Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Importance of Family

My earliest memories are of times spent with my father's family.  He was the oldest of six children.  He loved his siblings and always liked spending time with them.  The times they got together were times of great story telling where their shared wit and humor came to the forefront.  I mostly remember fun and laughter from the times I spent with my aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Family ~  Where We First Learn Social Skills And How To Become A Part of Community

Times of wall to wall cousins sleeping in a bedroom in the back part of the summer home my grandparents had in the mountains of Colorado are among my happiest memories.  Nighttime in that old house was the time we giggled ourselves silly, told scary ghost stories, had tickle fights, tattled on each other, cried over slights one of the other had done to us, had pillow fights, jumped on the bed, and got yelled at by our aunts and uncles for being too loud.  Grandma would pound on the wall from her bedroom with a broom which meant we better quiet down!

Day times were spent roaming the hills looking for antique bottles, or other treasures left from long ago mining days, or we played on the relic of an old horse drawn wagon from the past that Grandpa had in the front yard,  and pretended we were pioneers.

Our parents played card games and had good times while we were all supposed be sleeping in the back room.  It was a great joke to take a photo of Grandma French with a big liquor bottle in her hand because she and my grandfather were teetotalers.  (Upper photo: The cousins in Victor, Colorado in the late 50's.  Aunt Caroline is sitting on the car bumper.) (Uncle Don, Aunt Katherine, Mother, and Grandma French at the dining room table in Victor, Colorado.)

My mother was an only child and her parents had died before I was born, so I only had my father's parents for grandparents, and I only had his siblings as aunts and uncles.  I loved being surrounded by this close knit group of people that were my father's family from my earliest days.

I was born just as World War II was about to end.  My first Christmas was spent at Grandma French's house that was one block from my house.  My father, serving in the Army, was not at that first Christmas celebration, but my mother is seen sitting in the middle of the family gathering holding me.  My father's family was her adopted family, and my Aunt Katherine holding my cousin Donna was my mother's best friend.  Also missing from this photo is my Uncle Bob whom was serving in the Marines.  Uncle Charles, holding his wife on his lap, was home on leave from the U.S. Army where he had been a paratrooper in Europe.

Family ~  Where Learn About and Create A Shared History

Family history was always an important topic at gatherings with my father's family.  I learned the histories of my Grandfather French's family that dated back to the earliest days of this nation from my grandfather.  He was proud of the heritage we held.  When I'd ask him what our heritage was, he's say, "We are damn Yankee rebels,"  We have had a family member fight in every war since and including the Revolutionary War.  

Dyed in the wool Democrats, my grandparents modeled political activity by attending many functions held by the Democratic Party.  I clearly remember all those political debates in the fifties that took place at family gatherings.  They were informed, but passionate, discussions.  I don't think there was much dissension in the family around the topic of politics when I was growing up.  I just remember it was an important family value that family members be involved in the political aspects of life.

My grandparents lived across the street from the church where my parents were married and where I was baptized as an infant.  Most of the family also went to this church, The United Presbyterian Church, so it was also a center for many family gatherings.  Faith was not as important part of the family life as church going was, but the seeds of my faith and the faith of most of my family members were planted here.  (My brother at a church reunion a few years back is touring the grounds of our old church.  The family home that belonged to my grandparents in the lower right corner was photographed while I stood on the church lawn.)

Family ~ Where We Form A Sense of Identity As We Celebrate Together

Times together with family are times where one learns the value of shared histories, of shared stories, and of the value of creating a legacy of love of family.

Wonderful family times formed my personality and created my sense of what was important in life as much as any other experience I ever had in my life.  Family became of supreme importance to me at a very early age.  I remember telling my grandmother I wanted six children when I grew up.  I didn't quite reach that goal.  I had five children.

Growing up in the middle of an extended family where birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions were always celebrated together left  an expectation of always having family nearby.  That is not the way things worked out in my adult life.  I lived away from the extended family all through my high school and college years.  I then lived in another state away from all family for a decade and a half.  I think that is why I treasure every large family gathering that we are able to put together as I grow older.

During the years that my siblings and I were raising our families, we would try to get together at my parents' home as much as we possibly could.  Generally, these gatherings took place at Thanksgiving, or Easter, or maybe the Fourth of July.

During those early years, when our children were young, we would all stay at Mother and Daddy's house.  What a group that was!  Each couple usually got a bedroom, but there weren't that many bedrooms, so I don't remember where we all slept.  We cooked big meals, and somehow we survived with 2 1/2 bathrooms to serve the entire tribe.  

My children and their cousins got to know and love each other during these gatherings just as I had gotten to know my cousins at such gatherings.  There were toys and books in the basement for them to play with, but I think they mostly made their own adventures and games by playing outside.  They took forbidden trips down to the Colorado River.  The times were full of laughter, games, stories, and much fun just as the times I had as a child with my cousins and aunts and uncles had been.  

We celebrated milestones such as my parents' 50th Anniversary, their 80th birthdays.  Then, as my parents aged, we weren't together as often because the events were hard for my parents to host and our children were growing and were busy with many activities.  When my father passed away in 2002, most of us gathered to celebrate his life and to support my mother during this time.  In just four short years later, we all gathered to celebrate my mother's 90th birthday.

My mother's one hundredth birthday party celebration on June 25th of this year provided the perfect opportunity for a long overdue family gathering.  She is last surviving member of the family that was the core group of my childhood.  My grandparents, my father, and all of my aunts and uncles are now gone.  She is the center of the next generation that has carried on the love of gathering together as a family.

A few of my cousins made the trip over to celebrate my mother's birthday.  Cousin Diana and husband Steve came for Mother's actual birthday in May, while Cousin Donna came for both celebrations.  Cousin Janet brought her daughter and grandchildren with her to celebrate.  It was wonderful to have members of my extended family with us on these occasions.

Donna, Janet with Mother, a champaign toast with family on Mother's birthday,
Donna, Jim, Diana, Sally, Carol, Keicha, Mother, Michelle, Brittany, Michelle, Tony
Mother's 100th Birthday and Celebration

Family ~ The First To Show Love and Support When The Unthinkable Happens

Barbara Bush once said "To us family is about putting your arms around each other and being there."

When Julie died, I will always remember and treasure how we as an immediate family came together. All of my remaining children and their children lived together at daughter Amy's house for much of the traumatic week that followed her death.  Those days we bonded deeper than we had ever bonded.  We gave each other strength and comfort.

My sister came from California and stayed across the hall from Jim and me with her husband at our hotel.  They guided us through the deep waters of grief as we made funeral plans as a family.  All of my nieces and nephews, the cousins of my children,  came to Colorado from  California, Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, and parts of Colorado.  Only Michael serving in Afghanistan was not there.  Their tears, their stories, their laughter, their love provided balm to our broken hearts that no one else could have provided.  I love these kids so much!  I have the most amazing nieces and nephews.

Family ~  Where You Can Always Feel At Home

I  think of family as a dynamic organism that keeps changing while also remaining the same.  The past generations are now mostly gone.  Only my mother remains from the previous generations of grandparents and aunts and uncles.   Only my cousins and I and my mother have the shared memories of that time.  We remember the stories, the histories, the personalities, the humor, the wit, the fun that those precious ones brought to each gathering.  They remain in our hearts as we gather with the younger generations.

We are so fortunate to still have the home my parents lived in when my children were small as home base.  This place represents the family home to all.  Toys, books, and other items from days gone by are still there.  My son Ryan went to get his wife a drink of water and came back proudly holding the prize cup from childhood days. "I couldn't believe it when I saw this still in the cupboard," he said as he handed his wife some water.

On the day of the family party to celebrate my Mother's 100th party, after the invited guests departed, the family gathered to eat and have fun.  There was music.  It was time to dance and have a good time.
Nephew Adam indulged me by dancing with me.

Niece Cristy and her husband Jim entertained with fancy dance steps.

We gathered for group photos.

 Siblings Suzanne, Carol, Rell, and I were photographed with Mother.

The older great-grandchildren, five of whom are my grandchildren were photographed. 

Grandson Bridger, grandniece Gabby, grandson Mason, grandson Atticus, granddaughter Hannah
Granddaughter Gillian

Finally, most of the greats in attendance were gathered for a photo.

Thoughts of how dear and precious these times are caused me to be overwhelmed with emotion.  I know how rare these times are.  I know what treasure they are.  I was surround by those I love most, and suddenly, I could not hold back the tears.  They were mostly happy tears, but they were also sad tears.  

Son Ryan and wife Sheridan, daughter Keicha, Jim, Sally, daughter Amy, son Jonathan and wife Samantha

Knowingly, Amy hugged and held me tightly.  She was crying too. 

 I was happy with my loves surrounding me, but I so missed that one not there.  I looked to the other side of the large yard and remembered her playing red rover with the grandkids on Mother's 90th birthday.  Now, Julie is not with us and the grandkids are teens.

This place, my mother's home,  holds so many memories that do not change as much as those whom come to remember times past and to create new memories do.  Home and family remain the same in the heart, only those whom make up the family configuration change over time.  

A part of us always remains young when we are home. 

 When I am with my family, I am free to be the one I was when my sis and I would dance and sing at the top of our lungs from our earliest days.  Time at home and time with family would not be family time if we didn't shed a few tears of sorrow, frustration, and joy together.

When we are home we can run through the grass in bare feet and feel like a kid again.  When we are home and with family age has no number.  I am crazy Aunt Sally who drank two glasses of wine at the party, and you know what wine does to her.  I, crazy Aunt Sally, also will admit that at night after the grand party as we gathered around the fire pit at the hotel,  I even took a few puffs on my son's cigar and enjoying the taste of if before I felt very sick.  

At the family celebration,  I danced with my sis, my first and probably favorite dance partner.  

And we all tore down the ribbons from the trees and danced the conga.  

Where else but with family can one feel so free to have outrageous fun?

If I leave nothing else to my children and grandchildren, 
I hope I leave a legacy of loving and celebrating family.