Saturday, January 29, 2011

Family, What Is It? To Me! To You!

Way back when, when humans lived an average age of 40 it was considered necessary to have a great deal of children, especially males, since they provided security in times of attack and strength in tilling the land. Women were good for cooking, cleaning and breeding, but considering the short life span they were probably married shortly after menstruation so they could start to provide men children. Looking at the Jewish scriptures we can see that it was a mitzvah to have many male offspring and a curse to the the wife if she couldn't provide at least one offspring. Sirach 3:1-16 describes children's duties toward their parents.
Some of the wisdom espoused shows the thinking that described a good family by making plain the children should honor and love their parents and they will be blessed. It is not surprising that parents duties towards children are not explicitly enumerated because back in Sirach's time children had no rights but the good parents knew to love them instinctively. Duties of family life, religion and charity are covered in 7:18-36.The book of Sirach is interesting from a look at the mores of a Jewish society many years before Christ.

My Grandmother was married in 1879 at the age of 14 and began having children within a year. She had 13, the first 7 died from various childhood diseases and childbirth. Thank God the last six survived especially because one of them was my mother. I am not sure of the exact dates but my grandmother on my father's side was married in the late 1800's and had children every two years or so I am told until, counting twins and such she totaled an output of, and this I could never get an exact total from my Dad or Aunt, around 18.Of course one of them was my Dad for which I am eternally thankful. You see if it wasn't for the exact people that produced them I would never have been. From both of these people I learned about family. Even though it was only my brother and me we had such an extended family we never felt we came from a small family. Without asking, it was obvious, family was there to nurture, help, protect and provide the feeling of, "Us against the world!". Within the cocoon there was much arguing, but never to the extent that they forgot who they were and from whom they came from. There was much laughter, sharing and love in this cocoon Our cousins were like brothers and sisters except for the older ones who we called aunts and uncles.

When my time came, I met a beautiful young girl, not as young as my grandmothers were, but 21 was young. We fell in love and were fruitful, six boys and one girl. And we formed a family that started with 7 children in 8 years, one set of twins. As my wife and I got older our family grew. As we got older many of our family passed on to greater glory and many dispersed over this great country of ours. Taking root was our younger family. There were signs of cohesiveness showing itself. The guys were always covering up for themselves as was the only girl as she impersonated her mother when the high school would call up to register another complaint. One incident stands out. About 35 years ago one Halloween one of my sons got hit with a BB pellet. My older sons wanted to even the score invoking the "family" right. I stopped that saying we shouldn't be causing more harm. It seems this guy who did this went around the neighborhood bragging that our guys were cowards. My oldest found him in his class one morning and tapped him on his shoulder and said something like "I hear you been talking about us.", and proceeded to pop him one in the mouth causing him to lose a tooth or two and bleed a lot. His parents made him come with the cops to each classroom but he couldn't or wouldn't identify the culprit. I showd my oldest great disdain for this act but secretly I was happy as the family "honor" lived for another day.

I could recount many times when my family acted in the manner that the Jewish scriptures implied a family should act but I will tell of the time that my house was struck by a lightening bolt which caused a fire resulting in my house being destroyed by fire, smoke and water and two days later my insurance company went bankrupt leaving me in a dilemma which I wasn't sure I'd come out of.  At the time my wife was in a nursing home and all the children were married or out on their own. But as the world was crumbling before me I looked up and saw one son, then another and pretty soon everyone was informed and my daughter was there and most of my sons. I was offered housing and I took up the offer of my Daughter-in-law even though I knew she wasn't sure if this would be a good idea. I took her up on the offer as the house was near the nursing home and I made the promise to myself that I would be on my good behavior. Then I looked up and saw my brother who had heard about the disaster and showed up for support even though he was gravely ill at the time. Since the insurance company went bankrupt and had offices in Alabama, a home office in Texas, and the State would step in as the insurer of last resort, we had to move the claim out of Alabama and Texas into New York and once there had to get the claim processed which is not a fast process in this bureaucratic setup. My son the lawyer took over this project and spent a myriad of hours pushing this through. Once we got this to New York we had to go through the insurance process and my oldest son walked through the burned out house many times with the adjuster to get the dollar amounts of personal loss right. Meanwhile the rebuilding process started and this was accepted by a builder who agreed to wait for the insurance payment not realizing the time that was going to be involved. When he realized the wait he tried to nickel and dime us on everything my second son and my daughter-in-law along with my son the lawyer spent many hours trying to get the builder to do it right. Believe me with my Mother dieing a week after the house was destroyed and my brother dieing some four months after that and my wife hanging on to life but getting worse until she expired in Jan. 2008, I just wouldn't have been able to handle any of this. My family rallied around me, lifted me and saved me. The old biblical reason, have a family large enough to protect you when you get old and can't protect yourself, certainly proved to be as true today as it was some 5000 years ago.

What is family to me? A group of people who love one-another, care for one-another, and enjoy one-another never forgetting where they came from and where they are going. My old family, cousins now since my Aunts and Uncles have left, we can get together sometimes after not seeing each other for quite a time and it feels just as comfortable and homey as it always had. With a little bit of melancholy we realize we are passing the baton to the later generation but we never forget from whence we came and the genes we share. My family which stared with seven children now has expanded to include their spouses and along with 10 grandchildren, some of which are getting quite old, in their 20's, one great grandson and their current squeezes which expand and contract seemingly at will number just under 30. One cousins party we had about 50 or so. Somehow it felt like home even though some of the younger ones didn't know all who were there.  So there are some of my thoughts about family and what it means to me. What does family mean to you?    
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