Welcome to the Family – Sunday Scribblings

I always felt bad for boy/girlfriends of our family meeting us for the first time, especially when the entire clan was together. It had to be daunting, trying to figure out this close-knit group. My grandfather met my grandmother in 8th grade and never looked at anyone else. He knew back then and the feelings never faltered, through 48 years of marriage, until his death. Together they had 4 children – my mother and her two sisters and one brother. They each married and produced between them 19 grandchildren. We were lucky enough to live within 20 minutes of my grandparents so we saw them all the time. My grandmother would stop by for a visit when she was shopping in the area (we loved coming home from school and seeing her car out front because she always brought coffee cake for us). When my parents went away, we would go to their house and stay there. I remember my parents dropping us off when they would go into NY for an evening opera and sitting with my grandfather after he got home from his drugstore, waiting for them to come home.
Family events revolved around my grandparent’s house. It wasn’t a big house but it managed to fit us all, stretching every year as a new members were added. We would gather to decorate their Christmas tree and, since there were always little ones around, the delicate ornaments went on the top branches and EVERYTHING ELSE went on the low ones. After we all left, my grandmother would fill in all the middle branches that were left empty because the little hands couldn’t reach that high. We also got together for the Kentucky Derby. My grandfather would make sure he got home from the store in time for the running. The adults all had mint juleps in special glasses and the kids would be running around the yard until they let us know the race was about to begin. Then everyone would get a horse to root for and we’d all try to get close enough to see the TV and our horse.
Holidays were a given – always at Gran’s house. Sometimes Grandfather wouldn’t be there until the end because he was working, but we would wait. For Easter, one of my aunts (who was very clever with word play) would make Easter Eggs and everyone one would have one but you’d have to try to figure out which was yours. It might be a play on the words in your name or riddles that led to it, but everyone was different (even though there were several Helen’s and Mary’s and Joe’s) running around. Luckily, most of us had nick-names she could fall back on.
Summers were the best. My grandparents bought a huge house on Long Beach Island in 1963, the year after a tremendous storm. The owners were desperate to sell so my grandfather got it for a great price. It was big enough to fit everyone in the family and we would get together on weekends during the summer. We opened the house on Memorial Day – taking down shutters, sweeping out rooms, remaking beds, and turning on the water. Then we’d have to wait until school let out but after that, every weekend, we all were there, gathering from all around NJ. Dinners were hysterical. The kids ate in the kitchen first and then played ghost in the graveyard and hide & seek outside while the adults ate. It was such a huge thing when you finally graduated to the adult table. There, they’d fit 20-25 people around a huge dining room table and the conversations just flowed over you. We have a very, very strong Italian influence (grandfather’s parents straight off the boat) running through our veins so discussions could get heated at times. And it wasn’t unusual to be carrying on two or three at one time with different areas of the table. Dinners were NEVER quiet. As I got older and started working, we started staying at the beach house for the entire summer. Those were golden summers. But the best parts were the weekends when everyone descended upon the house, starting on Friday afternoons. And then the house crackled with everything going on, never stopping until Sunday night when the last relative left.
My grandfather died in 1982 and the void was (and still is) huge. But life continued on, as it has its way of doing. And we still met for holidays and we still gathered at the beach. But now, instead of watching for his black Cadillac, we’d watch for Gran’s white one. And then, in 1992, when my grandmother died, everything just crashed. My mother disagreed with her siblings over the estate (she thought they should report everything and they didn’t want to) and ugly things were said and this, once tight Tight TIGHT family came apart. And because she is my mother, and I love her, and I share her values and think she was right in this case, the rift carried through to my generation. Even though many of the cousins had married and had kids of their own by now and thus expanded the family, I now see them only at funerals. The cousins know me but their kids may recognize me in name only.
So now we have new family traditions and gatherings. We still have a beach house we gather in on weekends during the summer, but one of our own. And instead of having 25 people around the table, it may only stretch to eight. But we still can make a hell of a lot of noise. And we can still laugh and carry on several conversations at one time. And while I may look back on times past and feel a pang that they are not a part of my present, the present I have is very, very good and one that I would not miss for anything. Because it is mine. And who knows, if any of us ever do decide to get married and carry on the family name, maybe one day our walls will have to stretch to hold in all the bodies. But for now, we are content as we are. Maybe not as big, but definitely as tight a family unit. And hopefully, this one doesn’t have any cracks.

This week’s Sunday Scribbling prompt is Families. Go check out other people’s families. It’s good to know you’re not the only weird one, right?

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11 Responses to “Welcome to the Family – Sunday Scribblings”

  1. Hey Teach! Says:

    As long as i get the bear chair…

  2. Crafty Green Poet Says:

    sounds like a nice family…

  3. danni Says:

    you were and are very blessed!

  4. Tammy Says:

    Sounds like you had some great times Mary.

  5. Granny Smith Says:

    A happy story. One extended family ended its bonding, but another is alive and well.

  6. Lilibeth Says:

    I enjoyed reading all of this. It sounds like my extended family…only we didn’t disagree;we just moved all over the U.S. and after grandma and grandpa died there just wasn’t any getting together again. I still see them at funerals, and the feelings are cordial, but I wish we didn’t move apart so much. Wistful thinking.

  7. nonizamboni Says:

    Lovely post about such a wonderfully big, boisterous family. I like how you all have many conversations at once!Thanks for sharing.

  8. Deb Says:

    I have a lot of great memories down LBI too. The huge family gatherings sound wonderful. When you all get together like that regularly, it’s like glue bonding everyone even tighter. I love LBI so much, I did a website on it! LongBeachIslandSummers.com

  9. susiej.com Says:

    I love how you write about your family — such an intimate, loving portrait.

  10. the dragonfly Says:

    It’s hard when family dynamics change…but that seems to be part of the cycle, you know? It’s wonderful that you have such a close-knit family. Mine is pretty close as well…too bad we’re spread all over the globe!

  11. gautami tripathy Says:

    You are indeed blessed to have such a family!< HREF="http://firmlyrooted.blogspot.com/2008/05/kindred-sunday-scribblings.html" REL="nofollow">kindred<>

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