family matters

I did spend some time on the phone with my mother yesterday, for Mother’s Day. I had sent flowers last week, which she got on Friday. I knew they’d be at church, and probably would go out for lunch afterwards (the extended family–mom and dad; sister, brother-in-law and their kids; dad’s sister and brother-in-law; my cousins and their families–go out for lunch every Sunday after church, something they’ve done almost every week since I can remember), so I didn’t bother trying to reach them until afternoon. I reached the answering machine the first time I called, so I waited and then tried again around 3:30. Dad picked up the phone then, and he and I chatted a bit; he’d been at my sister’s, where the rest of the family still were, but had walked back home to pick up his DVD player so that he could show off the DVDs he’d recently burned from his old home movies on videotape (he’d been researching DVD burners for a while, and a couple of weeks ago bought a new computer with a burner).

<aside title= “background”>
I grew up in a small mostly rural Virginia county, the entire population of which is about 13,000 now, with another 6,000 in the nearby city of Covington. Growing up, our only neighbors were family: my mother’s parents lived next door, just through the woods; my grandmother’s sister lived at the top of the hill; her brother-in-law ran the general store next to her house; and my great-grandmother lived in the big house on the other side of the main road. One of my dad’s sisters and her family lived just a mile and a half away, in the same house in which she and dad had grown up. Dad’s mother and stepfather lived just a few miles away, and his oldest sister lived next door to them.

My closest–practically my only–friends were my cousins. Not only did we see each other every day–we attended the same school and the same church–our families even took vacations at the same time and at the same place, a tradition that still continues to this day, just with more people as my generation (and now the next, with my oldest cousin’s oldest daughter just having given birth) has its own children.

Before my dad’s mother died, the Sunday tradition was to attend church together, go out for lunch together, then return home to change clothes, after which we’d all regroup at Nana’s house later for dinner and more family time. More recently, my sister has taken on Nana’s role, and she has the entire family over to her house on Sunday afternoons. This was where everyone was when I called to wish my mom a happy Mother’s Day.

My sister and her family, by the way, now live in a house they built in the field behind my grandparents, and they and my parents together bought my great-aunt’s house at the top of the hill; my sister hopes that her sons will stay in that little enclave as well. My oldest cousin and his wife built a house next door to my aunt–his mother–and their 20-something son still lives with them; my next oldest cousin, who was my best friend growing up, at 41 still lives with her parents. Only my youngest cousin and I moved away, me originally to Boston and then to DC, he first to Charlottesville, then to DC, but more recently to San Francisco after he got married.

I called and my sister answered and, after the traditional exchange of teasing, she announced the call, also traditionally, from “the prodigal.” My mother came to the phone, and we tried to chat, though it was extremely difficult to hear through the noise of twenty-odd (in both meanings), very loud people holding what sounded like 20-factorial simultaneous conversations. This aspect of my family tends to put some of my friends and boyfriends off-kilter; if you’re not used to large, loud family gatherings, it can be very difficult to learn how to attend to the multitasked conversations that take place all at one time, all in one room. And the two boyfriends of which my family have most approved have been those who have been the most comfortable and adaptable in that one regard. Interestingly, those were also two of my relationships of the longest duration–though that’s rather like praising one mayfly for living two days.

Mom and Dad filled me in on the latest news. Dad’s eldest sister, Shirley, is home from the hospital now, though her situation isn’t particularly hopeful; her heart tissue, apparently, is so badly deteriorated that the doctors don’t believe surgery would be successful. Shannon–my oldest cousin’s oldest child–just had a baby. Matthew, my sister’s oldest boy, went to his junior prom this past weekend. Mom and Dad were hit by a deer on the way home from church last week, and now have car repairs of their own facing them. My cousin Charles and his wife Jennifer–Shirley’s son and daughter-in-law–are expecting their second child, due in September. The county has been plagued by an unprecedented string of break-ins and burglaries. And Dad is enjoying the afore-mentioned recently purchased new computer and DVD burner.

Finally, my nephew Matthew took the phone to ask me “a favor.” He wanted to know if he could come up and stay with me one weekend this summer; I said of course. I’ve tried to get him to come up and stay with me on his own before, but we’ve never been able to work that out.

Then he told me why he’s planning to come up to DC this summer: there’s a Republican teen convention, and he considers himself–at 16–to be a young Republican.

<heavy sigh />

It wasn’t too many years ago that his mother, father and I all thought he might be gay, and here he is quite happily and comfortably dating girls and styling himself a Republican. What was I to do? Of course, I took a page from my hero Ron Santorum and told him that I had no problem with him, only with his Republican activities. <grin />

<aside title= “diversity”>
My parents lived and grew up in a 1950s world that truly seems to have mirrored the world of 1950s television shows–Father Knows Best, Donna Reed, Leave it to Beaver, etc. My parents were practically child-hood sweethearts; at 12, my mother stated that my father, who was then 17, was the man she was going to marry. Virgins at their wedding, and naive enough about birth control that I was conceived on the honeymoon, they’re still each other’s best friends. I never met a child of divorce until I was a freshman in college; and the only divorced person in my family when I was a child was my grandfather’s sister, who had moved to Washington, DC, “the big city” four hours away by car.

But my generation and the next have grown up in a different world certainly, and have brought that new world squarely to the doorstep of my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. My mother’s sister, whom I place in my own generation rather than my mother’s since she was 12 years younger than my mother and only 7 years older than me, is on her third marriage; one cousin is on her second. Another cousin–from the one Catholic branch in a family of Protestants–married a Jewish woman. The cousin-once-removed–the one I noted above who just had a baby girl–is unmarried, and the father of her child is a black man. And I, of course, am the openly gay pink sheep of the family.

And now my nephew proclaims himself a Republican, so I guess there’s some diversity in the family even I would prefer to do without.