While I was planning my road trip and living with my grandparents, they told me about two relatives who lived along my route. As a second cousin and a great aunt, I’d seen them at funerals over the years, but I couldn’t say I really knew them. When I reached out, though, they quickly agreed to let me stay with them for a night or two. Family is cool like that – you’re tied together in a web of responsibility and affection despite being practically strangers.
Bill is my grandpa’s nephew. He and his wife Diane offered to let me stay with them in Spartanburg, SC.
Sue is my grandma’s sister. She let me stay with her in Alabaster, AL.
I significantly underestimated how much I would enjoy staying with family! Perhaps most surprisingly, I loved hearing old family stories from new storytellers. Whether it was Bill talking about the family homestead in southern Illinois or Sue talking about the Precious Moments chapel outside Branson, I found that hearing familiar stories in new ways made them seem more real. Family stories can become mythic – repeated so often that they lose a feeling a realism. But if someone else tells the story, then the details become clearer and more exciting.
For the last several years of my life, I’ve been more concerned with who I am outside of my family – what sets me apart, how am I unique, etc. I must be entering a new phase of life, because I’m more and more interested in what it means to be inside my family (whether Phillips, Stark, or McGarrah). There’s something really comforting about seeing an extended family member and thinking, “Yes, I’m like that too.” It could be as specific as Bill and I working in libraries and fighting to make comics/graphic novels more accessible, or Sue and I finding a way to love on cats even when apartment rules dictate a pet-free environment. But it’s the general trends that intrigue me more.
My family is, at heart, creative and compassionate. People in my family are photographers, crafters, poets, and writers. We see beauty and pain in the world and try to capture it, make meaning from it, and give it to others. People in my family are also concerned about helping the world – animals, people, nature. We clear trails in the forest to watch deer and feed turkeys, we put out food for stray cats and raccoons, we transplant perky squirrels and chipmunks instead of killing them. We take in family members, we adopt those in need, we dedicate our lives to providing equal access to deaf and blind students. The ways in which we display our creativity and compassion are myriad, but it’s always there.
My family is also generous. I won’t claim this label for myself, because I think I’m too obsessed with money to freely give it away. I want to learn from my cousins and aunts! They opened up their homes to me, fed me, gave me gift cards and coffee tumblers and books. They gave and gave with a smile, and I hope to someday return the favor to my future great nieces and second cousins.
Honestly, I was just looking for a place to stay the night when I asked Bill and Diane and Sue if I could stay with them. But I found family. A really great one, one that I am proud to be a part of.