This week is was tempting to spend some time thinking about what family ISN’T but then I realized what a waste of time that is. When my thoughts veered to what family isn’t a single picture popped into my head. A picture of me—dolled up and beautiful surrounded by dirty, craggy uncles smiling proudly for the camera. It’s a perfect snapshot of what MY family IS.
My mother made the dress I am standing in. My grandmother, her mother, the ultimate seamstress helped her. They hand sewed hundreds of sequins and pearl beads onto a big satin bow that cascaded from my waist to the floor. They adorned the hand-cut satin petals on the shoulder the same way. That’s family. Joining together to do something for someone you love–that’s what family does. My mom and my grandmother used their talents to create the dress of dreams. It couldn’t be bought. They designed it, they sewed it, and they crafted it until it was perfect. Together. For me. That’s family.
My uncles were dirty and raggedy because they were there helping my dad build his dream lake house. It was the end of a long day for them…a Saturday night. And though I don’t remember exactly I bet they were calling it quitting time so that they could tromp up the hill to the family pavilion for a fish fry or a burger cook out with more of my aunts and uncles and gaggles of cousins. That was the typical weekend during my teen years…family gathered to work on building our house and then as dusk came the same family gathered together for some food and ‘spirits’. Family. Working together to build something and then celebrating together as the day ended.
The picture also stands out in my mind because 2 of my uncles that I’ve lost are standing there with me. They loved me. I was shy and awkward and not typically the first one that anyone noticed. My sister was more personable, my cousins more beautiful, other cousins were strong, smarter and funnier. I just sort of blended in to most everyone. Not my Uncle Gene. I think he fancied me. If he didn’t then I don’t want to know about it. Uncle Gene made me feel special. He probably made all of his nieces and nephews feel exactly the same way but I like to believe he had a special spot in his heart for me. He didn’t seem to mind that I was shy. He didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t always know what to say or that I had glasses and braces and was a little hefty. He just seemed to love me. Family. They loved me for exactly who I was.
Uncle Bucky was the same. He had a crooked smile that made you feel like he was smiling right at you. He taught me to drive—before I was 16. I still remember his country drawl saying, “Give it some gas ½ way thru the curve…don’t slow down,” as he lounged against the door of his brand new car as I drove the winding road to the ‘ice cream store’. He gave me my first job as a receptionist at his plumbing business the summer I was 16. He also slipped me some money when I was saving for a trip to Europe. He teased me, he taught me and he loved me. Family.
I remember that day because it was Prom night. They all made sure to stay close by so they were visible when my date arrived. Grandmother was tying on sequins and biting the thread with her teeth…with me in the dress. The uncles were sweaty and dirty and kept teasing me. When it came time for pictures they crowded around, laughing, insisting on being in the picture. How glad I am that they were in that picture and that it’s something I’ll have forever, even now, long after they are gone.
They loved me. They liked me. They supported me. They taught me things. They shared moments—like Prom night—and they were a part of so many parts of my life. Family.
I don’t need to waste time thinking about what FAMILY isn’t…not when I am so lucky to know what family IS.