"How are you?" a cousin asked the long-lost Ralph Cruikshank at the wedding.
"I am here," Ralph said, stiffly.
For a moment, the two of them froze, then exploded in laughter.
Ralph, 40, had not seen his mother Edna, brother Peter, sister Joey and assorted other relatives for more than 12 years.
He is a wiry, precise West Pointer, a specialist in mathematics and logic, and a lieutenant colonel who heads something called automation management at the California headquarters of the 6th Army. Over the past dozen years he had been to the Pentagon countless times, had passed by his mother's home. He had not stopped. Nor had he called his family.
Ralph compares his lack of contact with his family to a computer system temporarily out of service. "Now we got it started again," he says. "I never thought we'd make up. Then it happened. Peter called me, invited me to his wedding. So I came, and I am glad I did. It's nice to be reunited with the family."
Ralph's immediate family--a wife and a 12-year-old son--is close. "We jog together; we are into computers together," he says. "We do everything together. I travel a lot and call home every day. I talk to my wife on the phone, and my son sends me messages through our home computer terminal."
No Cruikshank will say what the argument with Ralph was about. "We are stubborn people," Ralph says, as an explanation.
He has another feud, similarly unexplained, with his father, Ralph Sr., a retired lieutenant colonel who was sent to Vietnam as a State Department official. The senior Cruikshank served in the same district as his son, then a captain.
Their contacts were "strictly business," the son says. They saw each other in Vietnam as part of the father's inspection tours. When the son was shot in the stomach, the father visited him in the hospital. The son says he couldn't determine whether the visit was private or official.
But since that hospital visit, father and son have not seen each other. The son says: "He lives his life, and I live mine."