Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's in the Jeans

Married life is much like white-water rafting. In the beginning there is uncertainty mixed with great expectations. Toss in a dash of trepidation and a generous pinch of exhilaration and the stage is set. Then you get in the boat and begin the journey. You start in fairly calm waters, then a few ripples rock the boat and pretty soon, great founts of water are crashing over you as you slam headlong into rocks and swirl around in eddy traps. Most times you float into placid waters again, life settles down and the business of simply getting through the rough patches and enjoying the scenery when you can, proceeds at the pace of the river.

Sometimes the raft is overturned. You find yourself in over your head, gasping for breath, flailing for something to cling to to survive. When you are very lucky someone grabs your hand and saves you. Your are luckier still if that hand belongs to your spouse. I'm the luckiest man alive, and I have the family to prove it.

Recently I have had reason to reflect on family life. The precipitating occasions for this introspection are two-fold. First is the passing of the torch from one generation to the next, and with it, all the memorabilia and family treasures reaching back more than a century. The second is the imminent nuptials of my eldest son.

In the first case, the care needs of the nearby Patriarch and Matriarch precipitated a change in their living circumstances to allow for more care and less room. This in turn created a need to begin the difficult process of winnowing the accumulated treasures packed carefully away in boxes and bins, files and folders, and sometimes just piles and pillboxes. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of photos to sort.

We all have them. Shoeboxes of snapshots, racks of slides, old albums with black and white Box Brownie snaps of people in front of old houses and old cars. People we don't recognize, places we don't remember, events erased from our memories, or just faded, like the photos. Moments frozen in time, collected for a posterity that will not want or understand them.

Many of these photos, along with newspaper clippings and old yearbooks, antimacassars and doilies, and favored dollies and souvenirs are deeply meaningful to our elders. The old cars and houses weren't old when they were photographed. The elders remember riding in the autos and running through the screen doors into kitchens smelling of freshly baked bread. They recall sitting in the chair protected with the antimacassar and the vase with the doily underneath. These were the homes and family of their youth, more vivid in their memory now than last night's supper. When they are gone that link will be broken, so while they are still with us we work to get a name attached to a face and a date and with great effort sometimes even an address. Someday, we assure ourselves, we will put together a proper record. Someday is so easy, and so distant and so comfortable; and so it goes that the demands of everyday life overtake us until someday we will be the Elders, needing less space and more care. We will be the ones struggling to put names to faces and places. We will be living vividly in our past.

Which brings me to the second case; imminent nuptials. I remember well excoriating a teacher on behalf of my eldest son when she casually and wholly erroneously charged him with a grievous scholarly sin. I remember playing a role in a movie he was making with a friend. I remember the birth of my first grandchild. I rub the scars of fixing cars and the more recent scabs of porches and railings. I look at photos of all these events and I am glad to be a thread in the life we all weave together.

It was a patient explanation my youngest son gave me when he was six. The roly-poly bugs were cold outside and needed a warm place to stay. This shoe box under the bed, he opined would be just right. His indignation was righteous when his good deed was underappreciated as the sow bugs made an abrupt departure to the garden. To this day his heart is moved by the plight of misfortune and injustice. He strives to make a difference as an educator and a thoughtful human being. Another life, another thread and there I am, part of the warp and weft.

My daughter wants to fix broken things; mostly broken hearts. She wants to rescue every puppy that needs a home, feed every hungry cat in the neighborhood and find a quiet place in a sunny window of her brain into which she can retreat. She has told me things which troubled her that she hasn't told another soul because she knows she can trust me. I cannot begin to explain what a gift that is and how valuable beyond measure it is to me. I am incapable of betraying such trust, yet I weave it still into the cloth.

My wife and I belong to what has been labeled the 'sandwich' generation. We care for the elders while managing our own lives and helping where we can with our children and grandchildren. We share the joys and shoulder the burdens willingly, knowing that each generation gets it's own turn as the filling of the sandwich. It is the richness of the fabric of family. We get tired and discouraged; we're only human, after all. But we carry on looking forward to better days and times and gazing backward to happy memories and preparing to introduce a bright new thread at the wedding.

Family and friends will gather from near and far, tears will be shed, joy will be shared, children will be embarrassed by old stories, bread will be broken and glasses raised in salute. I will be with my beautiful bride and her parents, my children and grandchildren, and our friends and our children's friends. Together we will weave just a bit more of this tapestry we call family.

It is particularly fitting for me personally; I was adopted as a child, never to know my birth family. So too was I adopted by this family; taken in, loved and embraced without so much as a single shared gene. Despite what you see in the movies, I'm pleased as punch to be a stepdad.

1 comment:

  1. And I'm pleased as punch to have you as a stepdad.

    I love you, Bob.