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Reflect & Reminisce with Family

This Father's Day, find out how shared memories can refresh and restore family bonds.

Sometimes we spend our entire lives trying not to be like our mothers and fathers. And sometimes, we grow up and realize that's exactly who we want to be. 

Recently, I decided to make family time a priority, loaded the kids and their 12 metric tons of stuff into the minivan, and hit the highway for a visit with my dad's side of the family. After 8 1/2 hours of movies, complaining, snacks, crying, snacks and whining (and not just by me), we made it to my aunt and cousin's house in North Carolina.

It took a matter of moments to bridge a gap 20 years in the making. We jumped into telling stories of growing up 'Italiano', making traditional family meals of raviolas (my family's way of spelling) and bagna cauda, and pouring over pictures and documents detailing our family's illustrious past. The stories told and retold are monumental in their highs and lows: a group of eight orphans leaving their home country to start a new life in a place with promise; my grandmother's marriage at age 15 under an apple tree; my 10-year-old uncle dying after being hit in the head by a baseball bat; my aunt being beaten to death by an abusive husband.  

There's an old saying that you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family. My question is: who would want to? Our families and our shared life experiences shape us. At a glance, we would never choose a 4' 9" spitfire of a grandmother who forces you to work hard and throws audacious insults at you when you won't; you would never choose to grow up poor and ostracized for being "Dago" when you accidentally let some Italian slang slip; and you would never choose to join a family so full of tragedy. But ultimately, you realize you got through it together. You walked with arms around one another behind that black hearse, and you raised that glass of Asti in celebration every year on Easter.

Explore your own family's old stories, and you'll see that they can lead to new revelations large and small. My son's middle name is Charles after my father's brother who died in Vietnam, and after his grandfather before that. But it turns out my son's namesake wasn't even named Charles. Immigration authorities changed the name after they couldn't find a suitable translation for Cipriano. Go figure. On a larger scale, I learned that with family, our personalities, habits, our very natures and lives are inextricably linked. Visits give us a refresher course on our identity.

Sometimes we let our jobs or our problems define us, and sometimes it takes an 800 mile journey to find our way back to who we really are. Families love your faults and all. When you eat eight cloves of garlic in a sitting and are stinking up a storm, they are right there with you, making you feel safe, secure and accepted.

And there's nowhere on Earth that is a better place to be.

Cris June 21, 2011 at 04:28 PM
What a wonderful story and told with such humor, passion and love. It really touched me and got me thinking. Great job.
Jolean Olson July 06, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Thanks for the feedback! I am sorry for the delayed reply-- not sure how I missed this. I appreciate your comments, especially since this story is a personal one!

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