Thursday, July 21, 2011

Family Affair

Davidson Family, Circa 1951
The Davidson Family Reunion was this past weekend.  (My mother's father was John Davidson, who had his lineage somewhere in the Scottish Davidson clan.)  Like all my encounters with my mother's side of the family, I came away with that great sense of camaraderie and shared experiences that they exhibit that both draws me to them always and makes me a little sad.  Sad because I was kept from it by distance and now always by birthright and life experience.  I've wondered in the time since I found the evidence of my adoption and placed it against some of the things Mother would say from time-to-time if she kept us as isolated from her family as she did because she was afraid someone would spill the beans about my lineage.  Because, of all the mysteries that still surround my true start in this world, the one thing I know for sure is that it was never her intent that I find out.  She fully intended me to go to my grave being none the wiser.  (Of course, here's a little life's lesson for natural born hoarders who try to keep secrets:  you can't keep documents around that incriminate you if you don't want to get caught!)

But, my trepidation around these good people is strictly mine because I'm naturally a little awkward socially around any group, and this is an odd dynamic:  family who are almost strangers.  (In some cases complete strangers.  My favorite line from the reunion was when Marissa and I were looking at one rather brawny man who appeared to be in his forties, and I was puzzling who he was.  My Aunt Ginny leaned to Marissa and asked, "You don't know who he is?"  Marissa shook her head.  My Aunt Ginny smiled that little smile I've seen on my own mother's face a million times and replied, "Good.  I don't either.")  But, aside from that man - I never did find out who he was - they've been nothing but lovely and open to me.  They seem to genuinely accept me as family.  And I always come away a little regretful that I moved so far north of them, so I'm limited in the time I can spend around them.  Then I remember I'm only twelve minutes from the zoo, and realize how bad it sucks driving through the tunnels into the city in the morning, and then return to the thought process that somehow I divinely ended up about where I should be for now.

The thing is they share stories and a common thread that I can never know.  I share a minute fraction of what they have together.  I know who some of the people are when names of older relatives are mentioned, but some I don't. Occasionally they'll strike upon a situation I either knew about or was actually present for, but that's fairly rare.  Their stories are, in short, not really my stories.  Their familiarity with one another is something I missed out on:  knowing how to tease one another without offending, what stories are embarrassing enough to be entertaining, but not so bad as to be humiliating, and the clear love and easy affection they have for one another that comes with time.

I longed for that growing up.  As I've said before, I hated being an only child, not understanding, of course, the effort it took my parents just to get me.  I've often regretted how I harangued my mother for a sibling, but I know I was just little and had no clue.  I've forgiven myself for that because at some point I could have been told the truth and understood it enough to back off (of course, I probably would have whined about how they didn't adopt more than one child; I didn't really understand my parents were older than average until high school when, of course, they suddenly seemed ancient and completely out of touch).

I had a painful, yawning ache for what I saw at the reunion this weekend growing up.  So much so, it colors what I am and do as an adult to this day.  I'm drawn to pow-wows because I see that sense of family there.  I had too many dogs because I was surrounding myself with instant, loving family members.  And, the big one:  I married into a larger, nuclear family.  I've written about that before.  And it doesn't take a genius to see it, but, as I was contemplating the reunion, I was drawn back to thinking about Greg's family, which naturally is also Marissa and my family, and realized I've now done exactly what my mother did to me:  pulled away from the extended family.  Of course, Marissa, brought up in the age of Facebook, Skype and Qwerty keyboards, probably talks to her cousins more now than she did before.  And, I strongly believe it would be a mistake for someone who is so young and with such promise to always be stuck in one place.  She needs to get out and experience life from a different perspective.  To truly learn what part of the world feels like home you have to experience it.  If she chooses, she can return to be closer to her cousins at some point.  If she doesn't, then she can text with a rapidity that would make a Nascar driver jealous.  I don't worry about her - at least not about this.  She'll find what's right for her, and she'll remain connected to her relatives in the process.  Greg, on the other hand, I don't know about.  For me, it's an hour down to this newly discovered family.  For Greg, it's two hard day's drive back to his.  He doesn't Facebook, not sure if he even knows what Skype is, and he sure doesn't text any better than I do, so, in other words, not well at all.

Problem is:  was he close to them when he was right there?  Not really.  It's not geography, in the end analysis, that matters when it comes to knitting a family together.  The pull of his grief had frayed at this family quilt long before the physical distance pulled on the strings.

Of course, at some point at the reunion the subject of my mother's famous falling out with my Aunt Merle came up.  I hated that they took that to their graves and hope that someone, St. Peter himself maybe, knocked their heads together and made them kiss and make up.  I always hated that Mother didn't relish what she had in her siblings well enough (although that is way more complicated than I can write here) and tossed part of it away with one stupid fight, but that got me to thinking that Greg needs to reconnect with his siblings while he still has them all if he is ever going to come through this loss and feel whole again.  He needs what I saw on Saturday.  It almost was like a force field of common bonding and affection.  There were plenty of people sitting out on my cousin's inviting back porch who had experienced sadness and loss.  But they were laughing easily and comfortably, secure in the love of the family around them.  Better than all the therapy and little white pills in the world maybe. So, if I'm right, what can I and should I do about helping to restore the family dynamic?  Could I if I wanted to?  These are the things I'm left still thinking about...

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