I read a friend's blog post about family ties -- how they can break apart and come back together, and what does it all mean anyway? -- right before the phone rang the other day. It was my mother, and we spent an hour chatting (which actually meant that I spent most of the hour listening, while she chatted). She wandered through the conversation, telling me, in her dulcet Southern accent, about her recent 50th high school reunion. She was the best-looking woman-- and the best dancer—in the room, of course. But the most important thing was her more-than-half-century of shared experiences with friends, and my understanding of the common culture, the roots we share; the fact that she can say something like “they had to prise him from the chair” and I know what she means. She speaks, and the music in her voice, the sense of place, takes me back the part of the world that will always be my anchor and my home, no matter where I wander. I’m the changeling, the odd one, perhaps the black sheep, but I know my tribe, my family, will always be there. (Partially because there are so darned many of them.)
As all families do, we've had our difficulties. I can remember disagreements, and temper tantrums, and threats to leave. I can remember a few times when my middle brother (who was about 6, I think) hoisted a bag on his back, and ran away -- to the end of the driveway. And I can remember more trying times, illnesses and other circumstances that left me, at the age of 11, running a household for a while.
That was a frightening period, when I really thought that I might be parentless, and maybe even homeless: at the very least, stuck caring for two small brothers who were really very sweet, but who, at the time, appeared to be pains in the ass, as most brothers do at that age. It was disorienting, and ultimately, changed my view of life.
I had a wonderful Dubya-hating-Tarot-reading therapist who said it best for me: It’s terrifying for a child of any age to be abandoned by a parent. It’s doubly terrifying for someone so young. You spend a lot of time trying not to grieve; you also spend a lot of time trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. At some point, if you’re lucky, you’ll begin to understand that you will survive.
I began to understand, when my father died. I felt my own mortality, saw my brothers and aunts and uncles and cousins growing older, watched the babies being born, and thought that maybe our births are not accidents, that maybe we are in fact, woven together for a particular reason, and that maybe, just maybe, there will never be a group of people who understand each other better.
I think I'll call my mother tomorrow, to hear a little more about that reunion.