Monday, July 7, 2014

Expended Families

Ideally, in the imaginary Best of All Possible Worlds, marriages are designed to add branches to a family tree and, taking its cue from far into the past, extend its life further into the future. For some marriages, however, that ideal is rather hard to live up to.

Marriage to a boy that our parents didn't approve of took my older sister out of my life when I was 5 years old. Henceforth, seeing her only on holidays made her seem to me more like an aunt than a sister. I lived with her for a month in her house when I was 11, and she came back to live with our parents when I was in college. It was good to have my sister back, but it simply couldn't make up for all the years lost.

When I was 12, my younger sister got married and went away to live with her husband. My parents and I moved when I was 17, and she eventually followed when her marriage faltered. We moved again, she married again. She took me in when I was discharged from the Navy, and my wife joined me there more than a year later.

When I eventually joined the Navy, a sort of (unconsummated) marriage to Uncle Sam, it took me away from home for seven years. My father died just three months into my first enlistment. My older sister died less than a year later. For a short while I experienced the strange freedom of moorlessness - what Milan Kundera called The Unbearable Lightness of Being. But when I got out, my own marriage seemed to do the rest. It took me away from what was left of my family, my mother, brother and sister, all living in the same town. 

I graduated from Army basic training in June 1997. In attendance and staying for a weekend. were my wife, my mother and my sister, who had driven all the way to Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma from Denver. After the ceremony, we all ate at a place on post called the Gunner's Inn and I used my very first overnight pass to spend the night in a motel with my wife. Over the next two days, I saw little of my mother, who was 79 that year, and my sister.  I spent nearly all my free moments with my wife. The weekend over, my mother and sister left Lawton for the long drive back to Denver, and my wife took a bus to Oklahoma City from whence she caught a plane home. I didn;t know it then, but I had another eighteen months away from home to endure.

Now my own marriage is over, so many years later, my brother, sister and I (my mother died '98) have so much to catch up on that there might not be enough time. The fact that we three live thousands of miles apart is a complication that I'm working to correct. Perhaps we could forget the catching up part and simply concentrate on making the most of the time we have left, and rediscover - not what we once had, but the family we still have, binding us loosely but surely as we three ease into our golden years.

I heard a Chinese proverb the other day: "Sometimes you have to burn down your house to see the moon." Yes, but it also means you'll have to be doing a lot of rebuilding. 

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