Myrtle Beach for spring break, except me. I used the animals as an excuse. Mom was a sucker for strays. In addition to the three dogs, two cats, and a litter of kittens, we had a stable full of horses. "Who's gonna feed the horses and muck out their stalls?" I argued.

But really, I just didn't want to do any of that family bullshit. I was a ju - nior in high school, a fat misfit who wanted to ride my horses, listen to my records, and smoke pot with my friends. I certainly didn't want to go on a family vacation. To do what? Play miniature golf and go to the beach? I hated the beach. What do you do at the beach? Get sand in your bathing suit and up your crack?

So Mom and Dad agreed to let me stay home alone. It was great. I had a party. We drank gin and tonics and did shots. It was the first time I ever blacked out.

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