How in the world did one blond haired, blue eyed, English/Norwegian family of two parents and six children become a “We Are the World” poster?
It wasn’t the eldest, Barbara, who although serial monogamous with several variants in later life, serially married and procreated with two straight white males of European heritage.
My sister Joan, who liked things that were imported, married first a German and then our favorite brother-in-law, a Turk. We’re branching out now. One daughter’s husband is a Finn.
My eldest brother serially married two African-American women, and his daughter's husband is Mexican, with whom she has had three lovely daughters.
My second eldest brother, who left us recently and all too soon, produced a brood of four, one of whom married an Australian and one of whom is in a same-sex relationship.
The third brother hasn’t branched out as much, but there’s time left for his unmarried children. He has spawned one lawyer and one doctor, though, which has to count for something.
My youngest brother married into the Chippewa, and his son married a lovely Korean woman.
I realized this for the first time – how many cultures we have welcomed into our fold and with whom we have shared our own – while sitting at dinner last Friday night, a dinner hosted by my late brother Paul’s son, bringing us all together in his honor. And looking around at them all, I fell in love again.
My sister Joan, who distributed cookies and fruit in colorful Target bags to every one of us staying in the Best Western last weekend. The next day, in the hotel lobby, as we gathered to travel to the Celebration of Life, she was there handing out crisp, new hankies ready to catch and wipe the tears she knew would come.
My brother Randy, who the next day at the Celebration of Life, delivered an eulogy describing Paul discovering his place as a point guard on a basketball court, and carrying the metaphor through to describe his place in life. I didn’t even know what a point guard was. He’s the one who throws the ball, not to where the scorer is, but to where he will be able to make the basket. Paul was a researcher in developmental disabilities, and Randy described his technique, both in his work and with his family, as a point guard – showing the way to what they could achieve and guarding them as they tried.
My brother Dennis, the calm one, the (solar) engineer, the one who can usually find the most practical solution to any problem, but who also tends to just go ahead and do it. He never tries to organize everybody else into doing it. That would have been Paul. “Hey, everybody. Let’s all unload this sand and make a beach for the Pond.” Dennis would just grab a shovel and start digging. He married his high school sweetheart, a plant pathologist, and they suit each other well.
My youngest brother Brian drove down from the north woods of Minnesota to pick me up. He is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best blues guitar players I have ever heard, but few others will ever know that because he fell in love with the lakes and the trees and married, for a second time, to the lovely Lori. I spent some little time as a young girl fantasizing about running away to live with the “Indians,” as we called Native Americans in the 50’s. Brian pretty much did it. His wife, Lori, is one of my favorite sisters. We bonded over P.G. Wodehouse. And you just can’t get Brian to come down out of the woods for very long. He’s found the place where he belongs.
There were 40 or 50 of us around that table on Friday night. Cousins who had flown in from the west coast and driven through a snow storm from St. Louis joined us as the evening flew by. One of the participants, Dietlinda, had flown in from Germany. She was a foreign exchange student who lived with us for a year back in 1961 or so. She has become a sister. Looking around, seeing everyone in animated conversation, I thought to myself, there isn’t one person at this table with whom I could not have an interesting conversation for an hour or so.
With Paul gone, I don’t know where we will gather in the future. That could be in the hands of Paul's wife, the great Barbara Van Gelder, the mistress of Pond Hill Farm. It may also be up to the cousins. Christopher, Caroline, Adria, Ayshe, Alison, Megan, Dylan, Laurel, Julia, Taylor, Hallie and Derek. Their partners and their children and their children’s children. May their blithe spirits continue to bless the world.
Family. The Fam, as our new Doctor Who calls her new companions. I have joined several families of choice over the years, but have come to realize that I am peculiarly fortunate to have a birth family which I have finally matured enough to value for what it is and all it has given me. I love my families of choice still. But last weekend, not for the first time, I fell in love again with my own little haploid group and the globalization they have embraced.
We are many.
We are one.