This morning on the train, I was reminded of the absolute best part about writing a book. A woman born in 1938 sat down next to me. (I knew her birthdate because she had a loud phone conversation with her doctor in which she gave her personal information.)
I told her I was writing about childhood in the 60’s and that I would love to hear her memories. She told me about hiding in a hot backyard between wet sheets hanging on clotheslines, trying to read a book before her strict mother found her and chided her to do chores.
She also reminded me about the food; they always used “canned” milk for hot chocolate and got into big trouble if they used the real milk in the fridge for anything but cereal and dinner.
Like me, my new friend slept in bunk beds in a room she shared with her siblings. We both smiled remembering the experience of family dinners and the rarity of going to a restaurant.
I told her that one of my favorite memories was a game I used to play with my dad-we would draw a line, ANY line and he would turn it into a cartoon face.
My new friend’s parents played harmonica and they would sing in the car together. We laughed when we both started to sing 100 bottles of beer on the wall, and talked about cheating in the alphabet game on long drives.
We shook our heads together when she told me that her daughter had just purchased a car with a DVD player for her five year old.
“Can you imagine?” she asked me.
We both acknowledged the chaos and the hardship of living in a big family. I come from a family with 9 children and this woman was one of seven siblings.
I decided that the mom in Summer had to have a strong voice; my new friend reminded me about the tales from that generation that might be lost without faithful storytellers.
The most poignant thing that my seatmate told me, though, was this:
Everybody lived with everybody. Her great aunt, her grandma, her mother’s sister, and anyone who needed a roof and a bed lived with her “nuclear” family. When I wrote My Wish, I learned this about Sri Lankan life; relatives lived with each other. No one is expected to be totally independent.
In A Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela reminisces about the fact that in his tribe, your brother’s son was treated as YOUR son, your mother’s sister was YOUR sister, your sister’s husband was your brother, etc.
In other words, the phrases, “extended family” and “nuclear family” are combined into the simpler phrase, “family.”
I might stop saying the word “extended” about anyone in my family or my framily ( “Framily” is the term for friends that are family, gifted from my wise sister, Chrissy.), and just start saying family, since in my very humble opinion we are all brothers and sisters, meant to treat and protect each other like family.
Even if your childhood was less than perfect or just terrible, it can be helpful to remember that you once saw the world through the miraculous eyes of a child. That remarkable view can be yours again if you take the time to remember, and reflect.
Wishing you a Thursday filled with the love of whomever you choose to call family, and the brilliant aliveness that is always found in a child’s view of life.
Thank you very much for reading my post, and have a wonderful day.