“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?