Tuesday, February 11, 2014

There Isn't a Song Lyric To Express how Crazy and Wonderful My Family Is

Family seems to be that secret that we hold really close to the chest as adults. You never really think about it, but all those holidays together are something you may reminisce about but aren't necessarily something you share.

As you get older, that part of yourself is something that reserved for you, maybe your significant other (if they tolerate family gatherings and you still go to them) but by and large you never sit down with your friends and share about your family. Its a shame, really, because I think our families really influence who we are as as adults and its impossible to escape that influence. Sometimes I don't think we even really register the magnitude of how they influence our worldview.

I've been thinking more about this recently. Part of this reflection was brought on by an envelope of photos I brought home from my grandmothers to show Kitten- many of them were from when I was a little girl. Another contributor was our recent viewing (mine, twice) of August: Osage County. During the film Kitten leaned over to me and whispered "This is like watching a documentary of your family." I was also reflecting on how our family changes how people view us while talking to one of my coworkers today. I had been telling her about Sakura's first holiday with my family and his reaction to them. She was dying laughing. Personally, before Sakura's visit to my family Christmas I knew we were a little different from some families but it never occurred to me how much until then. That was also about the time that I realized how different I am from most of my family members in personality as well. I always knew I was one of the odd ducks in the family (maybe even to some extent the black sheep for a few years) but their cohesiveness was a shock when I honestly started to reflect on it.

To understand how different my family is I think you have to look at how unique we are to start with. My family is pretty large, by most family standards. (That picture, by the way, is my cousin Red, my brother Punk and me, respectively, being held by my grandmother sometimes in the early 80's. My guess would be '86 or so, if I had to wager) My mom has five sisters, all of them with the exception of my Aunt Dancer had at least two children. My grandmother has several sisters as well. Her youngest is within a year of my mom's age. Her son JD and daughter JJ, whom I call my cousins, are actually my first cousin once removed and JJ now has a daughter (my second cousin Iris, who is tiny and adorable). To my best knowledge my grandma has three living sisters- this may be inaccurate since I don't have a super firm grasp on my family history (don't judge me my family is HUGE). I additionally have family members that could be called in Southern terminology "kissing cousins" (that means they don't have direct blood relations to me but I consider them to be part of my family anyway- e.g. my Aunt's stepson is a kissing cousin). And don't buy in to all that Yankee hooey about how that's just a family member who is close enough to exchange a kiss in formal greeting- my family is southern and we're going to use those rules. Plus we'll get to the whole kissing thing in a little because my family KISSES and that's another animal entirely. So I have this nice, big family and we, for most of my childhood, piled into my great-grandmother or my grandmother's house every year for holidays (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, sometimes for no good reason at all) so we could spend time together. I also come from a really unique place in that for a few years of my life I shared a bedroom with one of my younger aunts when we lived in my grandmother's house. I look at my aunts more like sisters, which confuses things a little more, I suppose. I find myself often in a strange position- inhabiting a no man's land where I am not part of the older generation (though I am equally close to some of my aunts in age as I am my cousins) and I am old enough that I remember the births of and even babysitting as a teenager some of my cousins who are technically in "my generation" of the family.

Suffice to say, my family is all up in each other's space, all the time, no question. Once my mom remarried I never lived more than three blocks from my grandparents- in the same neighborhood always. I spent a significant part of my childhood in my grandparents home even after we moved out. My Aunt Dancer for a while lived up the street from my grandparents and it wasn't until a few years ago when my Aunt Priestess moved away with her husband and daughters (Lovey and Cowgirl) to Oklahoma that any of us lived more than a fifteen or twenty minute drive across-town from each other- excepting, of course, when my Aunt Buddy went to college in Kansas. Even stranger, for a lot of people, I've known most of my uncles who married into my family for a long time as well. Priestess married her high school sweetheart (they just celebrated their 25th anniversary) and Buddy and her husband met while she was in college and I was still in grade school when they married. There's never been a time in my life when my family- even the extended part- were beyond a day's drive. We're an up close, in your face, tell me all about it honey kind of family.

That in and of itself makes us a rarity, even in the Midwest where larger families are common.  But it wasn't until recently that the culture of my family, which is distinctly Southern, was something I was terribly aware of.  Sakura says it was a surprise when he met them two years ago (I was sick with a migraine and drugged out of my mind as a result, Kitten was at work and I needed a way to get to the Christmas party so Sakura did me a solid and came to get me) because he thought they would be like me. To wit "I was expecting a reserved, proper, northeastern, Huxtable kind of family. I walked into The Clampett Family Christmas." My mom was hugely offended when I laughingly told her about this- though I took no offense at all. Sakura was simply trying to express the shock he felt when he realized that one of his best friends (a relatively quiet, introverted, polished person- yes, me) came from a loud family full of kisses, cuddles and let me get you a sweet tea and fix you a plate honey. There's nothing wrong with it- but if you're not expecting it, its a shock, I'm sure.

And nothing is more surprising than walking into a room (we rent a community room now- we're too big for anyone's house) full of people shouting good naturedly, elbowing each other in the food line and chasing down toddlers when you're expecting a nice polite clam bake. We eat, too, make no mistake. I didn't know until recently that its odd to have more than one turkey at Christmas. I didn't know its not normal to have to empty out bedrooms so there's room to set up card tables because the main table (a 12 seater, mind you) is full, the long card tables set all along the dining room wall are full and there's no more room on the stove, the kitchen counters or the two dessert carts my grandparents dug out to stick all the cookies, pies and cakes on in the pantry were all full. Now that we have a community room its not odd for my aunts to carry in three or four crockpots and chafing dishes to go with all the cold food and dips and vegetables and whatnot. My cousins even cook. No kidding- Aunt Buddy's youngest  Colorgirl made a soup last family gathering that was so good I wanted to cry and she's in her second year of high school. Even my boy cousin's cook. And if you bring a date- if they're going to fit in chances are they'll cook too. JJ's husband makes prime rib to die for and my cousin Mustang brought his girlfriend to Christmas (her second family gathering) and she didn't have to be told to bake cookies. She just did. They were delicious by the way.

So I'm sure Sakura was taken aback- in part by all the food and in part by the determination of my family to feed him. I may have been to sick too eat (and that was debatable since I had thrown up from the dizziness and had "plenty of room in my stomach") but by god Sakura was not. And no kidding they drug him to the table and fed him and fed him and kept his drink full. Nevermind he had eaten before he came. He wasn't just my ride. In my family its unspoken but true- if you're willing to bring someone to meet them then they are family too, like it or not. Sakura was family and when we get together we eat. No ifs ands or buts about it. Truthfully, I laughed my ass off this year when several of my family members were horrified that I had not told him when the party was because of course he was going to come- he came last year didn't he? They were even dismayed that Oscelot (by then my ex) and her lovely girlfriend Bobcat didn't come because Oscelot is family and that Bobcat sounds like a nice girl and when do we get to meet them? Truthfully I think my family will love Bobcat- she cooks on caliber with my family's best and that's saying something.

On top of that my family is by nature loud. They are affectionate. Oh yes, the kissing. You know, my younger cousins don't do this so much, it might be a generational thing, but growing up everyone kissed. I mean, I'll get a peck on the cheek from my cousins I'm close to and everyone hugs- like full body crack your spine hugs- but I mean my family kisses hello and goodbye. On the mouth. All the time. Think nothing of it. It never occurred to me until way later in my life (I had an ex point it out, maybe ExBeloved) that I realized that this is not how a lot of families interacted.  My aunts and my grandparents and any of the older generation still do it and I do when I'm with them and I don't feel weird or ashamed about it. I know some people have implied that its unhealthy. But it never bothered me. It might also explain why I have such a small personal space when it comes to my friends. I grew up in a house with two bathrooms and sometimes up to six women. Personal space didn't exist. My aunt went into labor on the same night as my mom's first date with her second husband- while he was picking her up (Lovey, if you're reading, it was you...). My family kisses on the mouth and swats on the ass and pinches with their toes and why in heaven's name would I have a personal space when I grew up expecting that if you're with people you love you pile on top of them and give them hell?

The Easter Lovey was four or five my uncles dumped a kiddie pool of water on my aunts and chased them around the yard while Lovey chased me around the yard in her powerwheel. As close as we are now she would probably be horrified to know my clumsy ass fell and she ran over me with that damn thing. But she did. (Swear, Lovey, I don't hold a grudge. Its funny now.)

My family is privy to some of my most private moments. Some of my most embarrassing. Some of the most moving. It was my family that was there to pick spiders out of my hair when I ran afoul of an opus in my Grandma's yard (hence my severe arachnophobia for nearly two decades). It was my aunts that took me away from the horrible scene they were making the year my parents split up- Christmas, mind you- and my father came to the party to try and take us from our mom. It was my aunts who fought for me. My grandfather and my uncles who protected me. My grandparents who gave us somewhere to go. When I became a dancer at a downtown club when I was 18 I had family show up (like it was a dance recital or a school exhibition!) on my first night. My grandmother bought me my first pair of pasties and my first pair of leather boots. It is my family who helped me through my coming out process. My family came for all my karaoke contests. They showed up and ate when I was having a sales contest at work. I have worked as a coworker with three different generations of my family now- and it wasn't that bad, really. It was my family who helped me when I hit bottom, twice, and had nowhere to go and no way out from my mistakes.

Its the absolutely insane level of nosiness that spurs my family to offer dating advice on women. Its what makes them call me to make sure I know that we're always welcome, damn the conservatives and what they say (neveryoumind that some of them are conservative too!). Its my family who pushes me to be my best, who call with good natured nagging when I'm not getting along with someone else (a rarity more and more, thank god). It is my beautiful family who watched my romance with Kitten develop and who felt no compunction stalking her through Walmart when she was shopping before coming home to me even though they'd never met her, debating with each other whether or not they should introduce themselves.

And my family's kinks, quirks, oddities, secrets, histories, dramas and fights that make me so understanding of the troubles of others. It is what has given me the little compassion and empathy I possess and it is their level of unconditional love that I one day aspire to have. It is my family that reminds me that I am human. It is my family that reminds me that I need forgiveness as much as they do sometimes. But if ever there is a time when I need a second chance, forgiveness, help or acceptance I know I can get it from them. And it is that certainty that makes me want to share them with the people I love despite those links, quirks, oddities and dramas. Because after years of wondering where the hell I fit in with them I've come to realize that I am my family to my friends.

That's the one thing you can count on from me. I'm going to cheer for you. Loan you what money I can. Clean your house when you break your leg, bring you soup when no one else will because you have bird flu. I'm the person they'll come to when they need to bitch about work, or a friend. When time comes for a life changing decision, I know my friends are going to use me as a sounding board. If no one understands or they need a cry, a couch to crash on, or they need a dinner because the paycheck is three days away and they can't take one more bologna sandwich or packet of ramen; its my house you come to. I'm proud of that. I'm delighted that after all these years of wondering if I was ever going to be able to truly cope with my family and fit in I've discovered that they are a significant part of who I am, and have been all my life. I'd just never noticed.

1 comment:

  1. Ahem. This Yankee has a family a lot like yours. So there.


    Seriously, I could picture your family because in so many ways it reminded me of mine. I love that you're finding your way with them more and more, and that it's bringing you peace and happiness to do so. And you're right: that's the type of friend you are. The family type. *HUG*

    Say, would you come over and clean my house even though my leg *isn't* broken? heehee!