I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Family ties

My family once upon a time
I am not in this picture of my family, but my five siblings and their children at the time are in there, along with a couple young men who were friends, but not actual family members. That's my mom and dad in the middle of the top row, both looking very happy and healthy. Daddy died in 1979, so I figure this picture must have been taken in the early to mid-1970s. That's a long time ago, almost half a century or thereabouts. But the ties are still there, and always will be.

It was probably taken in my parents' backyard, set up and captured with a timer by Pete, my sister Norma Jean's husband, in the back row, second from the left. He's been gone since early 2011, but he was a talented photographer and took many wonderful pictures similar to this of our family. Pictures like this one freeze a moment in time, one that will never come again, but that will be looked at and exclaimed over for generations to come. That little boy in the front row, second from the left, Jason, is now himself the father of four teenagers. The little elfin girl, fourth from the left, my niece Allison, is the mother of two and a colonel in the Army.

Where was I when the picture was taken? I have no idea, but many of these family members lived in Texas and often gathered at my parents' home in Fort Worth. At the time, I was probably in California, or maybe Michigan, but I was nowhere near enough to be with my family. For many years, even after Daddy died, home was wherever my mother was. Mama lived for another fourteen years after he died. She was a consummate homemaker and always managed to create a feeling of home wherever she lived. I still miss her, because without her on the planet, I've been without a place to call home. I've made my own homes, of course, but none feels like the safe environment I always felt when I was with her.

I just finished a book that has reminded me of how fortunate I've been to have such a family. It is a memoir written by Nicole Chung, a young woman of Korean heritage who was adopted as an infant by a couple who were unable to bear children. She grew up knowing nothing of her heritage, and although it was obvious she was not like the other children in her school, nobody actually talked to her about her birth parents. It was a "closed" adoption and no contact was allowed between the adoptive parents and the birth parents. When Nicole was old enough to ask questions, she discovered more about her origins and eventually became reconciled with some of her birth family. The book, All You Can Ever Know, tells her story of what it was like to grow up where nobody looked like her. It wasn't until she went off to college that she was surrounded by other Asian Americans and realized she needed to find out the rest of her story. I loved the book, and it's made me think about my own family, and how much we are tied to one another through birth.

Although I have several siblings, I am closest to Norma Jean, nearest to me in age, but the rest of my large family are all dear to me and very much cherished. What happens to them, even if I don't see them for years at a time, matters mightily to me. My youngest sister Fia is about to undergo a serious surgery, and I am afraid for her, but I know she will be well taken care of by her husband and the sister closest to her in age, Markee. Fia is twenty years younger than me, born after I had grown up and married, so I feel more like an aunt to her than a sister. But sister she is, and will be on my mind until she has recovered. Our brother and sister-in-law live near her and will also offer moral support, I'm sure. But she will be on my mind until she's out of the woods.

When I left home, I was only nineteen. Looking back, I felt like I was an adult, but now that I am in my later years, I realize how young I truly was. So much life ahead of me then, and now a half century later, I've lived most of it, with my dear partner with me for a quarter of a century. I am so grateful for every single day of my life, both in the past and in the present, and although we can never see the future or know what it will bring, I can now look back over much of my life and see that it's been a good one. Family means everything to me these days.
What the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we lived. In the end, it's the family stories that are worth the storage. ― Ellen Goodman
Part of the problem of ageing is that those who knew us when we were young begin to leave us, and if we don't find out our family history, our stories, today, tomorrow might be too late to find out. There are so many questions I would ask my parents, if I could, and I wish I had been more aware of how much I would lose by not asking those questions long ago. These days, when I talk with my sister on FaceTime, we often reminisce about times gone by, and I am always amazed at how different our memories are of the same event. Now they are simply stories without any way to check their veracity. But really, who cares any more? I love the fact that we still have each other to share the "facts" with.

I am presently busy making memories with my dear partner, ones that are captured much more accurately because of this blog, for one, which gives me a chance to relive old times just by reading what I wrote a decade ago. And it also gives me a reminder that my memories change the past: what I wrote is not what I remember. Yes, it's important to chronicle our lives if we want to know whatever truths the past might hold for us.

And now it's time for me to move into the rest of my day. I haven't even looked at the news, which I often do before I begin to write this post, but today I have no interest in what's going on outside my own sphere. That won't last long, but for now it's enough just to remember my family, love them and be grateful that I have been blessed with such a great one. And I must also acknowledge how much I have changed my definition of family, because the one that is here with me in this blog is very much a part of my life: my virtual family. I care about those I will never meet in person, and our lives have intersected here in profound ways.

Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, and that you will have family of whatever sort you choose surrounding you through your days. Be well until then, dear ones.


Glenda Beall said...

This blog post reminds me of all the stories of family I plan to write, but let things get in the way of doing so. I hear it so often, "I wish I had asked my parents more questions."
As adults we think the younger ones just knew what was happening in our lives, but, actually they don't. They were not interested in us at the time. But, when they become adults, they want to know more about their heritage, their ancestors and the stories of what happened way back then. If I don't do anything else for my family, I am so happy that I completed the family history book, Profiles and Pedigrees, The Descendants of Thomas Charles Council (1858-1911) During the years I have taught writing memoir, I have heard the most marvelous stories from ordinary people. Everyone should write their story or record their story, I think.

Rian said...

I guess it's normal for us to wait until it's too late to ask those questions. The people who knew the answers are all gone by the time we're ready to ask. We do have 'stories' though... funny and interesting, but no way to check their veracity (not that it really matters). Ancestry.com and Ancestry DNA can help some, but not on a personal level unless someone shares what story they know.
I do enjoy looking at old pics. They do 'freeze a moment in time'. And having just spent time with some old friends from childhood last weekend, it does mean a lot to share memories from our growing up years. My parents and siblings are gone, but lucky for me I still have my cousins and friends I grew up with. But as you mentioned... family and friends seem to grow dearer as we age. Perhaps because we are more aware of how quickly they can be taken away from us.
And I too am grateful for the blogging friends I follow and/or who follow me. We may never meet, but can still feel close by this technological miracle.

Elephant's Child said...

Best wishes for Fia's surgery and recovery.
The questions we did not ask and can no longer have answered haunt me too.
I hope your week is filled with love and laughter.

gigi-hawaii said...

I am glad you feel fondly about your parents and siblings. Not many people do about theirs.

Linda Reeder said...

I have written my memoir of sorts, and eventually I will add to it, and perhaps subtract some too. It is not for publication and will not be shared for now. But it will exist.
I have a big family too. We have our ups and downs, but family ties always persist.

Gigi said...

"Looking back, I felt like I was an adult, but now that I am in my later years, I realize how young I truly was." Funny you should say that as it was something I was just thinking about a few days ago. We thought we were grown; we had no idea...

And, oh my, YES! I wish I had asked so many questions - most of which can't be answered now.

Have a wonderful week, my friend!

Marie Smith said...

I miss my mother every day too. She is on my mind a great deal, especially when I am with our daughter and the kids. She would have been so delighted with them.

I feel the same about our virtual family too. One blogger I follow is having health issues right now and I think about her and wonder how she’s doing. Sharing ourselves in a blog brings people into our lives who may also share themselves. We begin to know the other person and care about what happens to them. One time, people had pen pals all over the world. In a sense, we still do...

Red said...

You've obviously took a very thorough look at your family and relationships. As a result you treasure the memories and want to make more.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I hope your sisters surgery goes well. That is a great old photo! :)

Friko said...

You so often meditate on family, your wonderful one in particular. I wish I knew what having family feels like.
You are right that friends, family members, acquaintances are beginning to leave, it’s the way of the world, we are all only here for our allotted span before we must move on - into oblivion as far as I’m concerned, or maybe into the great consciousness, but many others think differently.
And yes, when we are young delving into our family’s history is ‘boring’, it takes maturity to feel the need to explore. And often it is indeed too late. Sometimes I wish my children would ask more questions.

Rita said...

Family has been everything lately.
Have a marvelous week. :)

Arkansas Patti said...

My thoughts and prayers are with your sister Fia. Hoping her surgery goes smoothly and successfully. Let us know.
You are so right about family stories. My Mom and Dad were pretty candid about their lives before me but the one I wish I had questioned was my Grandmother. We were so much alike and of course now it is too late. I think blogs will help the next generation who may have questions for us that they don't quite get around to.

William Kendall said...

I hope that your sister's surgery goes smoothly.

jo(e) said...

We used to take a lot of silly family photos whenever the whole extended family were together, and I didn't think much of them at the time. But now that my oldest sister and her husband have both died, those photos have become very precious. It's funny how time changes things.

C-ingspots said...

What a lovely post...I feel much the same way, but am sad to say that I'm not at all close to hardly any of my family members these days. That breaks my heart for so many reasons. And today, your sentiment about your "mother being your home" and since she's gone, leaves you without that special place of security (or however you perfectly phrased it) made me cry, because I know exactly how you feel. Nowhere, ever in my life have I felt as welcome or as loved and safe as I once did in the home of my mom and dad. What a blessing. And such a great loss...

Dee said...

Dear DJan, your Sunday posting spoke deeply to me this week because family is very much on my mind also. The family of my birth; the family of friends who have enriched my long life; and the virtual family that I have met, as you have, through blogging. My friend Pat's death in May and then Gennie's death in June have made me so aware of fleeting time, of my own mortality, and of the fact that I have no control over the next nanosecond.

And so I treasure as never before my memories.

You wrote, "There are so many questions I would ask my parents, if I could, and I wish I had been more aware of how much I would lose by not asking those questions long ago." I feel the exact same way. Mom died when I was 31; Dad died when I was 39. I so regret that I did not ask them the questions that now come to me as I'm aging. Mom was 58 and Dad was 69 when they died. I'm older now than either of them were and yet in my mind they had a wisdom that would help me through the coming years.


Terra said...

I hope your sister's surgery is very successful. I am writing a book for my family about our family and doing some research. Like you said, there is so much we don't know and my sister and I have differing memories of some things. My mom died in 1971 at the age of 54 and I wish I had listened more carefully to her stories about her growing up. I had to research to find out her mother's name, Tillie, which name I love.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I enjoyed this post focused on family. I am not sure, but I think we are pretty close when it comes to the number of years we’ve been around on this planet. And, in the last few years, I’ve spent more time thinking about “family” than I did in the first five or six decades all put together. I’m not really sure why, but possibly due to the fact that many of the family members are slipping away. Mom and Dad have been gone a long time and my only sibling, an older sister, passed about 3 years ago. I so agree with you about wishing I had spent more time with all of them and talking about all kinds of things that I never thought much about back in the days. Is this just a part of life ... the surprisingly different things we think about in these later years? One thing I am sure of ... I like the way you write about these things. I admire the way you are able to come up with posts like this week after week. Let me finish this comment with a short quote from this post. “And I must also acknowledge how much I have changed my definition of family, because the one that is here with me in this blog is very much a part of my life: my virtual family. I care about those I will never meet in person, and our lives have intersected here in profound ways.” That is certainly true for me as well and I thank you for all you share via Eye on the Edge. John