Monday, July 17, 2006

The Family Tree

I wrote this completely from my imagination, as an exercise in use of imagery and wordplay, but when I shared it with my family members a few months after a family reunion, you should have heard the responses I got back. It was hilarious how many saw themselves or someone else in the lines! I knew that might happen so I put the disclaimer in the email when I sent it. It really doesn't involve real people, just my knowledge of human nature and the imagery. HONEST!!!

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The Family Tree

August 2003


Disclaimer: The following does not depict any real persons in my family or anywhere in the real world. Honest! It is merely a compilation of interesting characters encountered in my journey through life. If you are related to me and your see yourself in these lines, well, congratulations! You are the proud owner of a good imagination.

I just got back from a family reunion. It occurs to me that these events provide an opportunity to look at the family tree and understand more about ourselves.

My family has quite a few genealogists, so there is usually a series of family tree depictitions around or lists of “begats” and pictures to help us trace our roots.

But the real fun is looking at what has developed in the branches of the family tree. Now, understand that all trees produce crops of one kind or another and have characteristics specific to the line. But my family tree is rife with harvest. It isn’t just a harvest but an overflowing horn of plenty.

Some trees have flowers, others produce nuts, some have thorns. My family? We have it all!

Flowers, for example. My cousin Susan is as sweet as a magnolia bloom. She is just too nice…not real, but she isn’t phony…this is her! She would do anything for anyone and then give credit for it all to someone who was on the committee but didn’t raise a finger or show for a single meeting.

Then there are the nuts such as Uncle Bob. He’s the lampshade-on-the-head guy, always with a joke and teasing, lots of surprises…most of them aren’t too bad. Fortunately his humor is a little bit more refined than the old “pull my finger” thing, but he gets pretty slapstick silly from time to time. Like when he slid a piece of cream pie on the chair just before Cousin Susan sat down. And she thanked him for reminding her to lighten up and have fun!

And the thorns -- Oh, do we have our thorns! Aunt June would be a thorn. Is she ever a thorn! June never has a good thing to say. She thinks she says nice things, but everything comes out as a sharp jab. She compliments my new hairdo and ends the statement with a reminder of the time I accidentally dyed my hair orange.

One part of my family tree has pine cones. You’re probably wondering how a person can be compared to a pine cone. Meet Grandpa Fred. He has a lot of rough edges on every side. He grumbles and grouses about all kinds of things. He reminds everyone... frequently... just how much this family owes to him and how little we actually do. He smells like an old man, he doesn’t shave, so no one don’t exactly find it easy to get close. I have to remind myself that between those prickly, sharp edges, tucked down between the scales are where the seeds are hidden. If I listen long enough, I find the bits of family history, the nuggets of wisdom and history that he has brought to the family making us all richer for being his kin. And after all, doesn’t the Christmas wreath look more homey with a few pine cones nestled into the greenery?

Know how some trees have knotholes? Well, so does our family tree. Uncle George is our knot hole. Uncle George’s part of the family is a strong branch with beautiful grain reflecting the history of our family back many generations, showing how this tree has grown over time and the paths of its growth. And as my eyes follow down the grain, I reach that knot hole and it makes me wonder what happened in the life of the tree to cause the gnarl to form. What could have made this sturdy branch twist and grow misshapen. Uncle George always seemed just odd to me. As a kid, I didn’t like being around him because he just didn’t fit with the rest of the family. Later I learned about how he was once a carefree and fun loving young man. He went to serve his time for our country during the war. When he came back his adjustment was tough. No one understood why he was so different until he finally, years later, talked about how he watched as his buddies died in battle. He wondered why he was spared. And then we knew his pain and we understood why he had grown to be a hardened clump of a human, set in his ways in order to survive, and causing everyone else to bend around him as they continued to grow past his place in the family tree, that place forever different but nestled in to the protection of family love.

We have fruits in our family tree, too. No, I wasn’t going in that direction, and shame on you for thinking that!! The fruit in our family tree is Aunt Rosie, who reminds me of an apple - deliciously sweet, round, rosy, firm. When Rosie corrected us kids, it was done sternly enough that we were afraid to not mind her, but I never felt that she was mean. Her sweetness was always just beneath that firm surface.

Her sister, Mary was our family peach, soft, fuzzy. We could get away with just about anything because she just couldn’t say no to us, yet we didn’t overdo taking advantage of her because we were never quite sure that she was with reality. She seemed just a tad out of focus.

Uncle George’s wife Carol is our orange. Her personality, perhaps shaped somewhat by her husband’s goofiness was tangy, with a bit of acid but not unpleasant. I think she might have been a sweet young woman who developed a bit of tang in order to balance the scales throughout her life.

There are other things in our family tree, too. Our resident squirrel is Cousin Sarah. She is a real dear, a person who scampers here and there, poking into every nook and cranny of the family, chattering nonstop about everything. I picture her bouncing from branch to branch and shaking the leaves into a flurry. Don’t get too comfortable around her, because she will stir up something amongst the collection of nuts, and you don’t want to be one that she pulls from its safe hiding place at the wrong time. If she catches you off guard, her noisy, irritating chatter will wake you up. She keeps the juices flowing, for sure.

We have birds, too. The nester is Niece Janis who is the quintessential homemaker of the first order. I don’t think there is anything in her house that she didn’t make with her two hands. Sometimes I wonder if she sheared the lamb, spun the wool, and then looped the yarn by hand, strand by strand into the backing to make the carpet!

Another bird is Cousin Lisa…she is our birdbrain! She shows absolutely no sign of a functioning intellect at times! She’s the one who puts her tennis shoes in the fridge and tries to bake a cake in a cold oven!

Our family kite is Uncle Vern. He gets caught up in the whim of the moment and flies away in the wind. He looks good for a while, puffed up against the wind, and using every breeze to his advantage. Then the wind will die away or gust in a different direction and he is scrambling harum-scarum, trying to avoid hitting the ground and trying to keep his tail from getting into a knot! But he never gets too far because of the string wound around his branch of the family tree.

One of the interesting elements of our family tree is the presence of power lines. The in-laws, those who marry into the family and with their presence, give the old tree a “charge” with the electricity of the new customs and ways of living they bring to us. These lines occasionally touch a branch and cause a real zing which ripples thru the whole system. Sometimes we, the real family, the “kin,” resist that tingle of new life. But in the long run, this is one of the things that keeps all of us alive and kicking and out of the morass of same ol’ same ol’.

One last element of the family tree is the moss on the trunk. It doesn’t change places. It can always be found in the same place, day or night, winter and summer. That moss is the part which remains untouched and out of sight for the most part. It is stagnant or stationary, depending on your point of view. It is rather moldy by nature, but always there where you can find it when you lose your way.

Yep, family reunions give us a time to slow down and consider the connected individuality which has grown from the mixture of old-blood with new, the balance of staid cultural lineage with new customs, and savoring the wonderful blend of fruits and nuts produced on the wide branches of our tree of heritage. I wouldn’t trade my family tree, even with the odd assortment of flora and fauna, because it is rich and vibrant and ever so much fun.

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