With a family the size of a small compact car, I often use the term “family” to describe my friends. My lineage is a long thin vine, rather than a large leafy tree, due to circumstances and odds that would win the lottery, if played. My mom was an only child. My dad was an only. Both of my paternal grandparents were only children. My husband is an only child. And, of course, I round out the roulette wheel as an only. Norbert and I had two kids so fast, it made the four grandparents’ heads spin.
As soon as our children could talk and watch Mr. Rogers, they wanted to know where all the cousins were. “Is this a cousin?” they’d ask as the babysitter walked in the door. I had learned from my own childhood that “aunts” and “uncles” could be created; so, as an adult, I figured I must be able to conjure up some cousins for my kids. It wasn’t as easy as I’d thought. As I contemplated my friends in terms of being family members, it occurred to me that they had plenty of relatives, and might not be so thrilled to have to take on mine as a hobby.
But finally, after reaching my half-century mark, I have come to realize that many folks in many places have reasons to create extended families. We are only a drastic case due to our very small numbers – there are just four of us in total, that is until we get to the branch of third cousins twice removed, whatever that means. We could bulk up the numbers with the multiple-removed people, but we don’t really know them well. Who we do know and want to spend time with are the friends now designated as family.
Every Christmas night when I was growing up, we had an open house for anyone who needed someplace to go on a dark holiday night. My parents were inviting their “family” into our home for a holiday. (At the time, I thought it was just a ploy to delay my union with my newly opened gifts!) It was always a wonderful experience where people literally came in out of the cold to celebrate the season and the fellowship.
Thanks to some wonderful friends, of multiple generations, we have recently spent some very rewarding time with our “family.” Our inclusion in a rehearsal dinner, wedding, and surrounding festivities; our invitation from a dear friend to celebrate her mother’s birthday; and our crazy holidays spent with anyone who will have us, all add up to family.
Lest you think I’m getting carried away anticipating the holidays this year, it does translate to our daily lives. As you read this magazine, think about the families who are being helped, often by people they’ve never met in soup kitchens and food pantries. Think about the families to whom you’ve become attached through work, play or philanthropy. It’s powerful stuff.