Indigenous

The Lady of Shallot by John WaterhouseDaybreak lashes and flashes, wet and stormy this morning on Spray Beach. I woke at five o’clock and slipped out of bed to tiptoe down to the kitchen and coffee. Fifteen members of my husband’s tribe (and mine by marriage these eighteen years) are spread asleep in every room and nook but this. I pull up to a small round table tucked under a porthole on the third floor as lightning cracks every few seconds and thunder thrums the wooden floor under my bare feet. The only other sound is the cast of rain against the house and the soft snores of dreamers who remind me that I’m not alone, just awake.

My family used to gather this way in beach houses every summer. The family tradition grew into the ten of us, stuffed into the station wagon to drive to our summer destination of sand, saltwater and sun. My Boston parents were both raised by the ocean and we could feel the pull of their excitement as they returned with their brood to their salty origins. We saw the secret smile they shared in their eyes, like silkies itchy to shed skin that held them back and swim free.

Our father would join us on weekends and our mother ran the house in between breaks of quiet with a book on the beach as we ran wild. We chased briny adventures to the rush and ebb of the tides and only stopped for meals, sunburnt under Noxema in our damp suits and bare feet. Dinners were served on long tables cobbled together that often accommodated relatives dropping off cousins who stayed for days and sometimes even weeks, and we happily absorbed them into the dance of our family at play. Platters of spaghetti, lobster, clams, mussels and the catch of the day still get my juices flowing as the memory floods me with the childhood happiness I felt to feast with my family this way.

A relative newcomer to my husband’s family tradition, I am grateful for the retreat amongst family. I come as an in-law and know the difference between blood and marriage. My heart goes out to one of my stepsons who has joined us from his new job teaching in China. He has never experienced being an outsider; a minority cast in another race, language and country; he is stared at on the street for being different and the lonely role of his new solitude has dislodged his sense of connection. He soaks his family in, even me, and absorbs us with the reverence of communion as he watches and feels us surround him and bring him into the cluster of kin he craves, home from his isolation overseas. I am grateful to be part of his solace and understand what it means to be outside. He knows.

I am reminded of my first daughter’s bravery when she came to my mother’s 80th birthday and family reunion eight summers ago. My daughter had been raised with one older brother, also adopted (and who had since died) and no relatives in her generation from her adoptive family line. For her to enter any family scenario of mine was high contrast to her life experience. I am one of a family of ten. All of my Boston-Irish relatives had large families and most of my siblings have produced children and a substantial thicket of cousins. It’s easier for a large family, raised on the organic network of bloodline, to absorb one more without a second thought – than it is for a solitary person to walk into a large clan by blood and feel like one of them.

I was proud as I watched my daughter’s grace under fire but didn’t quite understand until later just how hard that day was for her. Her life had been so different from mine and bloodline without connection didn’t cross the gap. She had to hold her own inside her skin and take in the culture of my family as though one of them, while for her it was as foreign as China to be immersed in. She looked like us but inside she was someone else. My family couldn’t and didn’t see the difference. Her points of reference were from other places. She had come from other people and none of them were us. They were another family and she belonged to them as much as they belonged to her.

Our ancestors and heredity travel in the blood we share alongside her birthfather’s side. Where they deliver her remains to be seen but when she comes to my door, wherever that is, she will be welcomed home.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes. Reunhref=”http://reunioneyes.blogspot.com/2012/08/indigeny.html” target=”_blank”>ReunionEyes.

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One response to “Indigenous

  1. i like the way you talked about how eli will never be seen in china as one from the town he teaches at. he will always be an outsider no matter what he may accomplish. an awkward feeling as cathy tried to meld into our family.

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