The Bizarre, Beautiful Mix That Is Family

Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, September 23, 2009

Not long ago, on a small stretch of beach along the central Oregon coast, I gathered with the people that have known me the longest.

For a couple of days we caught up with the old and plunged into the new. We welcomed family members we’d never seen before, missed those who couldn’t make the reunion, and reminisced about those who’ve passed away.

I realized then in that little microcosm of time that it would be short-lived. Soon we’d all be back into our daily routines with the people we see every day going about the business of our lives.

I also knew I’d miss the feeling of being under the same sky at the same place with my extended family—people who find my idiosyncrasies endearing, or at the very least entertaining. I knew I’d miss the faces that I see too seldom and the stories that aren’t told often enough.

Ours is a tough crew. Lives have been stormy at times. There’s been disease, death, drugs, and divorce. We are all shapes and colors, ages and persuasions. We are planted, and we travel with the wind. We have snowy white skin or are tattooed and pierced. We’re creaky with age and springy with youth.

Some are liberal, some conservative, some are nowhere near either one of those; some are well traveled and others stay close to home.  Most speak their minds openly, but some don’t.  Many of us will talk until we shouldn’t anymore, and others prefer to not say much at all.

We are also nothing if not hilarious.  Some of the most amusing people I’ve ever known are members of my own family. We are a clever and quick-witted bunch; we also weep easily and probably too often.

There was at least one face I hadn’t seen for 40 years. Really. 40 years. Others I’d seen in the days and weeks before. But those faces are always changing and I guess that means mine is, too.

In the end it didn’t matter how anyone looked. What mattered is that we were there together. And that somewhere in the vapors, my father and mother were rejoicing for the large, warts-and-all family that still gathers in their names.

Over succulent barbecued pork sandwiches and birthday cake for twin 12-year-olds, everyone remembers the good times, forgetting for a moment the riffs and weirdness that can prevail in families, and that have certainly been part of ours.

Watching cousins play in the surf and reconnecting with people I’d known were somewhere in the world, but not sure where, was sweet. No, it was better than sweet. It was delicious.

On the way to our reunion, my children and I stopped by the cemetery to decorate the graves of my parents and my brother.  In a private moment I thanked them again for everything, not the least of which is my crazy, wonderful, collection of family.

They are my people. We belong to each other. Sometimes it’s hard to be part of a family. We’re expected to do things, be engaged, we disappoint others, and our attachment to them gives them the power to break our hearts.

But that bit of time with these folks reminded me how bare my life would be without them, and that despite, maybe because of our foibles, we come together willingly looking for the connection that exists in family.

Pictures and email will hold me until we meet again in three years.

And frankly, that shiny feeling inside of me will, too.


15 thoughts on “The Bizarre, Beautiful Mix That Is Family

  1. Ahh, lovely! I heard lately, somewhere I can’t remember, “I am so grateful to living the life I never dreamed of” or something like that. At least it’s not what we were dreaming of over baked potatoes and snarky comments about blondes (notwithstanding your turncoat standing there!) Yet here we are. And so glad to be here.

  2. Jaynie.. points well taken! Not at all like we thought, but good nonetheless. However, I believe our comments about blondes were concerning the itty bitty, vacuous variety — of which I am neither 🙂

  3. Thank you for this post, lovely amazing great aunt. I echo your sentiments exactly…it’s really refreshing to ‘see’ it out loud from another family member you love. And it’s nice to know you’re never really alone in thinking a thought. 🙂

  4. @ The Beautiful Kenz — Your comment is a compliment of the highest order. I’m almost certain, in any number of topics, our thoughts and hearts would collide.

    • @ Anna — So glad you’re here! The truth is there’s a lot of ‘nothing’ in these entries.. but I hope you find something you like..

      • oh girl! you’d better give yourself some credit or i’m gonna hafta come knock some sense into you. LOL 🙂 i’ve read two entries and i’m loving it. you know how to express yourself and the humor is totally you! LOVE IT! hey i’m going to be in town in nov, i’d better just get my mom and i out to visit you!

  5. I am so glad those who attended felt the joy. Sue Ann definitely has a way with words, thank you for writing this piece and sharing it with me. I could hear the laughter and feel the warm tears on my cheeks. I am sure I am the one who ‘breaks the heart’… seems to have been my role in the Jolley Family. I send my love. G

    • No, Gloria.. breaking hearts has not been anyone’s role in the family. It simply happens sooner or later to anyone who loves another person. Lots of us have experienced brokenness in a variety of ways. Your role is as it always has been–a beloved member of an imperfect family.

  6. Thanks for putting it in words. You really just had to be there 😉 The Sea Gypsy was and is all that I imagined it would be… Lincoln wants to go back so he can swim in the (luxurious) pool. So in a few years, I’ll be saying – Lincoln, remember when we went to the Sea Gypsy – yeah, that place with the cool pool. We all interpret life in different ways, don’t we?

    • Julie — I love that The Sea Gypsy is becoming a next generation favorite! That means maybe someday we’ll share it with grandbabies and beyond 🙂

  7. Mom!! You really have a gift with words! This is beautiful! Just….beautiful! I think Thorin is hooked on the Sea Gypsy, although not so hooked on being buried up to his neck in the sand! I suppose if we all end up back there one day he and Alex will be doing that to Lincoln and Quincy.

    • HAHA! Carrie.. you are SO right! I can see Alex and Thorin “initiating” L & Q.. it’s only a matter of time. And of course he’s hooked on the Sea Gypsy — he’s one of us 🙂

  8. Wow. what amazing family memories. I wish I had the dysfunctional family that likes to actually get together. We just have the dysfunction. I can hear your voice in each word you write. I miss you. L-

    • Lila.. I have some awesome memories of your family. Maybe I should write about that! Miss you, too.. more later, my friend.

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