Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Meaning of Family

     The definition of family is 1:  a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head (household)   2:  a group of persons of common ancestry (clan)  3:  a people or group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock (race)  4:  a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation (fellowship).

     I have struggled with the understanding of family most of my life.  My mother married three times.  (Household had several heads to live under.)  Most of the family was of common ancestry.  (Our clan was dominate of a Southern Heritage of unwritten but strictly obeyed rules.)  We were all of one race.  (That would be Southern.)  As for the "united by certain convictions or common affiliation" well, I tested that out most of my teen years.  (Fellowship was hard when you have father-figures that changed three times.  It doesn't help fellowship either when you question the female head of household over insane reasons why I couldn't do most things I wanted to do when I was age 13 to 15.)

     My birth father I have scant memory of.   Few photographs as well.   He was in the Air Force and sadly he was stationed away from us during a time when it possibly could have changed the outcome of my parents relationship.  Possibly not though as well.  After their divorce I rarely saw him and heard less from him.  I don't honestly know why.  Seeing him the few times I did brought me to tears and confusion over who and what he was to me.   He was my dad.  I knew that.   But what memories or stories did I have of him in my life?  I could think of none.  When I was in my senior year and having turned 18 he suddenly wanted to be a part of my life.  It shook me to the core.  I was afraid of him because of not knowing him.  My love and I went to meet him in San Francisco at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, a neutral spot I selected.  I could hardly stop from shaking because a part of me longed to have my father in my life but a huge part of me was angry that after all this time NOW he wanted to be a part of my life.  Like he could just pop in and we could be a father - daughter unit.   I explained to him that what I wanted was to get to know him.  What his favorite things to do were, what hobbies he had, what he did with his new family.  We parted with the agreement of him not calling me but to write to me.  I was not yet ready to open my life to him at that point.

     It still haunts me that we never moved onto the phone calls.  He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1983.  He respectfully honored me all those seven years by not calling me except for a few times when I called him.  I am saddened that he never got to see his first two grandchildren except in photographs.  I think that I am like him in more ways than I realize in that he too regretted not having tried harder to see my brother and I when we were growing up.  My father died on his sailboat, alone, but doing a hobby that he enjoyed.   A hobby he never told me about.   How is it that I never found this out?

     Bill was my first stepfather.  He was a handsome man if you like the tall dark type.  He was a ladies man through and through.  He really didn't parent me as my mother took that role one hundred percent.  Bill was the nice guy with the smile and laugh.   I never had an attachment to him like my brother.  He didn't do much with me except to drive me to my horse or just him living under the same household.  They lasted nine years and then he was gone.  I was surprised how his being out of my life left me without any sadness.  Maybe it was because I had my own personal life that was in need of living.  Having been uprooted from my friends to move to a place I commonly called "a hell hole" I really didn't care about anyone except my horse and our dogs.  I never saw or heard from him again.  

     The man who left his mark in my life was Rock.  He was there for this tribe of three women in a calm and constant way.  My Grandmother thought he was too old for my mom as there was a 20 year difference in age.  She liked him alright but wasn't sure if this was a match for her daughter.  She proceeded to go visit family in the south for awhile and let what would happen happen.  Did she think it would end?  It didn't.   My mom and Rock flourished.   My mom's Southern charm worked magic and before long they were married.   Rock had his own children and then he had me.  We became a part of the same fellowship of family.  We sailed on his boat and skied together.  It was through him I met my love.  He was an amazing Papa to his grandchildren.   There was nothing about him I didn't love and with all my heart wished that he had been my real father.   I preferred calling him Papa than Rock as I felt it was my way of defining him more as my father.  He alone could quiet my mom's stormy behavior towards me.   When he passed away after twenty-four years of marriage I knew it would be a rough sea to sail without him.  He was a gentleman unlike any I have ever known.  Honest, kind, loving, artistic, wine lover, food lover, interested in any new gadget and he never stopped learning if there was something to learn.   He and my mom were a special couple that many looked on as meant for each other or were "The Couple".  For me he was what it meant to have a father.  I felt secure in his gentle bear hug.  His short phone calls to ask about the kids or my love and I.  Going against doctors orders and going on roller coasters with us and laughing the whole time.  His laugh, his smile, his berets, his ascots, him.

     So what is family?  I certainly have had an odd arrangement.  I have more though.  I have left out the part that really is on my my mind of late.  My father had two children with the wife he married after my mom.  Yes, I have two half siblings.  I met them once a couple of years after my father passed away.  An odd visit as I was still so young that I really didn't know what to say or do with them when my father's wife called to visit.  Elizabeth and Matt.  I wanted to know what they knew about my father that I didn't get to know.  What was he like as a father?  What did they do together?   Yet here they were fatherless as I had been.  Looking at it now I wonder what memories as adults they have about him.  They too missed all the years when you remember the most about a life.  Do they have a foggy memory of what they think happened when he was alive?  Does their mother tell them about him and what kind of person he was?  I wonder do they wonder about me like I do about them?  I want to know them.   In some scary way I want to know them.  Then a part of me is afraid of rejection.  Why would they want to know me and if they did why have they never looked for me?  I mean I have tried to look them up from time to time without avail.  Will my life go by never knowing them, they who are a part of my father and me?  Do they resemble him?  Or me?  Just a little bit?  What is family?   I see my life with my love and our children and feel so much.   I feel so much....I feel so much I ache with the encompassing love I feel.  I feel like I can't tell them enough or show them enough of my love.  My consistency of love that I want them to know, I need them to know.  Loss makes you feel this.  As my life moves on I am awash with the swells of love that roll over me, like when Papa would take us out on his boat.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Wishes

     Christmas wishes when I was a child...I wish I could remember all the different ones I dreamt about.  Thoughts of Santa who would be coming to my house.   Would I hear the reindeer on the roof?  Those pretty prancing reindeer with the jingling bells on their harness, would I wake up to see them?  How would Santa slide down our chimney?   Did he get smaller on the way down?  How did he go back up?  He was magical, that could be the only way he could do all that he did in just one night.

      Looking out the living room window, searching the sky to see if I could spot Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.   Our news channel would say where Santa was in the sky.   As he would get closer to our town my mother would tell me it was time for bed.   Santa wouldn't come till I was sound asleep.   Off I would run to my bed.   I would hurry to fall asleep so that I wouldn't jinx him coming.  
     Here's wishing that Santa makes some of your wishes come true. Mine this year would be peace on earth.  How timeless that wish is...still.   

    Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 4, 2009


  I was looking out the window when I noticed my reflection looking back at me.  It made me think of when I was growing up and feeling uncertain of myself.  That feeling that I was not pretty enough compared to the girls with the peaches and cream complexion while mine was covered with bumpy teen skin.  Or the awkwardness of my chubby child body during my grade school years.  I had a hard time in grade school.  I dreaded having to do anything at the chalkboard where my back would be to the class, trying to answer a math equation or an English breakdown of a sentence.  The feel of all the eyes of my classmates watching and waiting for a correct answer or a wrong answer.  If it was wrong then I would have to go back to the front and be subjected to the class and teacher doing it with me.  I feared the times that my teacher would assign us to mesmerize a poem or read a report we had to write in front of the class.  P.E. was terrible as I was one of the those in the last pick line-up.  What a cruel decision for those teachers to set the popular girls to choose who they wanted on their teams.  You wait in a line as one by one the favorites were picked first, laughing and smiling, while I cringed to see the unhappy face they would make when the last of us were chosen.  

     Nicknames haunted me.  My mom use to call me Ellie which wasn't awful but when kids at school took to calling me Ellie the Elephant during my chubby stage it hurt.  Those taunts don't leave your memory.  In my early teen years I was called PT, which stood for Pyramid Tits, as I had nipples that stood out but no boobs.  Pretty insulting for a young teen girl.  I hated being called Ellie and my mom did stop calling me that.  It's a shame a nickname could evolve into a dreaded name as Ellie is a sweet name.  PT faded away thankfully.  

     That reflection followed me through most of my first 18 years.   I felt so ill equipped to participate in conversations.  I didn't feel educated enough or confident in what I could say.  While dating, my love brought out the best in me.  He encouraged me to make eye contact when speaking and to try to engage in conversations.  I found comfort in his genuine interest in me and who I was.  I had an overpowering mother who had a tendency to make me not feel good about myself.  I didn't dress the way she wanted, I didn't have friends she wanted me to be friends with, I didn't have the brains like my brother or the talents he had with sports and extracurricular activities.  When my love came along she really liked him.  It was like suddenly she saw I was there!  She still didn't appreciate the person I was or take interest in my pursuits but for once she talked to me like the young woman I was becoming. 

     I still can see the reflection only now I see the person I am is on the right side.  She is not the one trapped in the image on the other side of the glass though at times she tries hard to come out and take my place.   I still listen more than I talk and I do love being behind the camera rather than engaging in conversations many times.  I enjoy watching a good conversation going on, hearing the laughter, or raised voices of determination in their talk.  I always have learned much by listening.  I appreciate my quiet side who doesn't feel I need to engage in every conversation.  I tend not to put my foot in my mouth.  I listen more with my heart and try hard not to say what may hurt but to say what I feel that is more loving.  It is a can be a struggle to not say the wrong thing when you feel angry or are in a bad mood.   But I keep trying.  I want to look at myself and know that I am honest of my intentions and that I don't bring the hurtful words from my past out to my loved ones who don't deserve them.   I want my actions to be of loving open arms and that the return towards me are as open, loving and honest.  My struggle is that I take too much personally.  It is hard to let the vain, hurtful, dishonest words roll off me like drops of water that can evaporate from my heart.  Yet when I do it affects me in such a rush of peace and joy that I believe it helps when the next time those words come my way.  


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