This is Memorial Day. It’s a day that many people get off from work. It’s when most pools open, and the unofficial start of summer. Much more importantly, though, it’s a day to remember all of the fallen men and women who died defending our country. I haven’t personally had anyone close to me pass away in a war, but I know those who have. It is an ultimate sacrifice. It is also what enables me to enjoy a day like this with my family close by. I count myself very lucky to have so many people I love and to be able to spend holidays with them.
Today, though, our family gathering was a little smaller than usual. My brother and sister both had to work. My grandma just had surgery on her foot Thursday and wasn’t up for visiting. That meant I spent time with my new family – my step-Dad, his daughters, and the husband and children of his youngest (his oldest is a single gal like myself). My Mom was there, too, of course.
It’s a bit odd when you inherit a family through marriage, but it’s also a wonderful thing. In addition to a step father, I now have two older sisters, a niece and nephew, and new aunts and uncles. They’re all great. My step-Dad is 20 years older than my Mom, but they really make the best match I’ve ever seen. They’re wonderful together and compliment each other in every way. That means my new sisters are in their early 40s and my niece and nephew are in their tweens.
Today we had a little cookout. We had burgers and hotdogs and grilled chicken, watermelon, cherries, sweet potatoes, and all sorts of snacky things, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. You would have thought they were cooking for an army instead of eight. My Mom and I exchanged some clothes their neither of us are wearing much (we often do that kind of swap). I got several new-to-me tops, a basically brand new pair of shoes, and a skirt. My Mom got a few dresses and new nail polish. I also got my gel manicure redone. My nails are a brilliant shade of pink with a hint of blue shimmer that you can see in the sunlight. We talked and congregated, played some cornhole (ahhh, what an attractive name for a game, huh?), and watched baseball.
It was a nice little gathering. It reminded me of all that I have to be thankful for, and how much love I have in my life. Everyone dissipated a few hours after we finished our meal. The kids went to the (rather chilly) pool, one sister went for a nap, the other to trim trees, and now I’m back home writing this instead of the paper I have due tonight. Any excuse to procrastinate. 🙂
What struck me is not just the family I have gained, but also the family that I lost and the family that he lost. While my ex had a large family, they hardly ever got together for things like this. Holidays came and went with no gatherings and not even a phone call. It always struck me as so very strange. To have everyone within a 20 mile radius and yet fail to reach out at all. I can now recognize that as part of their dysfunction. They didn’t spend holidays together except the obligatory family reunion around Christmas time, which not everyone even showed up for, because they didn’t have the close bond that I have with my family.
My family connections bring so many tangible and intangible things into my life. Not just the food or the manicures or the clothes swapping. No, what I mean is the really important stuff – the support, laughter, stories, hugs, and feeling that I am part of something bigger, something truly special. It really is the love that makes a family what it is. It’s the ability to be open and true to yourself, and to be accepted and embraced as you are. It’s receiving encouragement to grow, understanding when you need it, and to laugh so hard that you cry.
Most days I wasn’t sure if my ex’s family even liked each other. They spent so much time talking poorly about each other, tearing each other down to feel better about themselves, and gossiping behind people’s backs only to be fake to their faces. Overall it was a mess. There are many, many good people in his family. His sisters are smart and engaging, his older brother is very funny, and the aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews are quite sweet. Instead of seeing the good qualities in one another, they honed in on the bad ones. His intelligent, hilarious, and adventurous oldest sister was called a busybody or a bitch. His gentle, caring, and big-hearted youngest sister was called a failure or an idiot for loving her pets so much. The list goes on and on. It’s sad, really.
I know that wherever I end up and whoever with I will make family a priority. I want to leave a family tradition like that one I came from – one that is built around love and respect and kindness. One that isn’t afraid to laugh loud, play hard, eat well, and cherish one another. Although I miss some of the family that I lost, I don’t miss that dynamic. We may have some straight-talking, tell-it-like-it-is types in my family, but they’ll tell you to your face and give you a big hug when they do. I will carry that honesty, love, and integrity with me always. I count myself very fortunate to have that kind of family tradition, and I will make sure it continues on.