I was thinking about my in-laws the other evening. I loved them, and haven’t seen them in nearly 10 years. They are a close knit family, grounded, smart, and unpretentious. We communicated in an amusing mix of languages, and got along well for more than a decade.
I remember how proud my father-in-law was when I produced the first grandsons – one right after the other. Yes – he wanted boys, and boys he got, to carry on the family name which could be traced back to 13th century church records.
The Catholic church that is, and I’m not Catholic (nor are my boys). But that was never an issue; the family wasn’t religious, but they were traditional. We celebrated a careful combination of holidays, honoring a diverse and rich heritage.
We still do so, with relish.
In reminiscing (it happens this time of year), I was recalling family Christmases in Europe, with the noisy gathering of four generations that included children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren.
During any visit, there were drives on desolate roads from one tiny rural town to another, to see an uncle or a cousin. There were days and nights of delectable foods, wonderful drink, and lively discussion. There were long breakfasts over piping coffee and honey bread, lunches that were multi-course affairs extending over hours, light suppers of charcuterie and salad, followed by conversation and porto that went until late, and we needed to sleep. Everything was both simpler and richer, moving at a more leisurely pace.
I used to travel overseas on business, and I’d take my wiggling, smiling babes with me whenever I could, entrusting them to my in-laws who were thrilled to see their grandsons. My mother-in-law would make her famous leek soup (delicious), and my father-in-law would teach me more expressions in his regional dialect, laugh at my pronunciation, then drive me to the high-speed train and I’d be off to do the corporate thing, knowing my babies were in good hands.
Baths and babies
Earlier this week I chuckled while reading Black Market Baptism, compliments of a caustic counselor’s random musings. It reminded me of my own boys’ baptism by bubble bath (or so the tale unfolded, years after the fact). It seems, during one or two of those business trips when my sons were in the care of their grandmother, she may have performed an “emergency baptism” on each, in the bath… “just in case.”
My former in-laws are not religious. In fact, they only attend church for weddings, baptisms, and funerals, even though the lovely edifice with its tolling bells sits in the center of the small town square, barely a block from their home.
So when I heard about the emergency baptism, all I could do was smile. As for the gods of any faith, if they were watching, surely they’re in favor of contingency plans gifted, in secret, by a well-meaning grandmother.
When the marriage ended, my ex’s family cut all ties with me. That was the beginning of a long series of difficult lessons – the collateral damage when I do becomes I don’t. Divorce is a dismantling of two families; it is more than two people ending a relationship and dividing up assets. It is more than children shuttled between homes or living with one parent and rarely seeing the other. Divorce, for some of us, is a hundred tiny hurts that pop up when you don’t expect, and linger over the years.
I made certain – as I did when they were babies – that my sons knew their European side; my elder son in particular has forged close bonds with the cousins, aunts, and uncles. But for me, missing those I considered family resurfaces this time of year. So I cling to memories – sweet memories – of another time, and acts of love.
© D A Wolf