Family is such fertile ground. I feel as though, even though the same crops are grown there over and over again, generation by generation, there is enough rotation to keep the soil rich enough to produce hearty stock.
I grew up knowing that my mother's side of the family was a matriarchy. Yes, there were boys and men, but their numbers were far fewer (and their voices much less boisterous) than the women and girls. I suppose there were times when we females abused our power, but more often we reveled in it - celebrated it. We cooked and laughed and played hard. We spent summers on the beach, kicking up sand and surf, playing volleyball and scraping the tar from the soles of our feet with turpentine-soaked rags. We collapsed in heaps at the end of the day, our bellies full of barbecued chicken and baked beans, and snickered as we listened to the adults pour more wine and raise their voices to be heard over each other.
Returning to this nest for my cousin's wedding last weekend, I was excited for another generation to experience what I knew as a kid: this family is all about family. Eve and Lola found their second and third cousins and, within minutes were devising games and giggling and chasing each other around the room. Now that my mom and her siblings are the oldest generation, they have slowed down a bit and from time to time they seemed acutely aware of their status as the elders. They have tightened their ranks around each other a little more as the vulnerabilities of age creep in, leaving no doubt that this is one group that will look out for each other.
With all fertile ground, some weeds creep in. There are decades-old hurts that rub like sandpaper on tender flesh and some new issues that require a delicate touch. There are stories that have grown with each re-telling and some of them have thin walls that bulge out like aneurisms ready to burst. On the flight home, I was reading "Waiting for Snow in Heaven" and when I came to the following quote, I had to catch my breath, "Loss and gain are Siamese twins, joined at the heart. So are death and life, hell and paradise." And so, in this family, on this special occasion when one of us was getting married and the rest were coming together in celebration, we felt the losses as acutely as the love. My grandfather, a larger-than-life personality if there ever was one, was sorely missed, but attached to that sadness (joined at the heart) is the gratitude that comes from being among these people who know us so well and love us anyway.
I wrote once before about the notion that the abrasive nature of emotional pain, while uncomfortable, may be simply a way to open up more space for love and joy. I may decide I like that metaphor better than Carlos Eire's metaphor of Siamese twins. But for now, I am content to acknowledge that the two are part and parcel of each other and turn my face more toward the light.