Sunday, August 19, 2007

Family Secrets

We celebrated my mother's 85th birthday yesterday. I joined my two sisters, my two daughters, my eldest sister's husband and family friends at what in medieval times would definitely have been called a 'groaning table'. Beneath the weight of trying to appeal to the tastes and traditions of everyone seated around the table, my eldest sister put together an amazing repast that left us all groaning when we finally pushed back our chairs and capitulated with a resounding, 'enough'.

If there had been a wheelchair present, I probably would have used it to roll my way out the door. I did think about throwing my body to the ground and using the slight downhill slant of my sister's front yard to propel me to my car, but instead, waddled down the steps, and maneuvered my way into the vehicle without too much discomfort -- though I did have to push my seat back a bit so my bulging stomach didn't hit against the steering wheel -- just kidding!

I am the final note in a quartet of children born after WW2. Quintessential baby-boomers, my siblings and I entered this world before the 50s gave way to the rock n' roll era of the 60s. Music defined our lives. My father had an enormous record collection -- over 2,000 LPs. We all loved music.

My sisters and I were forced to study accordion (my deepest darkest secret). I hated it. Loved the piano but, could never overcome my father's insistence I capitulate to his will. His favourite response to my entreaties to drop the accordion was, "You can't take a piano to a party." I'd reply that I wouldn't be caught dead taking my accordion to a party, but it didn't matter. I still had to play at home when guests would frequently gather and refrains of 'let us entertain you' were served up with after-dinner libations.

Which is why I need to apologize to my eldest daughter this morning, once again. In the enthusiasm of the moment, I forget my own experience. Whenever we gather around a table, the past comes whipping out from somewhere behind me in its strident voice that calls out to Alexis, "Honey, are you going to sing for your Nana?"

Given her physical resemblance to me, her facial expression is probably a mirror of mine when long ago, my father would insist I lug my accordion into the middle of the living room floor and entertain the guests. If there's any saving grace, my daughter is a gifted singer, loves to sing, and loves her Nana enough that she graciously capitulates with a couple of tunes and nary a hissed, "Mother!"

Like my sisters and me, my brother also loved music. He attempted to play almost every instrument, none of them well I might add, and in the end, his tone deaf ears relegated him to spinning vinyl platters where soppy lyrics were interspersed with the dobopdidoops and dowahwahs of an era marked by man's first steps on the moon, and the fear of The Bay of Pigs decimating our world with more than just the good fat, bad fat debates prevalent today.

My brother loved the music of the 60s. Knew every word to every song. The artists, their pedigree, their stories. He often complained about the jarring turbulence of acid rock blaring its cacophony of discordant notes underpinning harsh and violent lyrics that made no sense to his poetic soul. He sure did love his unrequited loves of lyrical fame, though. Sadly, life imitated art when, like the tragic heroes of one of my brother's favourite songs, he and his wife died in a car accident ten years ago, a year and a half after my father passed away of a massive heart attack.

For my mother, the loss of her husband at 73 was a grief she was just starting to come to grips with when the call came of the fatal accident that tore apart her heart and broke her life to pieces. The loss of her only son has been a devastating blow. A wound that will not heal. A rumbling discord jarring the melancholy passing of her days.

My mother is a very sweet woman. Kind, caring, she can never do enough for someone, can never give enough, never be enough to make someone else feel better. She likes to give and has difficulty receiving. Receiving means taking. My mother doesn't believe in taking anything from anyone.

In the story of our lives, my mother and I have seldom been on the same page of living. My rebellious nature, inquisitive mind and insistence that I do it for myself have always disrupted her peace of mind, rankling the edges of her fear she is not a good enough mother. It's left the both of us at opposite ends of the family dynamic.

I've often felt outside my family. Not because they put me there -- Mostly, it's my nature. The curious blend of wonder and analytical spirit that places me as a scientific voyeur looking in watching the weird and wacky antics of a zoology project that I can't make sense of. -- Not saying my family's weird. Okay, I am. We're weird. Like most families, we've got our moments. Some Richter scale worthy. Most, just the normal ebb and flow of blood relations joined in a chromosomal dance of life eternal, bumping into the nuances of individual DNA strands trying to unravel what makes sense within their own little corner of the familial map.

Don't get me wrong. I love my family. They've been the ballast in my life. The place cards marking where I belong at the table. Family gives me a sense of wonder at the power of blood to determine where I flow in life. They've also helped me make sense of who I am and why I am the way I am!

Yesterday, I picked up my middle sister from the airport and we went out to lunch with my youngest daughter, Liseanne. Anne has always been my closest sibling. We're 2 and a half years apart in age. We were always eachother's comfort when the inevitable chords of disharmony rumbled through our parental unit.

We share history. We're miles apart in disposition.

Where Anne is a gentle spirit, I can be feisty. Where she is timid, I will be fearless. Anne is an open book. Her sweet and caring nature an exact reflection of her heart. Me, I'm more closed. More apt to play it close, and never reveal when words pierce my defences. In years gone by, it was Anne who would call in the middle of the night crying about love gone wrong, of broken hearts and tedious boyfriends. I never phoned. I never admitted to love gone wrong. I never told anyone my troubles.

So it was quite a surprise when she told me something I hadn't known from long ago. It involved a man I'd married when I was in my early twenties, not because I wanted to, but rather, because our families thought we should. Their insistence they knew what was best for us, and my fear of their response had I disagreed, led me to the altar where I made a vow that lasted all of a year. Wasn't that he was an awful man. He was quite lovely. It was that I didn't know who I was and I knew I'd never find myself beneath the blanket of someone else's love keeping me safe. It sounds trite, but I knew I had to unravel the discord I felt gyrating at my centre, before I could love another. I didn't want to lose what little I knew about me amidst the throes of happily ever after and so, I left.

Ah! The things we don't know.

When my sister told me what had happened, I was left feeling like I was part of a soap opera. One of those Hollywood zipcode episodes where suddenly you discover the protagonist's mother's brother is actually his father's sister dressed up in drag as Auntie Mame.

Not that what happened makes any difference to my life today, but it sure does explain why my mother always said how she wished Anne would marry Peter. "He was such a nice man. Pity you let him get away, Louise."

It also helps explain why my mother and I view life from different sides of the family photo album. I see faces disappear and know the love they brought into the picture will never vanish. For my mother, faces disappearing mark the passing of what could have been, what should have been, what was and will never be again.

Ten years ago, shortly after my father's heart gave out, my brother's face disappeared from view. His love lives on. Yesterday, we celebrated my mother's 85th birthday and marked her love that can never die. Her children, and her children's children and their children will carry it with them forever and a day.

Yesterday, my sister told me a secret that was, as secrets often do, making her sick. At the time, she'd not wanted to tell me the truth because she was afraid of what I might do or say, should I ever find out. Now she knows. At first I was shocked. Then I laughed.

Secrets make us sick. They weaken the bond of trust that family represents. They speak of our fear and separate us from the love that joins us beyond the DNA of our birth. Holding onto the truth for fear it might hurt another, keeps us living a lie.

Once upon a time, I thought I loved a man. I knew I didn't love him enough to marry him. But I did it anyway. I never told anyone my secret and thus, hurt another human being because of my immaturity and my fear.

His life became entangled in my family's and he was hurt again -- not because of who he is, but because I never told the truth in the first place.

My sister did nothing wrong. But, in her fear of not telling me at the time, she let go of something that might have been all that she had imagined and held back in our relationship the truth that would have let us converse in honesty. As time passed, both our lives took different courses leading us to where we are happy with our lives today.

We do not know where life will lead us, but with that first secret, I set in motion the keeping of secrets I could not have imagined.

Families are bond together through love. We cannot break the bond. We can try to tear it apart. Shred it. Walk away from it. But, no matter what we do, the circle of love into which we are born can never be broken. No matter what we do.

The secret to being a family is not in the secrets we don't tell, it's in the truths we're willing to share when we trust each other enough to know, there's nothing we can do that will ever stop the love of a family.

I'm blessed. I know my family will always love me, even when I don't love myself enough to tell them the truth. And I will always love them, even when they don't tell me the truth.

In love with my family, my life and me. Have a wonder filled day.

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