Showing posts with label family reunion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family reunion. Show all posts

11 May 2017

Who's your family?

  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the thirteenth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!

by Eve Fisher

May 15th is the International Day of the Family, which will undoubtedly be celebrated by many people pretending they're going to get Norman Rockwell, but knowing it'll be more twisted:

Call me cynical, but I've been around. More as an observer than as a participant, because, as many of you know by now, I was an adopted child. As I've said before, I arrived here back in 1957, a mystified 2½-year-old, with a bad cold, a TWA flight bag (which I still have), and a charm against the evil eye pinned to my dress. But I finally made it, and I became Charlie and Elaine's daughter.

Now it wasn't always sweetness and light in our house – there were a few alcohol issues, for one thing – but I don't think it's sweetness and light at any house except on the Hallmark channel. But I can assure you that I was their daughter, and they were my parents, legally, emotionally, really. Which was surprisingly hard to get across to a lot of people.

Some standard stupid comments and/or questions:
Me, in the Athens orphanage
  • "Shame your parents couldn't have children of their own." (Uh, they did. Me.)
  • "Don't you wonder who your real parents were?" (Uh, biologically, yes - I need to know who to blame for the thalassemia and the arthritis. But I know who my REAL parents were: they were the people who raised me, fed me, housed me, clothed me, loved me, and generally put up with me for all those years.)
  • "Do you ever wish you had a real family?" (See answer to above. I do at times wish we had been a LARGER family - I had no brothers or sisters, and only one uncle, who we rarely saw. It would have been nice to have a few more people to talk to or at least someone else to take the heat…)
  • "Have you ever thought of finding your biological parents?" (Yeah, especially when I was a teenager and trying to hurt my real parents, as in, somewhere I'm a PRINCESS, dammit! Or Aristotle Onassis' illegitimate daughter, and when I get the money, I'm going to do ANYTHING I WANT!!!! Sigh. Teenagers.)  
Actually, I did try, years after my parents died, to "discover my roots" and it didn't end well. Far from it. The story was one of illegitimacy and shame and abandonment and the hope that I would vanish forever. So I did. But it still hurt. As a contrast to all those TV shows and articles about adoptees hunting down their biological parents so "they can find out who they are." Listen, if you need someone else to tell you who you are, what you really need is therapy, not more relatives in the mix.

Speaking of finding out who you are, years ago, I was at the great tribal family reunion back in my grandmother's home town. BTW, it's my personal theory that family reunions are what gave Peter (or whoever translated 1 Peter 2:9 back in King James' time) the idea of calling us "a peculiar people". Anyway, various members of the tribe were acting like complete lunatics, and I realized, in a flash of insight: "I don't have to be like these people. this is not my gene pool." It was an extremely liberating experience, because at that moment I realized that I could be anyone and anything I wanted to be. I didn't have to find myself, I could become myself. There were no pre-set patterns. And that's very important.

Because sometimes not being adopted gets in the way. In small towns, you hear all the time, "Well, they can't help it, they're just like their father/mother/whoever", or "what can you expect, with that family?" Small towns never forget, and they always bring it up (whatever it is), and this is another reason why young people move to big cities. It's the equivalent of getting themselves adopted.

Another advantage is that, in the immortal words of Chance the Gardener, "I get to watch." I watch as people tell me that their family is everything to them. Sometimes this is true, and they have a wonderful family straight out of the Waltons. Other times, however, I see people giving up friends, education, opportunities, careers, even love, all for the sake of not rocking the boat, or (gasp! the horror!) being different from the rest of the tribe. I watch as people somehow manage to live in the same house with people they never speak to.
  • NOTE: I was working for a lawyer in Tennessee, when a woman came in to talk about the situation at home. She was afraid that her mother, a widow, was giving all her money to the ne'er-do-well youngest, and she didn't know what to do about it. I asked where her mother lived, and she said, "With me." I asked, "Well, why don't you talk to her about it?" "Oh, I couldn't do that." Jeez, Louise...
This is why I think another advantage of being adopted is that I've learned that whoever loves you is your family. Blood is irrelevant. Friends can indeed "stick closer than a brother".

Paget Holmes Yellow Face child.jpgFinally, I'd like to submit to you what is often described as Arthur Conan Doyle's most sentimental piece, and an old favorite of mine: "The Adventure of the Yellow Face" in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Grant Munro's wife, Effie, has been begging money from him and begging him to not ask why. Mr. Munro fears that his wife's first husband, presumed dead in America from yellow fever, did not die, and is now blackmailing her for being a bigamist. He has followed her to an obscure cottage, where a creature with a livid inhuman face stared out the window. Holmes, Watson, and Mr. Munro go to the cottage and force their way in. The creature is a little girl in a mask, who, unmasked, proves to be Effie's daughter by her [truly] deceased husband, John Hebron, who was "of African descent". Effie explains everything, saying that she was, and still is, afraid that Mr. Munro would never accept a black child in his home.
It was a long ten minutes before Grant Munro broke the silence, and when his answer came it was one of which I love to think. He lifted the little child, kissed her, and then, still carrying her, he held his other hand out to his wife and turned towards the door.
“We can talk it over more comfortably at home,” said he. “I am not a very good man, Effie, but I think that I am a better one than you have given me credit for being.”
What can I say? I tear up a little every time I read that. God bless you, Mother and Daddy, and thank you for being better than you ever knew.

20 July 2015

A Bunch of Grapes

by Jan Grape

Mystery Author Jan GrapeOkay, so there's no mystery here unless you are mildly curious about a bunch of grapes. It's also not about wine making or the wrath of the grapes or even the hilarious Lucy episode of stomping grapes.

This is about the every three years gathering of folks who were born and named Grape or married to or adopted by someone named Grape. And there is really no writing classroom work this week either.

Grape family
The Grapes

In 1975, my late husband, Elmer Grape, attended the funeral of his mother Leah Gertrude Love Grape, out in CA. All of his brothers and sisters attended except for his sister Ina who was in the hospital. With the siblings all together it was decided that it seemed like a dumb idea on only get together for funerals. Each sibling lived on the East coast or the West coast except for Elmer and I. We at that time, lived in Memphis, TN. Elmer, who never had trouble making serious decisions said, "let's have a family reunion, next year, at my house in Memphis." This was without any consultation with me, but he knew I would have no objections. So our first reunion was planned, for the first two weeks in August, 1976. That time frame was chosen because one brother worked where the company closed down and everyone employed there had to take their vacation the first two weeks of August, no exceptions.

The Grapes of our side originated in Sweden although the first Grape in Sweden was Arendt Reinhold Grape who came from northern Germany where the name in German means "Iron Pot." He had an iron ore smeltering business and settled in northern Sweden, moving to Stockholm later and becoming a Burghermeister (Mayor) of that city. We have met several of our cousins when visiting Sweden and some have attended the reunions. But that first year in 1976 in Memphis, John Stebbins  from CA attended. Uncle John was 94 and he was related to the mother of  the family Leah Love Grape. We were excited to have him attend and he had a wonderful time.

We didn't have a large house, 11,500 sq feet but we had a huge back yard. And we also had a school bus which Elmer had converted onto a camping RV. And we had some nice next-door neighbor who were going to be moving and their house would be vacant. They offered two bathrooms and empty floor space. We rented some army cots and made arrangements to have some type of sleeping space for everyone who would come. Some folks from PA and VA came in their own camping trailers. One brother, the oldest sibling, Harry flew in from Seattle WA bringing his sleeping bag, and he slept on the floor in the den. We had wall to wall cots in the living room after moving all the furniture against the wall.

Without getting too sugary about it, this was the first time some family members had been together in years and really talked to each other and many fences were mended. Four girls and three boys who grew up during the depression, sometimes having little or nothing to eat but defying all odds had survived and had good jobs and families. Two sisters lived in CA, one in VA one sister in NJ. There were nieces and nephews from NY, MD, PA, VA, and NJ. Elmer built a picnic table for the back yard and put it up against the kitchen window so food and drink could be passed through easily.

Sisters took turns cooking evening meals and one nephew cooked an Italian specialty one night. One sister was an expert at packing a fridge and we took turns cleaning up dishes. We all went down to the Mississippi River and took a trip on the Memphis Queen paddle boat and the Captain announced there were 52 members of the Grape Family on board. The cousins all had a night out going to a club and dancing the night away. Some of the family could only stay a week but the best thing of all was that there were no arguments or disagreements.

This family reunion is still going on, we meet every three years, meeting over the fourth of July for several years now and different family members host the event. Elmer and I hosted three more times: In 1979-Fairfax, Virginia, 1982-Corry, Pa, 1985-Houston TX, our house again and this time we had a wedding. Adopted sister Jeannie planned it all from CA and it was beautiful. In 1988-Austin, TX we hosted again and niece Dona who lived in the house behind me helped. We had a Swedish cousin come from Sweden, Reinhold Grape that year. 1991-Hyde Park, NY, 1994-Council Bluffs, IA, 1997-Bergen, NY, 2000-Nashville, TN, hosted by my daughter Karla, 2003-Inks Lake, TX niece Dona hosted. 2006-near Disney World, FL, is the only year I didn't go. 2009-Sacramento, CA, 2012-Little Falls, NJ

This year once again in TN just outside of Memphis, hosted by nephew David and his wife, Karen O. Grape. Each year there are sightseeing jaunts, going especially to parts of the USA where we've never been before and fun things for young and old. One sister, Esther, who is the only surviving sister at age 92, used to make t-shirts for everyone. She's in CA and didn't get to attend this year but we're a bit high tech and skyped with her. Esther drew a bunch of grapes and put the current year on one grape each time. We finally got smart, began having the shirts made letting each host design their own. The one surviving brother is Roger, age 85 and still lives in Corry, PA and he attended this year. David is his son. Upcoming in 2018 we will once again be in Austin with my son Roger and his husband hosting.

We have lost family but we also have gained through marriage and children born and it's exciting and gratifying to meet and talk to everyone. There is lots of great food and drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and cakes and pies and cookies. We only stay a week now and most stay in nearby hotels because the host family can generally reserve a block of rooms at a reasonable price. We only had thirty-two attending as the California branches didn't make it. Sometimes there are new jobs or immediate family crises or even weddings that crop up and mess up reunion plans.

The major thing for me is we can all be together for a week without a disagreement although some conversations can get a bit heated. We somehow manage to have a week feeling love and a connection that we'd never have otherwise. A week with a bunch of Grapes just works for me.

Next Time: writing, mystery, intrigue, I promise.