When you’re small enough to need somebody to hold your hand for a good while still, but there’s no one to do it anymore, you either make yourself go it alone, or you fall apart where you are and never, ever move forward.
Here’s someone who made it through alright and can still smile after it all over half a century later.
He reunited with his siblings and some cousins for the first time in decades last weekend.
Dad and his youngest brother have the same shape eyeglasses and both shift their weight from foot to foot when they’re talking. Dad’s sister gave everyone instructions during pictures because while she’s the smallest by inches and inches, she’s still the oldest, and they all listened because there are some things that miles and years and lost childhoods can’t do apart.
My cousin put together a beautiful family tree and a book full of documents and photos, most of them I didn’t even know existed. I saw how the War morphed Dad’s family from midwest farmers into world-traveled young men who picked up wives somewhere else, and after all that they had seen and been through, they never could quite go back home to the farm.
Dad jumped almost straight from the orphanage to the military, and I grew up moving. I was never tied to a town on the map or the names of grandparents to give me a place; but even so, I never felt like I “belonged” in Louisiana, or Germany, or even Ohio, although I lived there the longest. I didn’t wish I belonged because I didn’t know any better, I just knew that I didn’t.
By contrast, my husband was born and raised in the same part of Virginia that his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc, etc, etc, were born and raised in and so his moving away after high school was a big deal. I fell in love with all of his family when we got married, he seemed related to absolutely everybody there, and I think in retrospect it was because he belonged somewhere like I didn’t, and all of the sudden I saw what I had been missing and was so glad for him to not know what it was like to go it alone.
But after spending ten hours last weekend in a house with a bunch of people that had common parents and grandparents, and passing photos of family cemeteries in Middle Of Nowhere, South Dakota that held the life stories of people with the last name I was born to; I felt, for the first time in years, like I actually belonged somewhere. Like I could someday drive into this little town in South Dakota and tell them I’m a Will, just like my husband can do in certain towns in Virginia, and be accepted because I’m really family and my great-great grandparents moved here, raised more Wills here, and died here and now their name is left on granite and it’s a name I’ve had, too.
There have been Wills that were birthed and Wills that were adopted, but Wills all the same. Now they hold down almost all four corners of this country. We had folks in from California, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Florida, Ohio and Michigan. I had to leave after just a day but they were just getting the party started and it was wonderful to watch.
I left with my Baby Dinosaur on my lap on the plane, and a picture of my dad and his brothers in a row on the couch, completely unaware how they jutted their chins out just the same while they concentrated on their camera screens. I have a warm memory of the food everyone brought, and the laughter and shared memories between siblings and cousins after so many years of going it alone. It’s not that way for him anymore, I was glad to realize. And that’s a privilege that I’m glad I can share in.