Family Ties

Grandchildren. Orthopedic surgery. Arthritis. Cancer. Cholesterol. That’s what we talked about this weekend at my husband’s sibling reunion, while we took lazy boat rides, and sat around the dinner table long after the food was gone. The topics are different from many years ago, but the people are the same.

Playing Yahtzee. Drinking beer around the campfire. Staying up way later than usual for cribbage bragging rights. Eating food made from favorite family recipes. We had chopped bologna, Special K bars,  and hobo pies – old standards for my husband’s family. If it was my family,the nostalgia food would have been homemade potato salad, Polish sausage and Jello.

So many families today are fractured, dysfunctional, broken. My husband and I were lucky to grow up when family life was honored and cherished. We had Sundays at Grandma’s house after church, cookies and milk with our moms at the kitchen table after school, and family dinner every single night. There was no late night sports practice, soccer games, or working on Sundays to interrupt these traditions. To miss dinner with the family was unheard of. And miss church on Sunday? Don’t even think about it.

Our family glue is gone – both sets of parents have passed away. All we have left to hold our families together are each other. The people we fought with over riding shotgun, slept alongside of on sultry summer nights, and covered for when they stayed out past curfew. These people. Our siblings.

We cherish them. We hold dear our time together. Someday, we’ll be the aging parents. We’ll sit in front rows at funerals, while grown-up grandchildren help us with our canes and hush us for talking so loud. We’ll count off who is gone, who is left. We’ll tell quaint childhood stories over and over, but not remember what we ate for breakfast. But I hope we will always remember them, our siblings.

© Huffygirl 2012

(Special thanks to MSB for the photos.)

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Putting my family in a box

I'm the one in the little overalls, 1954 (© Huffygirl)

My sister and I have started a family archive box.  We decided that almost anyone should be able to make room in their lives for one box. We don’t know where it will end up yet, but we figure we’ll make the box first, then coerce, or elect someone in the family, probably someone younger than us, to be the archivist. Once the archivist takes over, this will require some letting go on our part. Maybe the archivist will decide to rearrange everything, or throw out half of it (hope not) or scan it all and put it on Facebook.  We’ll figure that out later.

So in the meantime, we’re keeping it simple. We’re taking all the old miscellaneous clippings, from Uncle Stan’s obituary to photos of Daddy from the local paper, taping them to white paper with archival photo tape, and putting them into page protectors. There probably is a better way: we could make photocopies of all the newspaper clippings, or scan them into a digital files, but we’re doing low tech for now, because the family archivist might decide to change it all later.

We’ve also got big brown envelopes, one for each family member. So into the envelope labeled “Huffygirl” goes all my childhood stuff. In goes the First Communion group picture where I was made to stand in the second row because I didn’t have the official white shoes. In goes my two baby pictures. In goes the graduation programs, old report cards, and engagement

That's me with the tell-tale black shoes! (© Huffygirl)

announcement. In goes my wedding photo from the newspaper, taken back in the day when the photo featured only the bride, and a two-column article accompanied the picture, describing the bride’s and bridesmaid’s gowns. In goes all the school photos with hideous hair and silly looking glasses, the photos that make my kids say “Why did Dad marry YOU?”

In goes our parent’s wedding pictures, childhood pictures and the family photo album. In goes some of our parent’s things that we couldn’t decide who should take but didn’t know what to do with. Like the prayer book Mom carried up the aisle on her wedding day. The mother of pearl cover is brittle and breaking off from the rest of the book. But we couldn’t discard it. In goes Daddy’s  Army uniform insignia. Some are service bars, maybe some are medals, we can’t tell. As far as we know he didn’t do anything unusually heroic that would have merited an important medal that could go to a museum, so it’s going in the box.

We’re not sure how far the box should go – we’ve got high school graduation photos for most of Daddy’s siblings. Should we disperse these to our cousins or keep them as part of our family history? So far they’re going in the box. We’re thinking that our cousins already have these photos too, but maybe their parents weren’t as good about saving things as ours were, so who knows. But for now, in the box.

There’s still stuff left that can’t go in the box, that we still don’t know what to do with: Mom’s wedding dress, Daddy’s Army and Legion uniforms; Mom’s First Communion veil, circa 1935, and more. We could start another box, but

Mom and Dad, and me at the bottom of the picture (© Huffygirl)

then when would we stop? We could easily end up with multiple boxes of family things that get packed away somewhere because they’re too hard to store, and no one will ever look at because who wants to go through all those boxes? Saving so many boxes would defeat the purpose of preserving family history, as the task would become too lugubrious.  So, for now we’re sticking with distilling our family history and memories down to what will fit in one box. By the time the house is emptied and we’re ready to pound the “For Sale” sign into the dandelion-specked grass, we may have come up with a different plan. But for now, we’ll stick with our original intent: to put our family in a box.

© Huffygirl