Family is often more of an abstract concept as opposed to the reality we thought it should be. Only these are people that I’ve never really known and who have never wanted to know me.
Every once in a while I think about this family I should know, but really don’t. It’s not that I miss them per se, it’s just something I wonder about occasionally.
My memories of my father’s immediate family as in his siblings is like looking at photos through a reel of an old GAF Viewfinder. Remember those? Click click on a round little cardboard thing with a finite amount of images. National parks, nature, monuments, and more.
Click, click. I remember when I was maybe 6 or so, spending a weekend at a white farmhouse with a barn off a long driveway or maybe a narrow road in Paoli. It was off of Lancaster Avenue. My father’s sister, my aunt, and her family lived there for a couple of years before my uncle got a job transfer to Ohio I think it was.
Click, click. Another memory of the same house. Thanksgiving. Being seated at the children’s table out in the hall next to the staircase. With my cousins, who really didn’t want to be at a table with me. I remember black-eyed peas as a side, and I remember my uncle’s tiny Cuban mother, who spoke very little English, seated at the grown up table dressed all in black.
Click, click. Walking with my father to his brother’s house, which was close to ours for a while in Philadelphia when we lived in Society Hill. Again I was fairly little, and I seem to remember where he lived was almost like inside a little courtyard street. I don’t remember why we were there, but I remember my father speaking to his brother outside. Eventually, my uncle and his wife at the time and family moved to Buffalo New York. We were never invited to visit, not that I cared – we just never were invited. My grandmother used to go visit them in the summer.
Click, click. My father sitting in a darkened living room shortly after his father died. Chain smoking, boxes from I guess his childhood bedroom or something scattered all around. I just remember him being really upset. I never knew what happened. But a memory, I can still recall clearly. A lamp on in the darkened living room, silence, a single stream of cigarette smoke, a crystal ashtray, my father contemplative and silent.
Click, click. Another early random memory. Being at my great aunts’ house on Ritner Street in Philadelphia Christmas Eve. Loud, crowded, fun.
Click, click. Memories here and there of my aunt and uncle’s home in Chestnut Hill. My father‘s mother, my paternal grandmother moved there after my grandfather died. I remember when we went to visit her there we were never allowed to visit her it seemed by ourselves. And I never felt like we were actually welcomed there.
I remember the house. It was a beautiful house and a lot of the furnishings were similar in style and taste to my parents. I loved the living room in that house. It had so much light. I didn’t like the dining room. It seemed dark and unfriendly. Cold. I remember a Thanksgiving when we had visitors from out of town who came with us to Thanksgiving dinner at my father’s sister’s house. It was cold and uncomfortable.
Click, click. The old Lakeside Inn located in Collegeville, PA. It was a surprise party for one of my great aunts. Or maybe it was an anniversary party for my great aunt and uncle. I don’t remember what the event was, I remember is it was a gathering of the clan and at one point my father’s brother made this big deal of taking all the kids downstairs at the Lakeside Inn where they had a gift shop. My uncle, my father’s brother bought all the kids, a toy or something out of the gift shop. Except for my sister and I. I don’t know why that was, but I remember how it felt. We didn’t cry or anything. We just kind of went back to where the grown-ups were at the party. Someone told my great uncle about this and he took my sister and I down later and got us each a special present. I remember what mine was and I had it for decades until it literally fell apart, it was a little calico owl stuffed animal.
Click, click. Memories of going to Maryland to see my father’s favorite cousin, and his wife and family here and there. My earliest memory was a little house and we were on the swingset in the back. I even have a photo of that. Then there were later memories of a cool Victorian house in Ellicott City. Those were always happy memories because I really like those cousins and we felt welcome as opposed to how we felt every time we were around my father’s sister and brother and their respective families. Also other memories of other cousins of my father. There we were always welcome, I did not feel like an outsider who was barely tolerated.
Click, click when my father’s mother was dying. My uncle, my father’s brother, telling my father that he was a terrible son over their mother’s deathbed with me in the room as well. I told my uncle off then and there. My grandmother said nothing but smiled.
Click, click. The luncheon at Philadelphia Cricket Club after my grandmother’s funeral. First of all, realizing that no one really wanted our part of the family there, and how breathtakingly rude one of my aunt’s daughters (my first cousin) was to me in the ladies room. I’ve never forgotten it. She loved my grandmother very much and I know that. She was very close to her. I didn’t begrudge that. That was her relationship. But I still remember being at the sink, putting on lipstick or something and my cousin coming out of the stall in the ladies room. I said hello to her and she literally cut me dead and I’ve never forgotten the look, and I never understood the look either because we didn’t have a relationship, so why would she be like that? It was literally hateful. It’s not like I got some huge inheritance over her, there was only one thing I asked my aunt for of my grandmother’s. I asked for some photos of my father growing up that my grandmother had. And when those arrived, which was months after the funeral, they arrived in a small box, and you could see they had been ripped out of old-fashioned photo albums.
I have lots of these random memories that are like they were from a GAF viewfinder. Finite, brief. But there.
Funny but not funny, whenever I see super happy, close TV families it doesn’t quite smack of reality. There is none of the messiness of real life. My father’s relationship with his siblings was definitely messy. I just will probably never know exactly why, because each sibling has their own story, of course and wherein lies the truth? His sister is the only sibling still alive at this point. But I’ve never really had a relationship with her and I’m not going to call an old woman and say, why didn’t you get along with your brother, my father?
I never have known exactly what the breakdown was between my father and his siblings. Or with his mother after his father died. I wasn’t there when they were growing up. I just remember even when I was little there was a vibe I got. They had whatever issue with my father, also didn’t like my mother, and I was one of their children.
Every once in a while, I wonder what life would have been like growing up if these relationships were different? I wonder what it would be like today if those relationships have been different? But when you’re related to people that really don’t care to know you, it kind of sets the stage. You wonder and then you release that feeling.
I have a really nice life. I have my family, but I still wonder occasionally what life would have been like if my father’s family had been different? Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t miss what I’ve never known. It’s just more of a curiosity. When I get occasional news of any of this part of my father’s family, it’s like hearing about strangers, because to me, they really are strangers. I’ve never really known them, and they’ve never wanted to know me.
Musings released back to the universe.