Saturday, October 13, 2007

My Imaginary Family

One of my favorite features in the Saturday Flint Journal is "People," the thin little pull-out tabloid almost lost between Sports and Classifieds. It usually features some local yokel on the front (I was once one of those featured yokels -- me and the mutt of the month competing for readership, and I think the mutt won). "People" is a rich storehouse for a hermit like me with no family within 200 miles. I really don't miss having a family to speak of -- in fact I'm grateful for it most of the time, but I get perverse vicarious delight from reading every word about engagements, weddings, wedding anniversaries and geezer birthdays. Not to mention the Pet of the Week.

Today's is Dixie, a two-year-old beagle/terrier mutt. Somebody slapped a yellow bandana on her for her desperate closeup. Her long pink tongue sticks out, and she's smiling in that doggie way as if she knows how much this matters. The way she's sitting there, her little white paws on a hard floor at the Humane Society, breaks my heart.

On the engagement and wedding pages, I look at all the panicky smiling couples in their fancy clothes, their heads touching, the guy's hand tenderly and tastefully on the girl's waist, the women in complicated upswept hair and lacy headpieces, the guys looking slightly strangled by their unaccustomed tuxes. Stiff little flowers, rosebuds with sprays of cliche baby's breath, seem to interfere with hugging. But everybody's smiling. Looking at all of them, the Nicoles and Scotts and Caras and Lances and LaCreshas and Fruquwas (that's the guy) and Sarahs and Dereks, I think, yes indeed, there is somebody for everybody.

And then on the next page, there are the anniversaries: names from another era -- Harold and Phyllis and Shirley and Kenneth and Gordon and Tom...and these couples suggest the toll the years take, a whiplash of time from the hopeful naivete of decades before. The couples are thick and wrinkled, bespectacled and silver-haired -- and still smiling, thanks, I think, to "Cheese." I think they look surprised, and relieved, that they've made it this far. I wonder if they still like each other. The contrast between the two sections -- the young beginners, the weathered survivors -- is almost more than I can take before my second cup of tea. It makes me want a drink.

But the best of all is "Generations" -- the photos where somebody whose 15-year-old kid just had a baby in the family tradition lines up with great-grandma, grandma, mom or dad and a tiny papoose, usually in the arms of the oldest relative, little aware of his or her place in history.

Today's "People" yielded a Generations bonanza: SIX GENERATIONS. Unbelievable! Great-great-great grandmother Lucille, 98, holds little Devan, five weeks old. Arranged around the aged granny and thumb-sucking infant are great-great grandmother Norma, great-grandmother Brenda, grandfather James and mom Nicole. I try to calculate how in the hell this could have happened -- everybody procreated before the age of 20, I guess, and everybody lived. What relentless family-making!

I'm amazed. My GRANDFATHER was born in 1870 and has been dead since the early 50s -- my mother was born in 1910 and didn't get around to giving birth to me until 1949. I come from a long line of extreme late-bloomers, some of whom never actually bloomed. I, for instance, never had kids myself, and I'm still waiting for the break that will bust open my expected celebrity to snare me a mythical -- if truncated -- twig on my family tree.

So my historical family, the people we call ancestors, are largely mysteries to me. And what I know of them, through various myths, memories, scars and resentments, are filtered through "he said, she said" second- or third-hand accounts at best.

1 comment:

Krista said...

I should bring in my great-grandparents poetry and short stories for you to take a look at. I grew up a few houses from them and was lucky enough to form a relationship that lasted into my early thirties with them. Yet, it's still something to read about the horse-drawn covered wagon or about my grandfather's rather Thoreau-inspired adventure. I suspect you'd get quite a kick out of their many poems and stories.