My mom grew up in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan (the Soo), one of eight children in an Italian/American family. My grandma, a young widow with three children, married my grandpa, a widower with three children. They then had my mom and my Aunt M. I used to tell my elementary school friends, “It’s like the Brady Bunch, if Mike and Carol added two little girls to the family.” And in my mind, it was.
You see, I grew up in a small farming community. Many of my classmates lived in a house next door to their grandparents. Their aunts, uncles and cousins lived down the road. I was super jelly. (That’s ‘very envious’ for the un-indoctrinated. I can’t help myself. I love to use that phrase whenever the opportunity presents itself.) They were involved in each other’s lives on a weekly, or even daily, basis. They went to church together, had Sunday dinners together, and attended each other’s school functions and sports events. And this is what I always imagined was happening in the Soo without us.
Not all of my mom’s family lived in the Soo. As they became adults, half of those siblings (my mother being one of them) and their families followed spouses and careers far from the Soo. My grandma died much too young and my grandpa remarried and moved away. But in my mind’s eye, I was a part of a fabulously close knit family. My childhood memories are full of summer vacations visiting the aunts, uncles and cousins that remained in the Soo, and of visiting other far flung family at reunions and weddings.
But life is not as simple as that which is seen through the lens of a ten year old girl. Life can be complicated, and blended families often have additional baggage. Individual disagreements and slights, real or perceived, can cause rifts. These things I did not know, and was not told, but have come to learn over time. But our family endures.
This week, my sisters and I met for lunch with a small group of our cousins. What a blessing it was to get together! We don’t see each other enough, sometimes not for years. Some of us seem to have little in common and our age group this week spanned 50 years. But we are family and we share so much more than our heritage. We are parents, grandparents and great grandparents. We are quilters and shoppers and writers and musicians and artists and readers and drivers that are directionally challenged.
When we get together, we talk and we eat. That’s what Italian families do. Maybe that’s what all families do. We love our memories, and I often hear and tell stories we’ve shared before. But I also learn something new every time.
“Your dad was married before? Oh my gosh! I never knew that.” “Your family isn’t Catholic? I thought we were all Catholic!” “Did anybody else do 23 and Me? I found out I have a first cousin named Joe Shmoe. Anybody else?”
Our family is aging and it’s sad to think how many loved ones have passed. My Aunt M moved to Florida last year, the last of my personal Brady Bunch family siblings to leave the Soo. And although I’m sure I’ll go to the Soo again someday, it doesn’t hold the same exciting appeal for me that it used to. I guess the truth is that I love getting together with family, it doesn’t really matter where. And although I didn’t grow up hanging out with my cousins, I’ve known them all my life. Funnily enough, some of them I’ve only met a handful of times, but I love them, each and every one. And our family endures.