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It Really IS About Family

February 20, 2015


My brother-in-law Hal came to visit after attending his 50th high school reunion event in New Jersey. Now retired in Norfolk, he helped track down people for over a year and organize the event. A 3-tour Viet Nam Vet with 25 years in the Navy, he's seen a lot, and family and friends are very important to him.

My wife and her family have always been close. She and her cousins started an annual reunion event a few decades ago that continues on, and the next generation (all the cousin's children and now grand children) are included in that event. Attendees vary based on time of year and who is where in this nuclear family age. But it happens, each year, every year.

My cousin-in-law "Buzz", now retired, started doing a family tree on the parental side of my wife's family. My brother-in-law took up the challenge and is doing the MATERNAL side of it. Of course, my wife Dee has cases (not boxes, CASES) of family pictures, notes and documents. So his stopover had a mission in mind, as well.

The day after Hal arrived here, the kitchen was full of CASES and about 20 million pictures he and my wife Dee were sorting through. At first I thought it humorous to watch, but as I heard their expressed awe and reminiscences going back six plus decades, stories told as if they reflected yesterday's events, I felt a bid saddened that my paternal-side family mostly dropped out of contact after my father's death from a heart attack, 50 years ago this November 17. I am still in contact with my maternal cousins and surviving aunt and uncle. Not as often as I'd like, but life DOES have a way of getting in the way of other plans.

As Dee and Hal went through the pictures and documents they had assembled, I heard them reminisce about growing up, family events, times at the beach, and many other events. At times there as laughter, and some times, a touch of sadness in the conversation. Theirs was a tight family, all neighbors, more or less, in Bayonne, New Jersey while my family was scattered from Massachusetts to Ohio to Florida to Israel.

A touch of sadness came over me since I had only a few pictures from one event in my life, and several pictures of my son when he was two and three. (Ye, I have current pictures.) Memories of my family events, came back, and I smiled at the memories of my grandmother's kitchen full of people playing poker for matchsticks and beans, as one example, and how family members always seemed to lose to the matriarch of the family. Other events -- happy and sad -- came back, and I felt a sense of loss of my family connections.

Hal had asked me for information about my family tree to include in his work, and I told him what little I remembered. That deepened and widened the crevasse between then and now for me.

The next morning, the kitchen was put somewhat back in order -- at least maybe two million photos (or so it seemed) had been either put in envelopes for family distribution or returned to their boxes and cases. But there was a stack of photo envelopes set aside, and atop them was a plastic sleeve with a slim book and a note the read "As ye seek, so shall ye find."

It was my baby book, and chronicled my first few years. My grandparents and their parents were identified, names of family friends long forgotten but still in my life until I graduated college were there, and the chronicle of my first stand-up, walking, words, and other child achievements was documented.

In the other envelopes were pictures of pieces of my life over the last 50+ years, snippets that when threaded together brought back fond and sad memories of my life. Where they came from was a mystery -- even my wife could not recall gathering them up from "wherever." Most likely, they were in some box that got consolidated with others over the years, and left unremembered until recently re-found.

But in all, they gave dimension to my recollection about my family, and it struck me again, as it has from time to time in these past fifty years, that no matter where life takes you, it is your family that is your foundation, the core of what you are. Though I had no pictures (I thought), I still have vivid memories of family events, the good and the bad times, and the familial "nuclearization" that has occurred to most families as children grow up and move away as it did to mine.

We live in a world with stress and pressures unknown five decades ago. Technology and social media have changed our lives. But the role and importance of family cannot be lost to us ... and we need to do more to reinforce that, and cherish what we have, and remember with love and respect those whom we have lost.

On Sunday 11/16/14, I will journey to my parents' gravesite and remember them and our family. I visit them more than once a year, but always on the 16th or 17th of November. This year, bolstered with new memories and recollections triggered by a single document and pictures thought long lost, I will have more to be thankful for, and a loving caring family is at the heart of that. It was never perfect growing up, but it was always full of familial love.

It is ironic that family was so integral to our lives in the last three months of my father's life. On September 17th 1964 he danced with his niece at her wedding ... danced without use of cane or crutch using his prosthetic leg, the result of losing his left leg to diabetic gangrene only six months earlier. It was a grand and HUGE wedding with all of the family there. On October 17th 1964 Dad threw my mother a GRAND 30th wedding anniversary party, with hundreds of family and friends attending.

And thirty days later, on 11/17, he died peacefully in his sleep.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral. Family and friends -- and until then, I never really got the scope of HIS nuclear family in law enforcement. He was a DC policeman for 25 years, and had friends in virtually every state and local and federal law enforcement agency you can imagine in and around Washington DC.

My best friend became a Montgomery County policeman because of my father's influence on him. THEIR support in the following days was as critical to us as the support of our blood kin. And thanks to them, I learned more about my father and his achievements in 25 years than I had ever known before.

No matter the road we take in life, it all starts with the common base -- family, family by blood and friendship.

Let's not forget that, or our families, as life takes us on our journeys.

--- Copyright © 2014 Howard Nevin

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Be sure to read a few other articles by Howard:

Refuse To Be Defeated

Inspiration Is In Us All

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