Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Family Legacies

“You know, you do what you have to do to get the job done.”  Mom summarized the ethic that has held our family together since my WW2 survivor British mother met my depression baby New England father when she was a secretary and he was a Ph.D candidate at MIT in Boston.   


My parents moved to Poughkeepsie, New York when my sister and I were both under 5, but their  hearts, my mother’s sister and my  dad’s parents were  always here in midcoast Maine.  In this land of towering pines, crustacean worship and rugged coastline, I am recognizing the threads that hold family’s together.  Steve Job’s recent death prompted some additional thoughts on this- the place where genetics meet upbringing.  Steve Jobs was adopted by a working class family who valued education.  Steve Job’s biological father, Abdulfattah Jandali, runs casinos in New Jersey who had other child that evolved into  novelist Mona Simpson.

On Friday, my parents and I drove to my mother’s sister’s house in Damariscotta  for a lunch of eggs salad and haddock chowder. Uncle Bob and cousin Cathy ‘s husband Nick discussed the politics of scallops and an apparent fraud at the local diner, where some fisherman was punching skate flesh (similar to a sting ray) with a round cookie cutter and calling them scallops.  Then back to my parents house of about ten years in Harpswell to wait for my brother Jeff to arrive from Burlington Vermont with his wife Trish and two children under 5.   In the typical way of “doing what it takes to get the job done”, they arrived at midnight Friday night through batches of driving rain.

On Saturday, everyone  got packed up for a morning at Wolfe Neck Farm and the adjacent Recompense Shores campground, where my  family had camped about 35 years ago while my dad was helping his parents move out of their apartment in Brunswick.

My brother Jeff and his family on the hayride to the pumpkin patch, with straw bale pig in the background.
My brother Jeff and his family
on the hayride to the pumpkin patch,
 with straw bale pig in the background.

    My sister Barb and her older son Andrew drove up from their house in Kennebunk and her husband and her younger son Ian drove up in the  Prius after a soccer game in New Hampshire.      By Saturday in the late afternoon, the family was all together: the dog chasing the tennis ball, ten year old Ian shooting off the pump rocket, Amisha shouting and running at everything in her two year old sweetness,  Cayen so eager to have an older boy to play with and the teenager Andrew observing with Granny, Grampere while the mothers chatted over coffee in the kitchen.   The next generation manifests with the inclusion of other families, including my brother in law’s father who just moved to southern Maine

What are we born into?  My sister and I both having the same dimple and birthmark on the left side just above our lip.  My mother, sister and I share the same body shape.   I look quite a bit like my father.   The entire family is conditioned for cocktail hour just before dinner.  The clinkle of ice cubes in a glass combined with a festive beverage seem to make us all happy.   My sister and I both noted  Ian, her younger son,  swinging around a bottle of root beer. We exchanged eye contact and raised eyebrows, wondering. 
Barb's family on the Toklat River in Denali.
Barb's family on the
Toklat River in Denali

My dad turned 80 in February, just after my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary in December.  On a whirlwind trip across the continent just last month where they happened to spend the night at the Marriot in Guam on their way to Japan, my mom met a businessman who was based in Bangkok.   “Ellen”, she exclaimed, “I got all my questions answered.  You’ll be fine over there in Thailand.”   I look at her with relief that worries have been assuaged.    Ian, in his infinite 10 year old wisdom, stated over dinner at their house in Kennebunk last week, “You know Auntie Ellen.  You are not like other aunts.”  I look at him expectantly.  “Most aunts would have us over at their house for cookies and TV, but you think it’s a great idea to go camping where bears live.”     I raise a hallelujah in my mind on the perspectives of both generations.  In these times ahead we are forming our own traditions.

In my final preparations for the imminent departure on Thursday afternoon, I am spending some time sifting through my parent’s basement.  There’s been an accumulation of their parent’s photos, magazines for recycling, aged technology and signs that the stairs in their house may be difficult.   My work, in between the final preparations, is sifting through the detritus to find the good stuff.   For all of  the collective family issues that every person experiences, the core tenet must be to stay focused on what’s important—the real work of creating our own legacy and that within our family units in whatever form  they manifest.

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