Monday, August 23, 2010

Re-Union

“Unforgettable, That's what you are. 


Unforgettable, Though near or far. 


Like a song of love that clings to me,”

- Nat King Cole “Unforgettable”


This past weekend, I attended my cousin’s wedding. It was his second time marrying. The first occurred three months before my marriage, sixteen years ago. At the rehearsal dinner and at the wedding, he kept thanking family and friends for their “support”, which I guess is what’s required when a family loses a member and gains another.


Families are not fixed entities. We lose members through death and divorce, and then we gain members through birth and marriage. Families are a jumble of different personalities. Some families are a jumble of religions and races. And our families extend endlessly because those who are related by marriage have other families with whom they are attached. So if we connected all the families, we’d be one giant family. I guess it’s the Six Degrees of Separation theory.


My family all stayed in the same hotel. My mother’s side of the family is big, with five children who had thirteen cousins. Throughout the weekend, when people asked, “How do you know the bride and groom?” I responded with, “I’m one of the groom’s many cousins.”

In the midst of this large family, my two children are loved and doted on as (so far) the only children. While most of my older cousins probably won’t become parents, I have younger cousins who may some day have children. But my now eight and twelve-year-old will be much older. They don’t seem to notice the absence of other children because they are given much attention and love from my aunts, uncles, and cousins. At these gatherings, I barely have to watch them. In these times, I imagine what life would be if we all lived in the same town like people used to do, and we all watched one another’s children, and participated in one another’s lives in a more obtrusive fashion.


While most of my family still lives on Long Island in New York, over the years, more and more people have scattered. This wedding was the first time in a long time that nearly everyone was together. Only my mother was absent. Even my father and his girlfriend were invited because my cousins still consider him family. My mother’s side has held onto the ex-spouses more than other families, I suspect.


We spent the weekend in the same place, flitting in and out of one another’s rooms, bumping into one another in the corridors, eating breakfast and talking over cups of coffee on the eighth-floor, drinking and socializing until 1:00 or 2:00 am. And we got to speak in a more intimate way than we usually do, and yet somehow the three days went by so quickly, it seemed that we didn’t have enough time to catch up.

My family is so big and chatty that the goodbyes take a good 20-30 minutes. This always drives the spouses who come from smaller families (and maybe don’t take so long to say their goodbyes) mad. They wear a resigned expression throughout the words and hugs and kisses.


As we part, we say:

“We should get together more often.”

“Let’s not just make the effort for weddings and funerals.”

“Let’s have a reunion next year.”


Because there’s something about not just spending 3-5 hours together for a holiday or a graduation. First, not everyone usually makes the effort to attend. Second, we hardly get to talk to anyone in depth. All of us staying in one place over the course of three days is intense. And I think families need intensity to stay connected.

So I leave these gatherings a little satisfied and a little dissatisfied because these reconnections will soon lose their strength. Most of us family members only know one another in the most superficial of ways. I think that’s why I love the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” because secretly I love that idea of family. (Though I do see a downside.) Before my grandfather died when I was two, everyone used to gather at my grandparents’ home for a big Sunday dinner. We lived near one another. Ever since then, we’re less and less connected. My grandparents’ big Italian family is now in its third generation, living in many states, married to non-Italians.


Even though we are no longer a first generation immigrant family, it doesn’t diminish the meaning of family. But it’s not the distance that separates us, but also occupation, religion, philosophy. Yet sometimes those differences help us grow.

At the reception, my cousin, brother to the groom, stood and nervously gave his wedding toast. He said something like, “People might call you lucky, but I believe you make your own luck.” Those words have repeated in my head many times since then. We can all sit and wait for things to happen, bemoaning our lot. Or we can do our best to change the course of our lives and find happiness. I don’t see this cousin very often and when we do, our conversations are brief and often superficial. But his words will be the ones I remember from this weekend for years to come.

While the music played, virtually everyone danced. One male cousin got to be center stage during “I’m Too Sexy” while another did the same for “I Like Big Butts”. (Okay, never said this is a normal family.) Everyone’s personalities shone on the dance floor and it may have been my favorite part of the weekend. When people needed a break from the noise, we spoke on the balcony overlooking the Iwo Jima memorial, The Kennedy Center, and The Capitol.

It was a beautiful night near the end of wonderful weekend, reuniting all of us.


How does your family stay connected?

What memories do you treasure?


34 comments:

  1. "So I leave these gatherings a little satisfied and a little dissatisfied because these reconnections will soon lose their strength." Very well said Theresa....I must say I truly miss everday moments with my family as they live in Va. and I'm busy here in Pa. Thank God for FB and fleeting family gatherings that are fragile yet replenishing! Glad you had a good time :)

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  2. So glad you had a good time! My family is spread all over the country and getting time with all of them tends to be around events such as those mentioned or the big holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving. In the meantime though we do keep in touch fairly often. Some of us more than others (I talk to my mom at least 3 times a day). We tend to just do the old fashioned phone conversation really. Nothin' fancy but we try to stay in touch the best we can considering we cover about six states.

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  3. I love that line about luck!

    I live miles from my family, and I've done so for about ten years now - different continents! But we stay close through frequent phone calls and visits. I feel as close to them now as I always have.

    I think it's about the time and the effort you put it. If you make the effort to maintain the friendships and relationships with friends and family, they'll usually last.

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  4. Sounds like a great time! I'm very lucky - my family is all in town. I talk to my sister pretty much daily and my mom every few days. My hubby's the same with his side. The kids are all pretty close in age, so they're grown up knowing their cousins well - it's awesome!

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  5. What a lovely post. You are lucky to have such a wonderful family. Mine is very small now, since I was an only child and both my parents are gone. My husband, however, has a very large family, and the gatherings are very similar to what you describe here. Now that his mom is gone, though, I worry how much we'll see each other. Time will tell.
    Karen

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  6. Your post reminded me of my sister's wedding recently. It was in Sydney (about an hour and 20 min flight from where I am). The family all stayed in the one hotel for the weekend and the constant bumping into each other at breakfast and in the lifts etc was just lovely.

    I come from a big family. Mum is one of 13 and Dad is one of 9. I am one of 5. All of mum and dad's siblings had a stack of kids as well ... so there's quite literally, THOUSANDS of us. It is always lovely to catch up but .... like to said - the connections weaken with time apart ... although ... sometimes I think that maybe they don't. I mean, we are not in each other's lives on a daily basis but when brought together we have this connection that I could not have with friends no matter how long I have known them.

    Maybe it's just me? I love the gatherings though ... especially at weddings. Glad you and your family had a lovely time :)

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  7. I stay connected mainly through e-mails. We all live in different states now. Not only geographically but states of mind, too.
    We come visit one another and really enjoy it. I remember it being different as a kid. We were all closer.
    I remember as a kid how the family would get together at funerals/weddings and talk about what a shame it was that we didn't see each other more. I don't like to say something I know won't happen. It makes me uncomfortable. I just enjoy the time I have with now...

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  8. Oh Theresa Milstein! Welcome back!!

    What a fantastic post - I love your family in all their rambling rumbunctiousness!!! What a great and intense and happy weekend. I think this is what weddings are all about - generations connected by blood and/or association come together to celebrate and re-connect albeit temporarily! But I think the connections are made that little bit stronger.

    How lovely!!! Glad you and your family had a wonderful time.

    How does my family stay connected: through the sterling efforts of my mum who also does her best to disconnect us! LOL!

    Treasured memories: Oooh has to be when my dad was still alive - they were very innocent times.
    :-)

    Take care
    x

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  9. @ Slushpile Slut, I agree that FB is a great way to keep up with people day to day, if they post. After these trips, I always vow to make more of an effort to at least e-mail. It's hard with a big family to keep up with everyone.

    @ Erica, I keep up with some more than others too. Since we moved nearly nine years ago, it's harder to see and speak to everyone as often.

    Three times a day? My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are like that.

    @ Talli, it must be hard to be that far apart sometimes. It's nice that you make the effort.

    @ Jemi, your experience sounds like my childhood. I wish I could recreate that sometimes.

    @ Karen, when my paternal grandmother died, we hardly got together anymore. It's sad when it's one person acting as the foundation.

    My husband's family is much smaller.

    @ Clutterbug, that would be the size of my family if my cousins all had kids. I remember all of us cousins playing and fighting and acting like siblings. I wish my kids had that too.

    I agree, family ties are unique.

    @ Barbra, your line, "We all live in different states now. Not only geographically but states of mind, too," is so true. I wish I'd written it so eloquently.

    I don't like saying things I don't mean. That promise to see one another more often on my paternal side has been an empty promise. On my maternal side, people really do make an effort.

    It's funny how we sometimes go into these things with trepidation and then have such fun when we're there.

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  10. Sounds like you had a nice time. I'm sorry that you don't get to see your family much.

    I just got married a year ago and moved out of NJ (where both hubby's and my family live), and I really miss the close proximity. Now we really only see our families for holidays and some birthdays.

    Neither of us have large families, though. I would have loved a Big Fat Greek Wedding family, too.

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  11. hi miss theresa! wow you sure got a lot of family and you did a lot of chatting in a really little time. sounds fun. im glad you had a good time. we got a cousin that does that family search stuff and now we got a zillion cousins all over the place that we didnt ever meet. we do email and its fun knowing about a cousin you didnt know you had. at home we got just me and my brothers and my sister and we got two cousins. one we go to mostly every weekend for swimming. the other one is more far away and we only go there a little.
    ...hugs from lenny

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  12. I attended a wedding not long ago and can relate. What's sad is watching relatives you hardly know treat you like a best friend.

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  13. @ Old Kitty, "rambling rambunctiousness" - I like that! Perfect description.

    Your mother sounds like quite a character.

    I'm sure the period without your father was a lot less innocent. I am glad you remember him even though you were so little.

    @ Shelley, how the transition for you? I found moving hard at first. It's also nice to move forward with your own new family.

    @ Lenny, you and your cousins sound like me and my cousins when I was your age. We used to hang out and go swimming in the summer.

    Hugs to you too.

    @ Alex, it is weird when people act like they know you better than they do.

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  14. Ah this question is so timely. Having just returned from almost a month away visiting family and friends downunder, I can certainly relate. Reunions are great fun but so fleeting in the end. At present FB, emails and phone calls still connect us but its amazing how much better everything is in person - I wish we all lived in the same country definitely!

    So glad you got to reconnect even if for a short time - its great just to have the opportunity to do that I think. ;))

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  15. I love those big family gatherings. My husband I both have large extended families (to put it mildly.) It's always great to get together. Facebook has been good for keeping our family connected.

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  16. Great post, as usual! What hit me after reading it was how right you are in noticing how quickly the connections lose their strength. I've felt the same, its a mixture of loss and relief for me, I often felt like I couldnt sustain my likabilty factor anyway!... When we're all together, we want to like each other, and are able to pass over uncomfortable comments (this is just me probaley!) that we don't agree with... we have a great time, a real sense of tribe.. and I always say - "this is my family we should do this more often" - but secretly think - phew! I passed! Nobody spotted the odd one among them!
    But imagine as you said, that we lived near our family of origin and our children were always being watched by some one - I think you spotted something pretty deep there in the way we have all drifted into nuclear families who don't have a sense of connectedness or that familial support to fall back on. There is part of me that would love that, I've always paid people to mind my children, never had an extended family to take care of them. There is a real sense of loss in your post that i connect to, how you trace the way your Italian family has spread out...its happened here in Ireland in the way that everyone in my generation bought there own home - previous to this, everyone lived in the family home with maiden aunt and grandma to stick there oar in (and mind the children!) As always Theresa you've got me thinking! For women there's an independence in rearing your children without any one sticking their oar in, but also there is a lonliness for the mother of a "nuclear" family, and a loss of that sense of tribal connection. Here's to the next wedding/christening/funereal!

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  17. I love what you wrote! You captured the weekend & my own sentiments perfectly. Thank you for writing this & for sharing the link with our family :)

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  18. I lived 17 hours from my family for 21 years and when I made the move to Houston I am not only minutes away from them all. My husband gave up his family travel time for me to spend more time with mine. We still make a yearly trip to see his parents and each experience is special on it's own.

    Every trip has some drama, but what's family without drama :)

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  19. Aw, this is such a great post. I feel the same way about my family and especially love the way you wrote about feeling both satisfied and dissatisfied. It is so true!! Families are so tricky; even when they drive us crazy, we become defensive if someone "outside" insults them. Glad the wedding was fun!

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  20. My parents both come from families of five children and many grandchildren, so I grew up surrounded by cousins. We got together every holiday and I'm sure plenty of non-holidays, too. Now I consider myself so lucky to live in the same city as my parents and my sister and her family (not the city we grew up in). We get together for every birthday and holidays when we're in town. Then my entire family (five siblings and 14 grandchildren) spend a week together every summer. It's a crazy week with that many kids in close proximity, but it's always the highlight of the summer.

    Great post, Theresa!

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  21. @ Talei, face to face IS so much better! Making an effort to meet periodically is better than nothing. At least Facebook gives us a glimpse of certain relatives' day-to-day lives.

    @ Words A Day, thanks for the comment. I always assume people think I'm odd too! Which is silly because so many people in my family are odd in their own ways.

    On my Italian side, I can see the transition from extended to nuclear. It's strange. My Irish side lost it long ago.

    It is nice to have the independence. My Italian grandmother has stories about people telling her what to do. I wouldn't like that!

    @ Kathleen, thanks.

    @ Jen, what is a family without drama? So true!

    How nice you're so close. As a couple, it's hard to balance both sides and take family dynamics into account.

    @ Saumya, I find myself defending family from the outside too!

    The wedding was fun.

    @ Susan, your family size is like mine - we're five siblings and thirteen grandchildren (my cousins). It used to be so much fun to all get together and play when we were young.

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  22. I love these kinds of gatherings. My family gets together about once or twice a year and we always have so much fun!

    Glad you are back!

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  23. Theresa--I'm glad you had a fun filled family time! I'm an only child with five brothers and sisters and often feel very much alone. My parents divorced when I was 8. My Mum and I moved to the US and she started a family with my step-dad and had 4 kids. My dad had 1 child back in England with his new wife. I have two countries and two families, but never feel like I really belong in either...TMI....sorry...

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  24. Welcome back Theresa!

    My family is more split-up than most I would think. My youngest brother lives in Texas with his father (where my grandpa and great-aunts live) and the oldest with my mother and her boyfriend. I've never met anyone on my father's side of the family and I've met only a handful of those on my mother's side. Needless to say, I've never had any sort of family reunion.

    That's why I really cherish the few family members I've got here in Georgia, as well as the vacations we go on. Now if only we'd take a vacation back to Texas... It's been three years and I miss it!

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  25. What a weekend! Those are few and far between, aren't they?

    I'm the youngest of six, and both parents/grandparents are gone now. I love my siblings, but we are scattered across the country. My oldest sister lives a little over an hour away, but I don't see her all that often. I'm just thankful that everyone gets along with one another!

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  26. @ Bossy Betty, glad I'm back too!

    We get together 1-2x per year, but often not everyone is able to come at the same time unless it's for something big.

    @ Sharon, divorce and remarriage is a transition anyway, but having them in different countries must be very difficult.

    @ Amanda, my husband's paternal side is split up too. I've never met some of his relatives.

    I think you have the right attitude of appreciating the family you're close to.

    Three years is a long time. I don't blame you for missing it!

    @ Vicki, being scattered across the country does make it hard to get together. My relatives are on the east coast from Maine to Virginia.

    Getting along is key, isn't it.

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  27. I was at a friends wedding over the weekend. Spooky. lol.

    I love spending time with my family. We all live quite close, so I'm lucky in that respect.
    We do all get together for Christmas, and New Year (since it's my cousins birthday), and other occasions. We don't always agree, what family does, but we know we're always there for eachother. :)

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  28. I'm glad you had a good time at the wedding! I love the idea of one big family. I wish more people would think like that.

    My side of the family all lives in New Hampshire, but my husband's side is split between a number of different states.

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  29. Wow, you really captured most of what I was feeling and thinking this weekend. I hope it's OK to share this on my page. As I was driving away from the hotel I starting wondering what my life would have been like if I had stayed on LI. In some ways I think I am a better, more well rounded person for getting away from LI and the family...but the loss is great too. You are right - it is hard to reconnect again in a way that is meaningful. I do yearn to know everyone - not the kids we were but the adults we are now. But that is hard to do over short visits. I do love the idea of doing a yearly gathering or maybe every other year. Lets work on that!

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  30. @ Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella), I don't suppose you were in Virginia? Ha!

    You are lucky to live so close. When I was a kid, nobody was more than thirty-minutes away from one another.

    @ Aubrie, from what I've read, your family seems tight.

    @ Jacquie, of course you can share this on your page.

    I want to work on more visits too. I'm even nagging the two Cambridge cousins to come over for dinner this week. I hardly seem them any more often than I see you. And you're all the way down in Richmond!

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  31. We usually get together on occasions like birthdays, weddings, Christmas and so on. Most of my family lives quite near, except for one of my sisters, who lives in the UK. As it's only like a 90 minute flight, we see her a lot anyway which is great.

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  32. @ Olive, it's nice you live pretty close to everyone.

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  33. This was so wonderful to read, and sounds like you had a fun time. Sometimes I wonder if the separation and the intense getting together is what keeps many families connected. If they were together all the time, they might lose that connection...?

    I loved the times at my grandparents house for Thanksgiving and Christmas when the whole family would get together. Everyone was nice to each other, and all of us cousins played football in (usually) the rain. One of the older cousins made a remark when we found out grandpa was sick that, should something happen to him, the family would fall apart. Sadly, his words became fact.

    Still, my brother and my nephew, and their little families, along with my husband and me all make an effort to get together at holidays and whenever we can just for food and games.

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  34. @ The Words Crafter, when my cousins and me were little, we always got together. Maybe it can't be recreated.

    The same thing that happened to your family, happened to mine after my paternal grandmother died. At least a few of you still try.

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