Where as on my Maternal side my grandmother modeled a life of minimalism and piety with evening "parties" that consisted of the tiniest glasses of juice and a single chocolate bar cut into pieces to be shared quietly between three of us, my Paternal side brings back memories of a smoke filled kitchen, too many cousins to count and much laughter and shouts across the room in alternating English and French with a whole lot of Labbats thrown into the mix.
With my parents' separation and divorce, and the raw and misunderstood emotions of a teenager in the middle, and the plentiful excuse of my own young marriage and babies, my attachment to that large side of my family loosened. Add distance, and many of the cousins doing the same thing as we reached out and branched out creating our own families, and there was a raw and empty space where that side of my family had once been.
What I began to realize though was that the legacy of my Paternal side of my family never left me and I felt it every day. Whereas my much loved Maternal side epitomized most facets of the fun in dysfunctional, my Paternal Grandparents celebrate a marriage of near seventy years. On their 60Th wedding anniversary, my grandmother turned to me and said "Jennifer, you will make 60 years too". Her blessing rang in my ears constantly when Shel and I faced troubled times in the years following. They raised 6 children through war, through polio, through many hard times and through it all they clung to each other, their family and their faith. In so many ways I am who I am because of their example. All of us cousins are.
And now we cousins who were once relegated to the kids' table on our grandparent' porch are all 30 and 40 years old and parenting our own bunches of children. Through the miracle that is facebook and email we are now granted glimpses into each other's lives. This past summer my cousin Carol called us together for an impromptu Cousin Reunion. Not all came, in fact it was only a small fraction that could, but it was wonderful and affirming and most importantly so obvious that the love and connections that had been nurtured as children had stood the test of time.
This weekend we will come together once more. My grandparents face the impossible task of burying one of their daughters, my cousins' mother and my Aunty, Viv, who passed away last week. No doubt, we will mourn this first loss from our immediate circle with tears but also we will celebrate who we are. We are family. We are large in numbers and stronger because of each other. We will laugh together, we will cry together, we will pray together and we will drink together of the lives we have shared.