Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #16

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From The Writer’s Devotional by Amy Peters:

This is my family…

The German, Henry, is my family. He brought his wife, Elizabeth, and his small children to this country in the later half of the nineteenth century. He worked in the coal mines in New York and possibly Pennsylvania. The family grew. They homesteaded in the Dakotas. They moved to Texas, to farm there. For three years, there was not a single drop of rain. They moved on. In Illinois, one young son was killed in a hunting accident. It was in the German parish there that they saw the notice, submitted to the church bulletin by Father Zugelder, that there was land and opportunity on Beaver Island. My grandfather, George, was three years old when they moved north to build their farm here. Henry was an old man at that time, by the standards of the day. His adult sons and teen-aged boys put up the house that is our family farm here on Beaver Island, where my Aunt Katie lives, still.

The carpenter, Joseph, is my family. When he was seventeen, his mother put him, alone, on a ship to America, so that he would not be drafted to fight in the Franco-Prussian War. Raised in the Black Forest area of Germany, Joseph was already a skilled woodworker. He settled in to the community of Grand Rapids,Michigan, where his skills had a place in the budding furniture industry. He also attended  Catholic Church, and saw the notice Father Zugelder had placed in church bulletins. He came to Beaver Island, too, at the turn of the century. He and his wife, Katherine, had a large family. Joseph, Christie, Elsie and Willie are some of the names I remember. My grandmother was their daughter, Otelia.

George and Otelia, my paternal grandparents, are my family. Grandpa George lost his wife when my father was thirteen years old. His second wife, Florence, became family, too.

I have some distant history on my mother’s side of the family, but could not recite it without looking up the facts. My knowledge begins with my maternal grandparents, Ted and Thelma. They are constant participants in my early childhood, and frequent, friendly occupants of the memories I hold now. They are my family.

Bob and Janice, my parents, are my family. Not alone, for I cannot separate them from the brood of children, my brothers and sisters, that they raised: Brenda, Cindy, Ted, Sheila, Cheryl, Nita, Robin, David, Darla, Amy, Bobby. This is my family.

Terry, my husband, was my family for many years. With our two precious daughters, we were a family. All of Terry’s relatives were my family, too. Divorce is like cutting off a limb, for all the loss it entails. It took all of my strength to maintain “family” from the broken shards that were left.We managed it, though. We figured it out.

My daughters, Jen and Kate, are my family. We share history and memories that no one else has. They have a place in my heart that only they can fill.

Their children are my family. These are not the conventions I grew up with. There is greater physical distance and, it seems, larger societal divides. Even in this age of cell phones and social media, it is hard to keep in touch. I take comfort in the knowledge that all of my grandparents were huge influences in my life. I saw Grandpa George and Grandma Florence only a couple times a year, and my maternal grandparents were both dead before I turned ten-years-old. I try. It’s worth the effort.

Aunt Katie is my family. She and her sister, Aunt Margaret, are the last of that generation in our family. They are the link to my father, and to the past. They are also the living connections to a whole string of cousins, and cousins once, twice or three times removed. All are my family.

My friends are my family. Sometimes they fill a need that no one else can, with understanding or words of advice, or they are good for a laugh over an inside joke. Like family, at this age I find there is shared history with most friends, and that adds to the bond.

This is my family: the big dog that walks with me and the little dog that sleeps curled up near my feet. I feed them, talk to them and give them lots of belly rubs. They communicate with bright eyes, wagging tails, whimpers, dog kisses and heads dropped trustingly into my lap. In spite of friends, and all of my relatives – living and dead – there are times when Darla and Rosa Parks are the most heartfelt interactions of my whole day.

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