There are many voices shouting their definitions of what makes a family. I don’t agree with a lot of their definitions. Especially the one that limits a family to a man and a woman and their children. Once you define something, you imply that anything that doesn’t fit the definition is not “right” somehow. I suspect that what we have is an attempt to define “who” is fully a member of our society and who is not.
I’d like to share a little about the people I call family. My youngest nephew ( number five of five and the oldest will be twenty one this fall) turns thirteen this month and it’s stirred some thoughts and memoriies. Dad passed away early in ’95 and I’m not sure how many memories the younger boys have of him. I’m afraid there may not be too many. One sister lives in Portland and the other lives in Umatilla. Say a two hour and a six hour drive one way. Neither family made it home that often and nearly thirty years in the woods left dad with physical problems that made it hard for him to travel. Anyway, it’s brought back memories and stories about my Grandpa Parks. The only grandfather I knew.
I think I was in junior high when it really sank in. The man I called grandpa had a different last name than two of my uncles. I think you don't really notice things like this when you’re little because your grandparents are grandpa Smith or grandma Jones (at least in my family) and your aunts and uncles are uncle Jack or aunt Cora.
It happened in the early 30's and my mom was all of nine. Her dad probably would have survived the pneumonia but he had TB, too and these were the years before antibiotics and the social safety net. Guys who ran little downtown hotels and had families to raise didn’t go to sanitariams. There wasn’t the time or the money. The man I knew as grandpa promised to look after the family of his closest friend. He married my grandmother before too long and they had a son of their own. Grandpa treated all the kids the same, hugged them when they needed it and even if they didn't. Called all the boys his sons and watched as one went to sea in the forties and another went to the army in the fifties. Number three lucked out and spent his tour in the sixities in Germany. He stood up for the girl he called a daughter when she started her own family.
He loved to fish and tinker. He loved gadgets. I remember at least one Thanksgiving when everything and every one else was onand at the table except the ham and by all that was holy that ham was going to be cut with that electric knife if it took all night. I think mom intervened and grabbed the plate. “It’s hot, everybody’s at the table, let’s eat.” He went the way he lived. Somebody needed something fixed and he was the way home from my uncle’s house in Portland when his loving heart gave out.
Between my mom and three uncles there were fifteen kids who called him grandpa and after over twenty years I still miss him. I hope he's found a place on the bank to fish. With any luck all the cats, and other pets they had over the years are helping out.
3 days ago