In this world of bright reds and bright blues, you’re never really sure when it’s safe to bring up politics as a topic of conversation.
Unless, that is, you’re at this table of six.
“Most people don’t want to talk about politics because they are afraid of conflict,” Paul Carttar says. “We got over that long ago.”
They probably got over it in the front yard of a Lawrence home, where the adult of the house was known to send group members to settle their differences however they wished — as long as the blows didn’t land above the neck or below the belt.
Yes, these six have to be siblings. In fact, you’ve landed at Sibling Night for the Carttar family of Lawrence.
On the second Thursday of every month, the six grown children of Maggie Carttar and the late Donald Carttar gather at a Lawrence restaurant for cocktails and conversation. They have been doing so since 2001. But the tradition goes all the way back to 1997, when Paul’s wife arranged a surprise birthday party at which all of Paul’s siblings camped in the backyard with him.
“That campout reminded us that, with a little bit of alcohol, we could enjoy each other,” Peter Carttar says.
Enjoy each other they do, every month, without fail. The group is varied enough to tackle a host of subjects: Stephen, 60, head of accounting for a private Kansas City company; Paul, 59, former director of the Obama administration’s Social Innovation Fund; Peter, 57, engineer with the Kansas Department of Transportation; Lene Carttar Brooke, 56, an administrator with the Kansas University film department; Hans, 51, general manager of the Target distribution center in Topeka; and David, 44, a geographic computer modeler.
All were born and raised in Lawrence, but all have moved elsewhere over the years. Even when they haven’t all been in Lawrence — all live here currently — the monthly gatherings still continued on.
“My staff in Washington, D.C., knew when Sibling Night was,” Paul says.
“There is a real commitment to this,” Lene adds. “If you are in town, you don’t miss it.”
If you did, you might miss conversation about almost any topic.
On this night at Teller’s restaurant, there is conversation about the free gingersnap cookies given away by the local World Market store, confusion about the boat-related constitutional amendment on the recent election ballot (David used his phone to find an article about it while in the voting booth), and a reprise of a fairly frequent topic of discussion: Lawrence High versus Free State High.
All six siblings graduated from Lawrence High. But now five of their children are at Free State. Nobody is at LHS. David — ever the youngest — comments it would be great for LHS and Free State to play in the state playoffs, so there would be “winners on both sides.”
“Oh,” Peter, LHS class of ’73, says with a hint of disgust, “you sound just like Mom.”
For the purposes of the monthly dinner, the Carttar siblings’ definition of family is very exclusive. Spouses are not invited. So the spouses of the Carttar clan formed their own monthly gathering: the Outlaws.
“I think they used to be really curious about what we talked about,” David Carttar says of the spouses. “But then they realized we’re boring.”
What doesn’t get talked a lot about, surprisingly, is the past.
“We had a great childhood and everything, but we don’t idealize the past,” Paul says.
That might be part of what keeps the gathering vibrant month after month. Or it may be that this group of siblings has figured out what is beneath all of our noses: The best conversations come with those you know the best, the very ones you assume you’ll always have time to talk to later.
“I bet if we didn’t set a date to do this, we wouldn’t do it but once a year,” Lene says.
“It is a fun night because you know you can just relax,” Paul says. “You can have a real conversation.”
About almost anything. Recently, the group found itself talking about burial plots and whether they should all locate next to one another.
“That created a real philosophical discussion,” Stephen says.
Well, that’s one way to describe it.
“I was thinking, we like each other and everything, but do we really like each other that much?” Paul tells his siblings. “Once a month is one thing, but that …”