Family matters

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You would have thought it was Christmas Day at our Fort Wayne home. No, October 31 is way too early for Christmas.

But as it turned out, Halloween managed to provide the summons and collect nearly all of our family, on both my and my wife’s side for a big gathering.

Nephew Rod and his wife Cassandra came all the way from the northwest corner of Indiana. He’s an elementary school teacher. She’s a nurse in Chicago. Easily the greatest thing about their presence: They brought their children, Conner, 2 1/2, and Chloe, 10 months.

My wife Toni’s sister Patti, a retired teacher who moved recently into our neighborhood, brought her 4 1/2 year-old granddaughter Mayzi. There you have it, three small children exuding charm and intelligence in our very midst. The adults, of course, then go nuts.

I’ve been through this before, when my own children, John and Robyn, were little. The adults then would spend an afternoon together watching little children play. A most honorable pastime.

The littlest ones’ grandmother, wife Toni’s next oldest sister Vicki, another retired teacher, showed up with her younger son Noah, who makes his living working behind the scenes for traveling professional plays and musicals.

Toni’s youngest sister Lori, who fixes up old houses to sell and seems to play a lot of golf in season joined the crowd.

Confused by this Halloween cast of characters? Be patient. There’s more. My son John and his girlfriend Cynthia dropped in, too. Then my daughter Robyn and her daughters, Tanya and Cynthia arrived. Tanya’s boyfriend Brandon had to work. Mom and her girls came just in time to go trick-or-treating. Robyn wore a black wig, made of daughter Cynthia’s long hair, and Hippie attire, inviting us all to “Be cool, man.”

Our evening dinner included beef stew and terrific pumpkin pie. Vegetarian Patti just skipped the beef. I usually avoid red meat but ate a few chunks. Meantime, people took turns leaving the table to answer the doorbell as the trick-or-treaters materialized on our doorstep in their sometimes scary, sometimes funny costumes.

Everybody helped clear the table and moved the glasses, silverware and plates to the kitchen. The only thing missing were presents under the Christmas tree, and, of course, the tree. That will have to wait nearly two months.

Here’s one of the great things about our family. Some of us are Catholics. Some Protestant, I guess. Some don’t believe in God. Some are Republicans, I assume. Those on my side of the family are Democrats. Yet for all these differences, potential flash points, nobody brought up religion. Nobody asked how we liked the new pope.

Politics? Not mentioned that I heard. Nobody even mentioned that my wife Toni has been actively involved in campaigning for a Democratic challenger in a state office. Nobody noted that she had appeared a while back on the front page of the morning Journal Gazette in support of gay marriage.

Why did everyone decline to bring up religion or politics? Why the silence? Why the topics not even mentioned? Nothing said even about the election just days away, too. Afraid of sparking a huge argument? Afraid of giving offense? Not at all. Rather, I think it’s fair to say that people in our family are respectful of each others’ beliefs, religious and political.

Here’s my take on this. When a family gathers together, the most important thing isn’t religion or politics. It’s the lives of the family. The jobs. The schooling. The boy or girlfriends. The moves. Home decorating projects. The operations. The vacations. The what happened then stories. At a family gathering, everyone becomes a storyteller, it seems.

For more than a generation, families have been dispersing throughout the country as if we can’t get far enough from home. You’d think we didn’t like our families any more or didn’t believe in the importance of family in our lives. Not at all. Just send the word abroad about a gathering at Halloween. Next thing, you’ve got cars with strange license plates lined up in your driveway.

It’s not that we might not have amends to make with some family member. Hurt feelings – that’s family stuff, too. Goodness knows, there’s always somebody in the family who needs our special support, our encouragement and maybe even counsel.

In one of my favorite poems, “The death of the hired hand,” Robert Frost notes that “Home is where when you go there, they have to take you in.” I think that sums it up about family. No matter where you’ve gone. No matter what stupid things you’ve done. No matter your successes or your failures. You’re family will take you in. You’ll think, “Boy it’s good to be with these people.” You’ll be right.

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