Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Facebook Family Reunion

For most of my life, I've heard the stories from my mother about her side of the family. My grandmother: the uncaring, cold woman who didn't know the first thing about having a real relationship. My grandfather: the hard-working entrepreneur who made it possible for them to eat glazed duck during the holidays. My aunt, whom she fought with often and who didn't really have enough direction in life to make something of herself. And then, of course, my uncle -"The Golden Boy."

"Golden" because he was my grandmother's favorite and he became a doctor. He couldn't do anything wrong. He was "it" - the perfect savior that automatically won the approval of my grandparents for all of his choices in life. Like most members of my extended family, I didn't know them well. In fact, most of them I couldn't recall meeting. There were sporadic cards, pictures, and perhaps a phone conversation or two growing up, but nothing substantial. They lived in Chicago or California and we were in Colorado. Physical distance is sometimes a representation of emotional distance. An emotional distance that was really about my mom's relationship with them rather than mine.

Still, I always wondered. They were family, but I had no emotional connection or true knowledge of what they were like. I heard a lot of negative things, so a piece of me thanked the stars that I was lucky enough to not know them. The other piece felt empty. All of my friends knew their grandparents, their cousins, their aunts and uncles. But I didn't.

I saw my aunt a few times when she came out to visit. Once when I was in grade school and the other when I was in undergrad. Her girls were still young then. She didn't really look like my mom. She was tall and thin, with darker hair and a darker complexion. I liked her though. Quiet, like me. Some would label that as being timid, but I've never been one to assume that the two words mean the same thing. A few of the neighbors said we looked alike, but I knew it was because I had my dad's dark hair and a hint of his olive-toned oily-skinned complexion. Sometimes I think the only things I didn't get were his hazel blue eyes.

My grandmother I saw once at 17 and then again this past summer. We talked for awhile during my brother's graduation reception. I liked her too. She wasn't the monster my mom had painted her out to be. She's a woman of few words too, but I could tell she was genuinely trying. She said she was proud of me. Me. A granddaughter she hadn't seen in 17 years.

She was proud of me for putting myself through an MBA program while working full-time and buying my first house on my own, without any financial help. She told me that it was too bad that I couldn't go up to the mountains with the rest of the family for Memorial Day weekend because I had to work. For the first time, I saw her through my own lens and I knew that I was looking at a good person.

Last week my uncle came out to visit with his wife and his teenage son. They were in Colorado Springs for my cousin's hockey tournament and flew up to Denver to spend a few days with us before heading back to California. We'd all Facebooked each other before actually meeting face to face. I checked them out beforehand - this uncle, aunt by marriage, and cousin that I had never known. The pictures showed the family resemblance. His Facebook pseudonym "Doc K" kind of reiterated what my mom had been hinting at. But, I told myself I wasn't going to judge. I would keep an open mind. I was excited to meet these people that weren't supposed to be strangers.

Well, "Doc K," so far you're my favorite. Ornery, with the sarcastic sense of humor gene that seems to have skipped my mom and planted itself in her oldest daughter. You have a touch of self-effacing narcissism, if that's even possible. Something I can relate to.

You're my favorite because you told your oldest sister that my dreams are not a matter of "if," they're a matter of "when." For that, I thank you. Even though we haven't known each other, somehow you understood perfectly without an explanation. Your wife and your son seem just as wonderful and I look forward to the possibility of seeing you more often someday.

And finally, I'm grateful that I was able to see you through my own eyes so that my perspective could become less cloudy. I'm honored to say that you're now my family, in every sense of the word.


  1. Helen, I am very happy for you! How wonderful it is to meet your "family" and make your own decisions.

  2. Thanks! It was a great experience!