Sunday afternoon, as I was running around my kitchen cooking, the doorbell rang. It was late in the day for a salesperson, and not really a reasonable time for sales, either. There are Spanish-speaking Christmas Carol Singers who visit homes in my neighbourhood and I thought, “They’re here!”

I opened the door happily expectantly and found my anticipation rewarded not with singers but with my cousin. She was dropping off several items left for me by her mother, my aunt, who passed away last year at Christmastime. After she had gone, I opened these items and her note and thought about my Aunt Stella.

I remember my Aunt Stella as someone who was always fun to be with and I was always close to her children. When I was very young, her oldest son, my cousin Timmy, would take me to the movies and once to a hockey game (!). Her youngest daughter was the first person on that side of my extended family to go to university, a role model for me when everyone in the little Québec town where I grew up thought going to McGill if you were a girl was putting on airs.

The small town where I grew up was far away from my parents’ Ottawa Valley families. We had moved to the De Lanaudière region when I was just turned six and after that move, we found ourselves lonely for the relatives who had been our constant company. My mother always said that it was very hard on her, and so she welcomed the visits of relatives and could not wait for the summer when we travelled home for our holidays. We knew by experience what we should all remember about the psychological advantages of having a large, if sometimes interfering and annoying family. This is a great article about the benefits of family, and especially grandparents.

There are three things to remember about your family, especially at this time of year, when many people may end up seeing more of their family than they’d like.
The first is that having a close extended family means that you will have people that you can count on in a crisis. If a disaster hits, if someone becomes sick or if you just need someone to visit with or talk to, people with an extended family often have support.

Secondly, large families are a source of knowledge and continuity for children about their parents. It was very eerie hearing my grandmother talk about my mother’s independent nature and about how she was always getting into trouble. I remember asking my mother once if she had gotten into as much trouble as I did. She shook her head and said,” I got into a lot of trouble but I wasn’t as smart as you are, so I could never have dreamed up everything you do.” But, still, she got into a lot of trouble and I didn’t feel so badly, thanks to my grandmother’s stories. In general, I find that children love to hear stories about their parents, and it’s good for them. It grounds them.

Finally, I learned more from my cousins and aunts and uncles and my grandmother than I would ever have listened to from my parents. For any child, parents are familiar and, when you’re angry with them, another member of your family will often be able to get through to you. Family help you to learn important life lessons.

I have always believed, since I was quite small, that my family’s love must have come from their love for my parents whom they had known longer. I could never understand how they could love me so much when, as far as I could tell, they hadn’t really seen me much. I was always contemplating this mystery and recall vividly this conversation with my Grandmother:

Gail: Who exactly is my family?

Grandma: Your family are all the people who love you, always, even when you’re mad at them.

Gail: How many years does that take?

(This is a picture of my mother with two of my cousins at the 90th birthday of one of my uncles. They are all having such a good time and this makes for the best memories.)

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