Sunday, March 23, 2008

Family ties

We spent this weekend in Ashland, Oregon, at a mini family reunion of my mother's side. Of the six siblings born to my Minnesota grandparents, only three remain: my mother -- the third child-- died first in 2005; then her brother Tom, the youngest, in 2006; and in 2007, the oldest, Bob.

Saturday was the older sister's 90th birthday -- Betty -- and Nancy and Dorothy came from southern California and Seattle to be with her. We also had cousins -- both of Betty's sons, one of whom I had not seen probably since I was about 16, and I'd never met either of their wives. Do came with my cousin Becky, also from Seattle, and the one with whom I'm most in touch. Nan's daughters came from southern California also -- one with four of her five children; the other with husband and three of four teen-aged boys, including identical twins. Another cousin came from Colorado to be with us.

Both nights we commandeered the breakfast room of the hotel where we were and brought out food, photo albums, gifts, and beverages, and talked, shared stories, and laughed -- and yes, puddled a bit -- as we learned a little more about who we each have become.

Most of us don't talk much by either phone or e-mail, other than the sibling groups, but we all share common memories of our grandparents and their big house in Duluth, Minn., and it was interesting to hear the different perspectives. One cousin, who lived with the grandparents for a year, talked about a demanding, rather rough grandfather, and of being afraid. Another -- about 10 years younger -- remembers a grandfather who fed birds out of his hand and loved to work with wood -- a trait which she has inherited. I don't remember either grandparent as particularly loving, and as a child felt always a little lost in the crowd of cousins -- there were 17 of us.

But by coming to help our aunt celebrate 90 years -- and she is remarkably agile and alert -- we honored our common roots, that Swedish blood that flows in our veins from the grandfather who arrived here as a teenager, and the connection we share through family. We are very different -- we have widely differing political and spiritual views, we mostly don't look alike although you can see traces of our parents and grandparents in a nose here, eye color there, or the shape of the face. I see in my cousins their parents' features -- perhaps they see my parents in my face as well.

Of course I felt my parents close at hand -- there were pictures and stories, memories of them at weddings and trips, and I kept hearing Daddy sing and Mother laugh. I see her face in my aunt Do especially, and each aunt suffers now from osteoporosis too, although differently than did my mother. I was there because she would have wanted me to be there. And I was there for me too.

One cousin asked me "Are you happy with your life?"

A good question. And I could say without reservation, "Yes, I am."

That doesn't mean I wouldn't do things a little differently had I the chance. But to be happy with your life -- now that is a blessing.

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