Family History and a Trip

I realize that I talk a lot about our little family of four on this blog, but I haven’t much delved into my own family background. And I have something relevant to talk about with regard to my family, so let me share a little background….

I have one brother and one sister, both much older than me. I was the “we’re already done having kids” baby who came along seven years after my parents’ last one. Oops! But my mom chose my middle name, Dawn, because she saw her “surprise baby” as a sort of new beginning, as she says. I’ve mentioned my sister on here many times: She’s a great person. She and I are very different in some ways and very alike in others. But we have always gotten along really well, despite the difference in our ages (seven years). She has four kids—three daughters and a son. Her youngest daughter, Stevie, is the one who just got married and had the boys in her wedding. Stevie has three older siblings, relatively close in age, with the oldest one being 25. They are all great kids and very good cousins to my boys!

Many people don’t even know I have a brother, but I do. He’s eleven years older than me. Unfortunately, he decided long ago that he no longer wanted to be a part of the family, so I haven’t seen him in ten years…and before that, I barely saw him. Chris met him exactly once (for about five minutes), and the boys have never met him. I know roughly where he lives and what he’s up to because I’m Facebook friends with his oldest daughter, but that’s about it. He has four children as well: one girl and three boys. I don’t really know the boys, but his daughter is a nice person, and I’m glad to be in touch with her via Facebook. It’s kind of a shame because when I was young, my brother and I were very close. But these things happen in all families, and sometimes there’s not much you can do about it…and sometimes it’s for the best.

I have a dad, too. I rarely mention him on here because he died almost twenty years ago, so obviously there’s not much “new” to mention about him. But he was a good dad, even if we didn’t see eye to eye on much, and he and my mom were happy together and were still happily married when he passed away.

I’ve mentioned my mom’s side of the family before: They live in Buffalo, NY, for the most part, and I really like them. Lots of good people! I have a great cousin who lives back there and has kids roughly my kids’ ages. And I have many second cousins I really like who live back there, too. I also was fortunate to have my grandmother until just about six years ago. She was a funny lady and a real force of nature—we got along well, even though she could be a really tough cookie. My grandfather passed away (from Alzheimer’s or something similar) when I was about ten, but I have a few brief memories of him from when he visited when I was five years old or so. I used to sit out in the backyard with him while he sat in a lawn chair and smoked cigars.

What I haven’t mentioned as much is my dad’s side of the family. This is because for a very long time, I didn’t even know them. My dad’s parents both died in 1982, when I was only eight years old, and because we lived across the country from them, I never saw them. They came to visit once when I was about two years old, but I can’t remember anything at all about the visit. My mom says my dad’s mother was delighted by me because I looked exactly like my dad and I loved to be read to. And apparently I was afraid of my grandfather’s mustache or something. I wish I remembered them, but I don’t.

My dad also has two sisters. He didn’t get along terribly well with one of them—not really anything big except that she talked a lot and he was extremely quiet, so I think it sort of drove him bonkers. Two very different personalities, and I just don’t think they were ever close, as far as I know. However, he did enjoy his other sister, my Aunt Sally. They rarely saw each other because, again, we lived across the country from them and didn’t travel at all. But I know he liked her and thought well of her and her husband, even though he rarely saw them. Sally and David came to visit when I was about three, and I have a faint memory of my Uncle David showing me a milkweed. (He was a botanist, among other pursuits.)

When my dad died, I was twenty-two years old, and both of my aunts (and their husbands) came for the memorial service. It was the first time I could really remember meeting my Aunt Sally and Uncle David, but we hit it off and kept in touch (Sally and I, that is—I don’t think David emails much). She was my travel buddy on two of my European trips before I had kids, in fact, and we had a great time! And after I had Theo, we met up with them in Portland for a short visit, back in the days when Theo spent a lot of time crying! And then we’ve visited them a couple of times in Virginia, too—with Theo and even once with Sam.

My aunt and I have noticed something fascinating over the past several years: Theo and David seem to be cut from the same cloth, despite not being blood relatives and despite having a nearly eighty-year gap in age. Sometimes, the similarities are almost eerie! Like Theo, my uncle has diverse and broad-ranging interests, and he delves very heavily into the things that interest him. And some of those things happen to be things that interest Theo as well. So whenever we’ve visited, the two of them have spent much time talking, a bit like two old men discussing deep topics, even though one of them is an elementary-schooler!

Because my dad died long before my kids were born, my Uncle David has been a bit like a stand-in grandfather for the boys on my side. They have their Papa on Chris’s side, of course, but my uncle is as close to a grandpa as they have on mine. Sam has only met Uncle David once, but Theo has met him several times and very much enjoys him. And what’s not to enjoy? My uncle is probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and has led, along with my aunt, a fascinating life. He’s got a fern named for him—how many people can say that? He and my aunt once went on a trip with Oliver Sacks (among other tour members), and my uncle is mentioned in one of Sacks’ books. My uncle decided to study prime numbers in his retirement years, for no other reason than he was interested in them…and ended up getting a paper published about them! And he makes a wickedly good Texas margarita and appreciates a good hamburger more than the average person. He has the most lovely mellifluous voice—he spent some time teaching, and I can imagine his students enjoyed just listening to him. What’s not to like?!

My uncle is now facing the end of his life, and we are very sad about this—including and perhaps especially Theo, who isn’t really old enough to understand the concept of “it’s very sad, but we also know that he has had a very full and good life.” When Theo overheard me talking to Chris about my uncle having cancer, he immediately said, “Can we go visit them? Can I see Uncle David again? We haven’t seen them in two years!” And we had to gently tell him that no, we couldn’t—as much as we’d like to, we just can’t afford to fly all four of us across the country. We had actually thought to do it for our summer vacation this year (before we knew about my uncle having cancer), but the numbers just wouldn’t work. We said maybe we could try FaceTime or Skype instead, so they could at least talk.

But thanks to a series of events, it turns out we are going to get to see my aunt and uncle—just Theo and me. It’ll be a quick four-day trip—out early on a Thursday morning, back in on a Sunday evening—but it’ll be long enough to spend two full days with my aunt and uncle while my uncle is still feeling well and able to enjoy the visit. I’m very glad we’ll get the chance to do this, and I’m very happy for Theo—I think it will mean a lot to him, and he’s very excited about it. My uncle may still have a fair amount of time left, but he may not—and we all know it’s best to do this while everyone can still enjoy it. I know one thing without a doubt: Theo is old enough that he will never forget the connection he and Uncle David shared, and it will be a relationship he looks back on with fondness.

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