The Importance of Family

My earliest memories are of times spent with my father's family.  He was the oldest of six children.  He loved his siblings and always liked spending time with them.  The times they got together were times of great story telling where their shared wit and humor came to the forefront.  I mostly remember fun and laughter from the times I spent with my aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Family ~  Where We First Learn Social Skills And How To Become A Part of Community

Times of wall to wall cousins sleeping in a bedroom in the back part of the summer home my grandparents had in the mountains of Colorado are among my happiest memories.  Nighttime in that old house was the time we giggled ourselves silly, told scary ghost stories, had tickle fights, tattled on each other, cried over slights one of the other had done to us, had pillow fights, jumped on the bed, and got yelled at by our aunts and uncles for being too loud.  Grandma would pound on the wall from her bedroom with a broom which meant we better quiet down!

Day times were spent roaming the hills looking for antique bottles, or other treasures left from long ago mining days, or we played on the relic of an old horse drawn wagon from the past that Grandpa had in the front yard,  and pretended we were pioneers.

Our parents played card games and had good times while we were all supposed be sleeping in the back room.  It was a great joke to take a photo of Grandma French with a big liquor bottle in her hand because she and my grandfather were teetotalers.  (Upper photo: The cousins in Victor, Colorado in the late 50's.  Aunt Caroline is sitting on the car bumper.) (Uncle Don, Aunt Katherine, Mother, and Grandma French at the dining room table in Victor, Colorado.)

My mother was an only child and her parents had died before I was born, so I only had my father's parents for grandparents, and I only had his siblings as aunts and uncles.  I loved being surrounded by this close knit group of people that were my father's family from my earliest days.

I was born just as World War II was about to end.  My first Christmas was spent at Grandma French's house that was one block from my house.  My father, serving in the Army, was not at that first Christmas celebration, but my mother is seen sitting in the middle of the family gathering holding me.  My father's family was her adopted family, and my Aunt Katherine holding my cousin Donna was my mother's best friend.  Also missing from this photo is my Uncle Bob whom was serving in the Marines.  Uncle Charles, holding his wife on his lap, was home on leave from the U.S. Army where he had been a paratrooper in Europe.

Family ~  Where Learn About and Create A Shared History

Family history was always an important topic at gatherings with my father's family.  I learned the histories of my Grandfather French's family that dated back to the earliest days of this nation from my grandfather.  He was proud of the heritage we held.  When I'd ask him what our heritage was, he's say, "We are damn Yankee rebels,"  We have had a family member fight in every war since and including the Revolutionary War.  

Dyed in the wool Democrats, my grandparents modeled political activity by attending many functions held by the Democratic Party.  I clearly remember all those political debates in the fifties that took place at family gatherings.  They were informed, but passionate, discussions.  I don't think there was much dissension in the family around the topic of politics when I was growing up.  I just remember it was an important family value that family members be involved in the political aspects of life.

My grandparents lived across the street from the church where my parents were married and where I was baptized as an infant.  Most of the family also went to this church, The United Presbyterian Church, so it was also a center for many family gatherings.  Faith was not as important part of the family life as church going was, but the seeds of my faith and the faith of most of my family members were planted here.  (My brother at a church reunion a few years back is touring the grounds of our old church.  The family home that belonged to my grandparents in the lower right corner was photographed while I stood on the church lawn.)

Family ~ Where We Form A Sense of Identity As We Celebrate Together

Times together with family are times where one learns the value of shared histories, of shared stories, and of the value of creating a legacy of love of family.

Wonderful family times formed my personality and created my sense of what was important in life as much as any other experience I ever had in my life.  Family became of supreme importance to me at a very early age.  I remember telling my grandmother I wanted six children when I grew up.  I didn't quite reach that goal.  I had five children.

Growing up in the middle of an extended family where birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions were always celebrated together left  an expectation of always having family nearby.  That is not the way things worked out in my adult life.  I lived away from the extended family all through my high school and college years.  I then lived in another state away from all family for a decade and a half.  I think that is why I treasure every large family gathering that we are able to put together as I grow older.

During the years that my siblings and I were raising our families, we would try to get together at my parents' home as much as we possibly could.  Generally, these gatherings took place at Thanksgiving, or Easter, or maybe the Fourth of July.

During those early years, when our children were young, we would all stay at Mother and Daddy's house.  What a group that was!  Each couple usually got a bedroom, but there weren't that many bedrooms, so I don't remember where we all slept.  We cooked big meals, and somehow we survived with 2 1/2 bathrooms to serve the entire tribe.  

My children and their cousins got to know and love each other during these gatherings just as I had gotten to know my cousins at such gatherings.  There were toys and books in the basement for them to play with, but I think they mostly made their own adventures and games by playing outside.  They took forbidden trips down to the Colorado River.  The times were full of laughter, games, stories, and much fun just as the times I had as a child with my cousins and aunts and uncles had been.  

We celebrated milestones such as my parents' 50th Anniversary, their 80th birthdays.  Then, as my parents aged, we weren't together as often because the events were hard for my parents to host and our children were growing and were busy with many activities.  When my father passed away in 2002, most of us gathered to celebrate his life and to support my mother during this time.  In just four short years later, we all gathered to celebrate my mother's 90th birthday.

My mother's one hundredth birthday party celebration on June 25th of this year provided the perfect opportunity for a long overdue family gathering.  She is last surviving member of the family that was the core group of my childhood.  My grandparents, my father, and all of my aunts and uncles are now gone.  She is the center of the next generation that has carried on the love of gathering together as a family.

A few of my cousins made the trip over to celebrate my mother's birthday.  Cousin Diana and husband Steve came for Mother's actual birthday in May, while Cousin Donna came for both celebrations.  Cousin Janet brought her daughter and grandchildren with her to celebrate.  It was wonderful to have members of my extended family with us on these occasions.

Donna, Janet with Mother, a champaign toast with family on Mother's birthday,
Donna, Jim, Diana, Sally, Carol, Keicha, Mother, Michelle, Brittany, Michelle, Tony
Mother's 100th Birthday and Celebration

Family ~ The First To Show Love and Support When The Unthinkable Happens

Barbara Bush once said "To us family is about putting your arms around each other and being there."

When Julie died, I will always remember and treasure how we as an immediate family came together. All of my remaining children and their children lived together at daughter Amy's house for much of the traumatic week that followed her death.  Those days we bonded deeper than we had ever bonded.  We gave each other strength and comfort.

My sister came from California and stayed across the hall from Jim and me with her husband at our hotel.  They guided us through the deep waters of grief as we made funeral plans as a family.  All of my nieces and nephews, the cousins of my children,  came to Colorado from  California, Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, and parts of Colorado.  Only Michael serving in Afghanistan was not there.  Their tears, their stories, their laughter, their love provided balm to our broken hearts that no one else could have provided.  I love these kids so much!  I have the most amazing nieces and nephews.

Family ~  Where You Can Always Feel At Home

I  think of family as a dynamic organism that keeps changing while also remaining the same.  The past generations are now mostly gone.  Only my mother remains from the previous generations of grandparents and aunts and uncles.   Only my cousins and I and my mother have the shared memories of that time.  We remember the stories, the histories, the personalities, the humor, the wit, the fun that those precious ones brought to each gathering.  They remain in our hearts as we gather with the younger generations.

We are so fortunate to still have the home my parents lived in when my children were small as home base.  This place represents the family home to all.  Toys, books, and other items from days gone by are still there.  My son Ryan went to get his wife a drink of water and came back proudly holding the prize cup from childhood days. "I couldn't believe it when I saw this still in the cupboard," he said as he handed his wife some water.

On the day of the family party to celebrate my Mother's 100th party, after the invited guests departed, the family gathered to eat and have fun.  There was music.  It was time to dance and have a good time.
Nephew Adam indulged me by dancing with me.

Niece Cristy and her husband Jim entertained with fancy dance steps.

We gathered for group photos.

 Siblings Suzanne, Carol, Rell, and I were photographed with Mother.

The older great-grandchildren, five of whom are my grandchildren were photographed. 

Grandson Bridger, grandniece Gabby, grandson Mason, grandson Atticus, granddaughter Hannah
Granddaughter Gillian

Finally, most of the greats in attendance were gathered for a photo.

Thoughts of how dear and precious these times are caused me to be overwhelmed with emotion.  I know how rare these times are.  I know what treasure they are.  I was surround by those I love most, and suddenly, I could not hold back the tears.  They were mostly happy tears, but they were also sad tears.  

Son Ryan and wife Sheridan, daughter Keicha, Jim, Sally, daughter Amy, son Jonathan and wife Samantha

Knowingly, Amy hugged and held me tightly.  She was crying too. 

 I was happy with my loves surrounding me, but I so missed that one not there.  I looked to the other side of the large yard and remembered her playing red rover with the grandkids on Mother's 90th birthday.  Now, Julie is not with us and the grandkids are teens.

This place, my mother's home,  holds so many memories that do not change as much as those whom come to remember times past and to create new memories do.  Home and family remain the same in the heart, only those whom make up the family configuration change over time.  

A part of us always remains young when we are home. 

 When I am with my family, I am free to be the one I was when my sis and I would dance and sing at the top of our lungs from our earliest days.  Time at home and time with family would not be family time if we didn't shed a few tears of sorrow, frustration, and joy together.

When we are home we can run through the grass in bare feet and feel like a kid again.  When we are home and with family age has no number.  I am crazy Aunt Sally who drank two glasses of wine at the party, and you know what wine does to her.  I, crazy Aunt Sally, also will admit that at night after the grand party as we gathered around the fire pit at the hotel,  I even took a few puffs on my son's cigar and enjoying the taste of if before I felt very sick.  

At the family celebration,  I danced with my sis, my first and probably favorite dance partner.  

And we all tore down the ribbons from the trees and danced the conga.  

Where else but with family can one feel so free to have outrageous fun?

If I leave nothing else to my children and grandchildren, 
I hope I leave a legacy of loving and celebrating family.  

Christmas ~ A Reflection of Christmas Past

The day was a bleak, cold one.  Snow and cold weather had brought life to a standstill throughout most of the city the day before.  I had an early afternoon appointment with my cardiologist at the hospital downtown, the one in which I was born so many years ago.   By the time I left the appointment and made my way out of the hospital parking lot, I was starving.  A holiday dinner was scheduled for later that evening, so I didn't want much lunch.  As I drove west, making my way the few city blocks towards the home in which I had lived as a child, my mind was focused on trying to find a place to stop into for a quick bit of food to tide me over until dinner.  There's no place to stop for lunch in this neighborhood, I thought.  

Just then, I caught sight of the little coffee shop across the street from the corner of the block where my childhood home was located.  The coffee shop is housed in the building that once housed a grocery store and the neighborhood drugstore.  Hungry to the point of going into a state of hypoglycemic  craziness, I parked my car on Boulder Street, my street, the place where I grew up, and made my way to the shop. 

As I rushed from the car to the shop, my mind returned to all those times over half a century ago when I would stop on the corner across the street from where I now stood.   My memory transported me to a time when my mother would entrust a quarter to me with the instructions that I was to go buy a loaf a bread.  "Yes, you can keep the change and buy candy if you wish."  I'd skip down the street, stop on the corner, look both ways, run across Boulder Street, and then Institute Street, and then skip up to the front door of the grocery.  

I could almost see those long ago penny candy boxes lined up in front of the front counter where I would pay for the bread as I approached the door.  The door was locked.  It was dark inside.   Pressing my nose against the window, I peered in and saw the shell of what once was the market of my youth.  I remembered the meat counter at the back.  That's where the check-out counter and the candy was, I thought as I noticed the worn floors I had walked across so many times so many years ago.  Coffee bean bags and equipment for brewing coffee were strewn all over the small space.  Was this store really that small?  

Just as I turned to head back to the car, desperate to find another place for a quick snack, I realized there seemed to be life in the other side of the shop, the place where a drugstore once was located.  I walked towards the door and realized the coffee shop was housed on that side of the building.  Inside, the layout was all wrong.  Tables and benches lined the wall where my cousin and I would once sit at the soda fountain to order our cherry cokes when we were cool thirteen year olds with enough money to buy a coke.  On the opposite side of where the soda fountain once stood, was a bar where I could now order coffee and something to eat.

Soon, a bagel, a very good bagel, with cream cheese, and an excellent cafe latte brought my sugar levels back up to normal.  Siting on the wooden bench in the bay window store front, I savored the moment.  

Somehow, despite the cold weather, the dreary skies, the worries in my heart, and the feeling that this Christmas just wasn't going to be that merry, my spirits were lifted by being in that simple little coffee shop that was full of young people studying for finals. 

I felt I was in the heart of "home" while I sat sipping my cafe latte.  Grateful, for the time of rest, refreshment, and time for reflection on the happy, simple days spent in this little corner of my early world, I left the shop and headed back to my car.

These streets, these sidewalks, are as familiar to me as the back of my hand.  I know where all the cracks are, and even the several types of concrete used to make these sidewalks are familiar.  They haven't changed in all these year.  

I look up at the trees that line the street.  They seem to be standing guard as they protect all the memories once made under their leafy branches. Their aged, bare limbs seem all the more empty now that they no longer shelter my great grandparents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my father from hot summer days. 

Grandma's house is just down the street.  I can't see her house, but it is there just steps away.  How I wish I could walk down that street and walk in the door for a visit.   

Trees stand guard on the way to Grandma's House

My roots run deep on this street.

I think of the family history that these trees witnessed on this block.  They watched my father move into the house just down the way over ninety years ago.  I look at the trees and see my parents standing so close together for a photo on their wedding day.  The day was a bleak and cold one.  They'd been married in the United Presbyterian Church across the street right after morning services on that February day.

My earliest days were spent here.
My first Christmas was here.
Daddy was just home from the army.
World War II had just ended.

Grandma's house provided the heart of Christmas for so many years.

My grandmother in front of a fireplace with a Van Briggle hearth -
My grandmother holding me on her right and my cousin Donna on her left

Christmas was no small undertaking in those days.

All the aunts, the uncles, the cousins would be at Grandma's at Christmas.
It had been that way since my earliest days.

Baking for Christmas began before Thanksgiving.
That is when Grandma made her wonderful fruitcake.
The panty, that cold room right off the kitchen, 
the place where we as children could never enter,
the place that seemed like the inner sanctum of the home that was the heart of Christmas,
held shelves stacked high with metal tins full of 
perfectly made candy:
peanut brittle,
cherry drops, 
More tins held the most heavenly tasting spritz cookies.
Oh the joy I would feel
when she would enter the pantry after Christmas dinner 
and load down the kitchen table with:
mincemeat pies,
pumpkin pies,
and  candy,
all made by her own hand.

Preparation for Christmas Day would have also included
days of polishing the silver.
Sometimes, we, the older cousins, had the task of going to Grandma's house a few days before Christmas to polish the silverware and the silver serving dishes.
 We would very carefully take the china from the dining room buffet and set the table.
The table had to be properly set.
The salad plate, the water glasses, the silverware, the napkins, all had to be properly placed.
The silverware was measured with a finger to be an inch from the end of the table.

We always went to the church across the street for Christmas Eve services.  
It was the family tradition for Christmas.

The story was always told of how my father as a young boy, dressed in his new flannel robe, which had been purchased for his part as one of the shepherds in the Christmas pageant, 
had begged to stay home from church.
He said he was ill.
My grandmother was a strict disciplinarian.
He was told to get over to the church and fulfill his duty.
He did.
Halfway though the pageant, he vomited and had been rushed home across the street wearing soiled new robe.

Years later, my cousin, my sister, and I would be angels in that same Christmas pageant.

My home,
Grandma's home,
my elementary school,
the church,
the grocery store,
were all within a block of each other.

My world was small.
It was filled with rich relationships,
many funny stories,
great laughter,
long held traditions,
solid foundations for
and family.

As I think on these things,
the memory of my mother's beautifully clear soprano voice fills my mind.
Christmas memories from this place would not be complete without the memory of her
dressed in her green silk dress,
the one she made from drapery fabric,
 standing  in the choir loft at church just as the Christmas program starts.
My mother, a tiny 4'll" dark haired woman is adorned in
crystal jewelry which sparkles as she sings.
I am in awe of her beauty.
I am proud of her and her beautiful voice.
 With a lighted candle in my hand,  I listen with tears rolling down my cheeks as she sings.
I will soon be lighting the Christmas candles nestled among the pine branches placed in front of the church windows.

Her voice rings out with the words of that beloved Christmas song.

Oh Holy Night!  The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Truly He taught us to love one another.
He law is love and His gospel is peace.


Today we sang those words of that much loved Christmas song in church.
O Holy Night!
Again, my mind went back to my mother.
I longed to be standing next to her in church listening to her sing that song of 
praise and adoration 
for her Savior,
God with Us,
The One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas.

This past week, as I walked back to my car after walking up to the long ago home of my father and his parents, those memories of days of long ago were again tucked away in my mind.

Grandma's house is still there,
but I can't walk up the path and step on to her porch and find her and grandpa sitting in the dining room reading.

She died on Christmas Eve over thirty years ago.

My father is also gone.
All the aunts and uncles are gone.
Only the memory of the 
times we spent together, 
those times filled with
such wonderful stories,
so much laughter

Mother is still with us.

Today, she and I talked of that Christmas when she sang her favorite Christmas song,
and mine.
She said she went to church today was able to sing in  despite it being her one hundredth year after she celebrated her first Christmas.

I am now a grandmother.
My grandchildren will never have the rich memories of the Christmas traditions of family that I hold so dear.
We don't live near each other.
We seldom see each other at Christmas.
It breaks my heart each and every year not to be with my children and grandchildren.

As I get in my car to leave the streets of my childhood,
I remember the prayer I had for this Christmas.

I prayed I would not be focused on the traditions and trappings of Christmas.
Certainly, those traditions are wonderful to create, to remember, and to celebrate,
but they really are not what Christmas is all about.
I prayed that I would not focus on the trappings of Christmas this year.

I prayed I would rejoice in the One whose birth we celebrate.
I prayed I would not miss the reason we have Christmas.
I prayed that each of my loved ones would know this truth this year:

Truly He taught us to love one another.
He law is love and His gospel is peace.

May your Christmas be filled with