My paternal grandmother was a storyteller. And I have the evidence to prove it in a large vinyl zipper bag—copies of her handwritten memoirs which read like short stories. She was an intelligent, head-strong woman—a first generation American born into a large family who emigrated from England at the turn of the century.
She went to Ohio State Normal College at Kent and then became an English teacher for forty-five years until her retirement. She had many siblings, one of whom died at nineteen when he was thrown from a moving truck—this was before seatbelts. She had three children of her own—my dad being the youngest. All graduated college. Her eldest son, Donald, played basketball for Harvard, earned his PhD there, and went on to become a successful financial aid officer for a major university until his retirement. She done good.
Grandma moved into a retirement community back in the early nineties and became the editor for their local paper—a position she held until her death in 1999 at the age of 94. Besides documenting her life through short stories, she also would send out a year-end letter to her extended family and her friends. I remember thinking the letters were kind of cheesy, and pretentious, and phony. They didn't feel intimate or personal—back then, upon receipt. But guess what? They were. She was sharing her life with all of us—continuing to tell her story. Wasn't this more giving and generous than what the rest of us were doing—keeping our lives all to ourselves?
I don't know if my aunts and uncles and cousins have continued with this updating tradition. If they have I am not privy to it. Maybe I am not considered family or even a friend? I am more of a stranger? They are strangers to me. Moving out of state and my parents' divorce partially account for this physical and emotional distance. And my own tradition now continues—my son doesn't know his extended family either. He has not had contact with his cousins since 2005. My brother's tragic death has something to do with this. Loss can bring people together or place a wedge between them. Unfortunately, in our case, it was the latter.
What is family anyway? Sociologists define family as a group of individuals who are affiliated by consanguinity (by recognized birth), affinity (by marriage), or co-residence/shared consumption (see Nurture kinship).
My family is very small. The blood relation is irrelevant for the most part. Who I consider to be family is based upon a reciprocal relationship that I share with each. And at this stage in my life there are only three individuals who fit this bill. But don't feel sad for me. This is a choice. My choice. I could reach out to these blood-related strangers and send Christmas cards in an attempt to connect with them. I could write a year-end letter and fill everybody in. Or I could send them the link to my blog. Surely they would learn much—and quickly—about what makes me tick. Would they like me? Relate to me? Consider me family? What would we even have in common? Perhaps nothing. Maybe the only thing that unites us at all is my grandmother.
I may not hand-write an annual year-end letter nor have dozens of short stories about my life—hidden away in some folder. But I too share myself with my family—with the world, actually—through my blog. I am a storyteller too. I am documenting my life as well. And my reach is so much larger than grandma's. My stories are online. My audience has no limits. My family is global.
I want to close this by wishing everyone a happy New Year's. Thanks for reading my blog. It means the world to me.