Thursday, July 21, 2005

Family Matters

We're leaving this morning for a family reunion. We'll depart from our home in East Texas and drive until we feel like stopping. Then we'll get up Friday morning and drive some more. Our goal is to end up in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Or "Little Bavaria" as the travel brochures bill it. Of course, it wouldn't really matter where we ended up. It's not about the place. It's about the people.

This particular reunion is a gathering of the Macedonian side of my husband's family. If you saw the movie, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," you have a pretty good idea of what it's like to gather with these folks. They're a colorful bunch. We eat lots of food. We dance traditional circle dances. People share old pictures and reminisce about days gone by. This year we plan to have a jam session one evening, so everyone is bringing musical instruments.

Sound fun? It really is. My husband's father is a 1st generation American. His parents immigrated from Bitola in Macedonia. They came through Ellis Island. When the officials there asked the husband his name, he answered in his language. What he said sounded like "Tony Damoff" to English speaking ears, so a new last name was born. It all seems so happenstance at first, until you stop and think about all the people through all the generations that culminated in the moment Tony Damoff received his new name. A name he would pass on to his future American children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren . . .

Why am I telling you this? Because family matters. The people you came from--your recent and distant ancestors--are part of the fabric of who you are. They've influenced your appearance and abilities. Their choices have possibly affected where you live, the kind of food you eat, the professional careers of your relatives.

It's easy to get caught up in the now, forgetting the generations gone before. It's also easy to slip into an attitude of annoyance with family--to prefer friends over those whose blood runs in our veins. It's easy, and even natural, as we grow up to gravitate toward independence and individuality. And that's okay. But I want to encourage you today to take a good look at your roots. Do you have aging grandparents or aunts and uncles? Have you ever asked them about their lives? Or asked what they know about their parents and grandparents. The stories they'd tell might surprise and enthrall you.

I'm leaving for a family reunion this morning--a gathering of folks related to me by marriage only. But their family tree provides half the ancestral history for my kids. I want to know and understand them. I want to hear their stories and imagine what it would have been like to live their lives. Some of them can still remember their parents' village life in Macedonia--a world I'll never experience, unless I take this opportunity to live it through their tales.

Sure, family gatherings can be stressful. Not everyone gets along with everyone else. Histories are sometimes not so pleasant to recall. Grudges are not always forgiven and forgotten. No family is perfect. They all have their black sheep. But every family has its heroes, too. Do you know about yours? If not, today would be a good day to start a discovery that could tell you more about yourself than you ever imagined.

Family matters. I hope to know and love mine well. And I hope the same for you.

No comments: