Wednesday, April 20, 2016
A sailor in the fields, a treasure in the trees
When I was 6, my mother & I took a walk in the fields to inspect the fruit we'd be selling at the market later on in the week. I liked walking with Mom, because it made me feel closer to her, & I liked being outdoors, too. My two closest brothers--one a year older & the other a year younger than me--were at home, building block houses under the care of our second eldest teen brother. It was the end of summer, & the fruiting season was at its peak. We turned a corner & found a stranger up in one of the trees, eating our fruit! We were all surprised to meet like that.
My mother recovered first & greeted the stranger. The stranger said hello back in a quiet voice. I was curious & nervous about what was going to happen next. There was a thief in our fields, eating our crops that we were going to sell that weekend! Who was this stranger? How did he get here? What was going to happen?
These questions raced in my mind as the thief climbed down the fruit tree. When he reached the bottom & stood on the ground, I recognized him as one of the older teens who hung around the front of the pool hall. He was the same age as my older teen siblings, & I've seen him talk to my second eldest brother before, but as a courteous gesture, not as friends.
He looked dirty. His clothes had holes & tears. He had no shoes. I thought maybe he had taken them off before climbing the tree. But I looked around & there were none to be seen. He was really skinny, all bones & gangly. His mouth was stained with fruit juices & the evidence was in his hands. His eyes, they were the grayest eyes that I had ever seen, almost pale like the skies before the thunderstorms rolled in. In those eyes, I saw fear & resignation. I couldn't tell whether he was afraid or sad...probably both.
My mother asked him for his name. He spoke softly. Then my mother asked him if he wanted to join us for lunch. I didn't know who was more shocked, Gray eyes or me as we both shot a look of surprise at my mother!
My mother said she was making fried egg sandwiches for lunch, one of my favorites! And all misgivings I had about the stranger quickly vanished as I thought about that delicious sandwich.
When we got back to the house, my two closest brothers & my second eldest brother greeted us, surprised & curious about our visitor. Gray eyes & my elder brother acknowledged each other as the three of us youngest boys just stared, before running into the kitchen when we realized that Mom was making fried egg sandwiches!
In the meantime, my mother had Gray eyes wash his hands & face, dry off, then join us at the table. He & my elder brother exchanged small talk while the three of us youngsters tried to listen, but then we got distracted by the cats attracted to the commotion & smell of food coming from the kitchen. My mother put us three to work, getting the cats food & water. Then she had us wash up for lunch.
The fried egg sandwiches were awesome as always. Then we put the dishes in the sink, & Mom tasked us three to fetch a guest towel & grab a bundle of clothing from her closet. These were the clothes my parents had gotten for some twin cousins my elder brother's & Gray eyes' age. The cousins were coming from out of the country to visit & stay for almost a month. The clothes were going to be a gift & souvenirs as they had local & regional logos on them. My mother gave the towel & clothes to Gray eyes & sent him off to shower & change. She told him to leave his dirty clothes out for my elder brother to put in the laundry.
My elder brother (from here on in will be referred to as Cool guy) seemed to know everyone & everyone said hi to him, chatting him up. Also, he slicked & styled his hair with product & wore an old black leather jacket that made him look cool, like a vintage biker, especially with his jean cuffs rolled up & when he stood next to our Dad's old motorcycle. Dad had given his old motorcycle to our brother as a gift, for being a responsible rider, a hard worker, & so he could attend all his school & community clubs & activities without having to wait for the truck or catching the bus.
Cool guy was really active & we rarely saw him chilling at home. Most days, he'd do his chores then take off on his motorcycle to attend some activity or club meeting. Sometimes he'd be gone all night & we wouldn't see him until the next day when he came back to do his chores, change, then take off again. Dude had a pretty active social life & rarely had time hang out with us three bratty baby brothers.
The only time we'd hang out with him were days when his chores included babysitting us, because our elder sisters were busy elsewhere. We didn't mind Cool guy watching us. He was hands off & let us run wild. That was a good thing, fun for us, much more preferable compared to our sisters' method, where they treated us like prisoners & they were the wardens, locking down our activities & freedom, ordering us around, strict & mean.
But with Cool guy's hands off approach, we were liable to get scratches & minor injuries as we ran freely & explored all over the farm & surrounding area. And all that running around meant that we'd be tired out & take a long nap in the afternoon, sleep til our parents got home, which is probably a big reason why he let us run wild & tire ourselves out. Cool guy was pretty clever, too.
My mother instructed the three of us to feed the dogs & put out the water bowls. It was getting hot. As we fed the dogs off the back porch, I could hear my mother ask Cool guy about Gray eyes.
My brother revealed that Gray eyes was from the outskirts of town, his family went to a different church to a different town. Rumor was he was either kicked out or ran away from home. Either way, there were whispers that his drunk father beat his mother, & when Gray eyes intervened, he got beaten, too.
My mother sent Cool guy to the store to buy Gray eyes some socks & shoes. Then she got on the phone & spoke to my father about what was going on.
Later that evening, before sitting down to dinner, my parents had a talk with Gray eyes. At dinner, my parents announced that Gray eyes would be staying with us for a while. And he'd help us on the farm & go to school in the fall. My elder brothers & eldest sister took the news pretty well, as did the three of us youngest who spent the day pestering Gray eyes til Cool guy sent us outside to the swings. My middle elder sisters expressed some curiosity before quickly returning to thinking only of themselves, the self absorbed, vain, teenage monster drama queens that they were.
It wasn't unusual for us to have people stay & work at the farm from time to time. We could always use an extra pair of hands. And we had a small bunkhouse that housed two beds for anyone needing a place to stay for a bit. My parents often took in a lot of people that way. Most were down on their luck, needing some help to get back on their feet, & my parents gave them that help.
Some stayed for months; a few, years. But they all left us on good terms & in much better conditions than when they first arrived. And these people never forgot my parents. Over the years they'd come back to visit or send an occasional letter or holiday card. But the true testament of their gratitude showed when they all came for my father's funeral, & then again, for my mother's.
Hearing their stories of how our parents kindness & generosity helped them in the darkest of times comforted me, because I was reminded of my parents love. Yet they also made me sad, because my parents were gone. But seeing those whose lives were positively affected by my parents gave me hope, because it demonstrated the power of love, kindness, & generosity to make the world a much better place.
My parents said that Gray eyes would stay in Cool guy's & my eldest brother's room. And my elder brothers quickly informed Gray eyes to keep his stuff in the footlocker locked up, because we three youngest were likely to snoop in & go through their stuff. My elder brothers were right, because we loved going into their room & rifling through their stuff, no matter how many times we've been warned or punished by our brothers, the temptation to explore their room was too much excitement for us! This was especially true on rainy & stormy days when we were stuck indoors & desperate to have fun & explore.
My father commented that having Gray eyes around would be a great help, as the three of us youngest were pretty useless. He joked that we were too short to reach the fruits, too weak to lift the carrying crates, & we couldn't count nor add the fruits & crates fast enough. Also, we were more likely to eat the fruit instead of picking off debris like we were supposed to. We laughed because he was right on all counts!
Later that evening on a walk to the store, Cool guy pointed out Gray eyes' mother as she was standing alone at the bus stop. My mother left me in Cool guy's hands & approached Gray eyes' mom. My mother introduced herself, then informed Gray eyes' mom that he was living with us, so don't worry, but we'd take care of him & make sure he'd finish school & help him find his way.
His mom looked surprised, then grateful, & tearfully thanked my mother. The poor woman had spent the day looking for her son, & she was waiting for the bus to take her downtown to the police station to report her missing son. She was truly moved & grateful that we had taken him in. My mother told her that she was welcomed to come visit any time. She'd visit us a few times to see her son, but she stayed with her husband.
Domestic issues are complicated issues. And it's hard to understand what's going on & how to solve the problem.
Gray eyes stayed with us for three years, a whole year after he graduated high school to help out on the farm when things got tough after my father suddenly passed away. We treated him like family, & in time, he saw us as a second family. He was nice to us youngest three boys, so naturally, we treated him nicely in return, & we loved spending time with him. He seemed to enjoy looking after us, too.
Whereas Cool guy was hands off & let us roam free & wild, Gray eyes kept watch & intervened when we started to do something risky. He allowed us enough freedom to explore & play safely, & he cared enough to keep us from getting hurt from doing stupid, reckless things. He was a very good older brother to us, & we liked him a lot.
My parents often introduced him as their son, & they treated him as such. He had chores & responsibilities like the rest of us. He joined us in all the family activities--from going to church, picnics, vacations, visits to other relatives, just cruising around, & so forth. Dad taught him how to drive, even letting him take the truck a few times to meet his friends to hangout or do some social or club activity. Mom & Dad once joked that he was the best thing to come out of the farm fields--he was a real treasure, the best find ever on a fruit tree.
But by far, Gray eyes' favorite activities with the family were the fishing & boating activities. He'd never done either before, but that first week with us, when we took a family fishing day, he was hooked. Dad's company would occasionally require meeting & entertaining clients & partners on certain ventures. And being on the coast, the company had nice boats to take the clients out to see the beauty & wonders of the beaches, sea, & coastline. It often entailed some fishing, & my Dad loved fishing.
Mom loved fishing, too. In fact, my parents frequently had night fishing expeditions, just the two of them, sometimes joined by our elder siblings. But night fishing was like date night to them. And they always brought back neat catches like octopus, squid, even crabs & lobsters, along with the fish. Only the older siblings were allowed to go night fishing with our parents. And a few times, they'd join our parents on one night or another. But Gray eyes always went, never missing an opportunity to go to sea & fish.
Because Gray eyes loved the sea, it was natural for Dad to have Gray eyes' join him on the company boat trips. My older siblings who'd accompany Dad on the boat trips explained to us that it was a job. On the boats, they tended to the clients, feeding them, helping them fish, & keep the boat clean & running smoothly. They got paid for it, but they didn't like getting up in the dark hours before dawn to ready the boat & supplies, & they weren't too thrilled to waste a weekend serving silly clients & cleaning up after their mess. So they often moaned when Dad asked which of them was going to join him on an upcoming boat trip.
And while the others groaned, Grey eyes actually lit up & always volunteered to go. Pretty soon, it was just him & Dad who went on the boat trips. For longer overnight boating trips, Mom would go help them--I suspect to get away & enjoy some night fishing; & she'd leave my eldest sister, the smart one, but most importantly, the nice one, in charge of the household.
Dad & Gray eyes going on the boat trip became a regular thing, much to the joy & relief of my older siblings who weren't too thrilled to be working on the seas. Dad was happy to have Gray eyes join him; it was nice to have someone along who actually enjoyed the sea & fishing, just like him. Every two weeks, they'd plan a fishing trip for the family, & sometimes we'd all go. But half the time, it was just Gray eyes & Dad. Even if it was just a few hours in the day, they seemed to have a blast, even if they didn't catch much.
The two of them had become very close. In Gray eyes, my Dad found a son who shared his love of the seas & adventure, a kindred spirit. In Dad, Gray eyes found a father, someone who genuinely cared for him & loved him. So it was just a devastating loss to him as well when our father suddenly passed away.
When Cool guy moved away to start his own life, my mother spoke to Gray eyes & told him that he didn't owe her anything, that he didn't have to stay on the farm. She wanted him to follow his own dreams & find his own path. And that wherever he went or whatever happened in the future, he'd always have a home here with a family who loved him & cherished him. That was the second time I had seen Gray eyes cry. The first was at my father's funeral the year before.
By the end of the summer, Gray eyes had joined the navy, to fulfill his desire to see world & sail the high seas. We were sad to see him go, but we were also proud. We wouldn't see him for two years as his assignment had him travelling the distant corners of the globe. Though he did spend a few holidays with us over the years & he always sent holiday cards & birthday & mothers day cards to my Mom & his.
Eventually, he was stationed overseas on the other side of the world, occasionally calling or writing us. We wouldn't see him again for years until his honeymoon, when he brought his new wife home & introduced her to the family. They stayed with us for two weeks. Whereas I imagined more exotic destinations for a honeymoon, Mrs Gray eyes seemed genuinely happy to see & explore the farm, especially an American farm! I'm pretty sure they had chickens & goats & pigs on the farms back in her country. But she also loved the variety of plants & vegetables & fruit we had growing on the farm.
Gray eyes made it a point to show his wife the wonders of the farm & fields & surrounding woods, proud to call this place home. It made me a bit proud, too, to hear him describe the farm with such reverence & pride.
The truth was, I was getting older & had develop the urge to travel & explore those far off places that Gray eyes had seen. Hearing him describe his travels & adventures mesmerized us & made me want to leave my remote coast for more! I wanted to see the world, like Gray eyes & Cool guy had! I wanted to share in their adventures & have my own.
I suspect that Gray eyes also came home so he could introduce his new wife to his real mother. His mother was our guest the entire two weeks the honeymooners stayed with us. His father was out of sight, out of mind.
It was a wonderful visit. My older siblings came home to see & visit Gray eyes & his new wife. It was a pleasure to take the honeymooners to explore the sights & enjoy the beach & some boating & fishing. Those two weeks were like a festival. We had guests & well wishers & visiting family stop by to greet & congratulate the newly weds. The daily laughter we shared as we told stories & teased each other, the music we played & danced to each day, the games we played for fun, & the variety of food we prepared & shared at each meal made those two weeks a celebratory event that brought us so much joy & comfort.
It was the first large gathering of the family together in years, the last time being the Christmas holiday after my father had passed. And it was so wonderful to have everyone together again, even if some of them still treated me like a useless child. So naturally, I did my best to annoy them, because I was a spoiled brat. The honeymoon visit had transformed into a family reunion & a reaffirmation of our close bonds as a family. It was a wonderful way to be closer & laugh together once more, to cherish our ties & our time together for as long as we could. We were a family, & though we had spread apart over the years, we were still a family, bound by loyalty & love.
A year later, Gray eyes returned to visit for a week. It was enough time to hang out & get his mother's paperwork straightened out. At the end of the week, they left together to go live at his place overseas where his wife was waiting. His father, left behind & forgotten.
We would not see Gray eyes & his clan for years. But we still wrote & called each other occasionally. His mother lived many years & long enough to see all four of her grandchildren, the oldest boy was named after my father, the oldest girl, after my mother.
And when the time came, I left home to find my own path & adventure. I lost contact with Gray eyes. Life gets in the way when you're too busy making plans for it. For several years, we only exchanged news through my mother, as she maintained contact with all her kids, including Gray eyes. Gray eyes & his family made a few more visits to Mom when the kids were just babies. And Mom loved having them visit & put their pictures up on walls, next to the pictures of all her other kids & grandkids.
The last time I saw Gray eyes was a few years ago at Mom's passing. It had been well over a decade since we had last seen each other. And once again, the whole family had gathered together back home, this time to bid our mother good bye.
The day after she passed away, a group of us were hanging out on the veranda, our mother's favorite hangout spot. Gray eyes' kids were playing with their cousins when the youngest one wanted to know how was it possible that he had three grandmothers?
So Gray eyes picked up his youngest son, put him on his lap, & told his story of how he came to this place. He spoke about how his own childhood was not a very happy one, because his real father used to drink a lot, & sometimes, he got very angry & hit his mother & him. One day, when he was older, his father was really drunk & messed up & hit his mother. He tried to stop him, but his father beat him instead. He fought his father off & pushed him away.
His father kicked him out of the house, & all he had were the clothes he was wearing, now torn from fighting off his father, & he had no shoes. He didn't know where to go or what to do. He wandered at the edge of town. A few people saw him. Some neighbors knew what had happened to him, but no one offered to help him.
Eventually, he wandered off to the woods out of town. He found a tree to sit under & watched the sun go down. It was summer, so it was warm, so he didn't have to worry about the cold or having to start a fire. His stomach grumbled because he was hungry. The only thing he'd eaten for breakfast was a piece of toast left over from the day before. But he was also so very tired & sore, so he laid down & cried himself to sleep.
Hearing Gray eyes tell his tragic story made my eyes water up. A few of my siblings & relatives were weeping. Even the children were silent, the very young unsure if we were crying over grandmother's passing again or was there something else going on?
I could not imagine how terrible & terrifying it must have been to grow up in an abusive, violent home. I could not imagine the fear & horror of watching someone you love getting beaten, hurt by the very person who was suppose to love them. I couldn't imagine the terror of getting beat up daily & then having to fight for your life. I couldn't imagine being thrown out to be homeless, shoeless, beaten, hurting, hungry.
And my heart ached as I thought of him, beaten & homeless, the callous neighbors & people ignoring his plight. He was just a child! You knew he was hurting, you saw his pain, yet you did nothing, you did not help him!
I wept for the beaten, homeless, shoeless, hurting, & hungry child. I wept as I imagined him curled under a tree in the wilderness, all alone, like an animal abandoned & left to fend for himself.
Gray eyes continued his story. The next day, hunger woke him up before the sun rose. And when there was enough light, he started looking around for fruits or berries or anything he could eat. His search took him through the woods to the other side of the hills, & when he looked down, he saw rows of fruit trees, full of delicious fruit ripe for the picking.
He stood at the hillside, wondering what to do next, but his hunger drove him down the hill, out of the woods, over the wooden fence, & up the nearest fruit tree.
He picked a fruit, took a bite, & it was so delicious, the sweetest & juiciest fruit he had ever had. He ate all of it, & he was about to reach for another when suddenly, there was a commotion below, & he was surprised to see a lady with a small child staring up at him.
I smiled, as I instantly recalled that first meeting. He wasn't the only one surprised at our first encounter. We all were.
He froze, not sure of what to do. He panicked, thinking about the trouble he was in for trespassing & eating the fruit. But then the lady said hello.
She didn't sound angry, & she didn't look mad. So he said hello back & climbed down the tree. He felt terrible for sneaking into someone's land & stealing their fruit.
The lady asked him for his name. He was sure he was in trouble now. But he told her his name anyway. He may have been caught a thief, but he was not going to be a liar as well. He comforted himself with the thought that at least in jail, he'd have a place to sleep, clothes & shoes to wear, & they'd feed him.
Hearing Gray eyes talk like that immediately made me remember that first time when I noticed his eyes, & how they were full of sadness & resignation, fear & sorrow.
But then, Gray eyes continued, the lady asked me if I wanted to join them for lunch. I was shocked, but I took up her offer & followed them back to the house. There, I met three of your uncles, including Cool guy, who I knew from school.
The lady told me to wash my hands & had me sit at the kitchen table with your uncles. Then she made us lunch. Do you know what she made? He paused to ask his youngest. The child shook his head & asked, What did she make?
Gray eyes looked at the child's own gray eyes & whispered as if revealing some great secret. It was fried egg sandwiches!
Oooh, exclaimed the child excitedly, I like fried egg sandwiches! They're my favorite!
Me, too, said Gray eyes.
Me, three, I thought to myself & smiled, thinking back to my own excitement at having fried egg sandwiches for lunch. It's still one of my favorite sandwiches, a definite comfort food for me. And by the sound of it, it was the same for Gray eyes, & he'd shared that love of fried egg sandwiches with his children.
I thought of my mother. Mom, you may not be here anymore, but the food you made & the love you put in them live on, & they continue to nurture us & make us smile. And I suddenly remember my mother, standing at the stove, making fried egg sandwiches, because she knew we loved them. And I was painfully reminded again that she was gone, & I'd never enjoy another meal she would lovingly prepare for us.
Oh, how my heart ached! Oh, how I longed to see Mom once more, to hear her voice, to see her smile, to be near her & feel her love for us. Just one more day. Oh, how I longed for just one more day with her. I wasn't ready to say goodbye. This was just too much to bear. It was too hard to breathe; it was too painful to move. My soul was breaking. A tear formed & threatened to escape my eye. But I leaned my head back to keep it from falling, & listened to the rest of Gray eyes' story.
Gray eyes said that after lunch, the lady got him a clean towel & brand new clothes. She told him to go shower, & when he was done & had put on his new clothes, he came out to find new socks & new shoes for his feet!
He was moved by the lady's kindness. And when her husband came home that evening, they invited him to stay with them, & help out on the farm. He'd have a place to stay & he could go to school in the fall & earn a little money working on the farm.
That evening was the first time he'd ever had a nice dinner with a nice family. The food was wonderful & they laughed & talked & joked around, & they treated him very well. It was the first time that anyone had ever been so kind & generous with him.
He shared a room with the older boys his age. And for the first time in his life, he could fall asleep feeling safe, content, & happy. And when a single tear rolled down the corner of his eye, it was because he felt lucky, he was grateful, he felt joy.
The lady told his mother not to worry as they were taking care of him. She invited his mom to visit, & she came as often as she could. She still couldn't bring herself to leave her husband, but she was very thankful that her son was safe & happy.
And I was happy, for the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to have people treat you nicely & care for you & love you so very much. By the end of the month, I felt like I belonged, & I was comfortable enough to call them family. The lady & her husband, they had called me son since the first day we met.
They are my second family. They showed me love & they cared for me & protected me & help me grow up strong & happy. The lady saved my life. They saved my life & gave me a home. They helped me save my mother, your other grandmother. The lady was a second mother to me, & her husband was a great father to me. That lady loved me & treated me like her own child, & I loved her as if she were my own mother. She became my other mother, & her husband became my other father. That's how she became your third grandmother.
My last summer growing up here, she talked with me & encouraged me to follow my heart & my dreams. She told me that she wanted me to be happy, that I would always have a place to call home, right here. And that I was her son, & that a family is made up of love, & that she loved me very much. And wherever I go & whatever happens, she would always love me & think of me & wish me the best. I would always be welcomed; I would always be loved & cherished.
And though you don't remember meeting her, I can honestly tell you that she loved you very much, because she told me so. And she said it to you when you were just a baby the last time we visited. She was very excited when I called her about all your births. She was so happy to see you all & hold you all in her arms. And she loved the pictures of you all that we had sent to her; & she took a lot more pictures of you all when we visited. That's how your baby pictures ended up on the walls in the living room.
And I'm very sad that she's passed on now, because her love & care is the reason why I'm still here, why I was able to meet your mother & have you kids. I will always remember her love & kindness. And I'm going to love you & care for you all just as much as she did for me, & then I'm going to love you some more!
He tickled his young son then, & it was a joyous sound to hear the small child's laughter happily fill the air. And the world was suddenly brighter & lighter & made beautiful once more. I could breathe again, I could see light once more.
I thought of Mom & I smiled. The past two weeks I'd worried about her as she faded from life. And when she passed peacefully, surrounded by loved ones, after having seen all her kids once more, I felt relief. I'd grieve because the loss was terrible & devastating. But I smile now & have hope as I think of her legacy of love & kindness, the proof was in the many children & those children's children, whose lives were made possible & richer & more wonderful by a mother's (& father's) love.
I have to confess that I was a little unsure & uneasy if this was a story I should be sharing. After all, it's not my story to tell but my brother's. It's very personal & private & I was afraid of speaking of things that I had no right to talk about. I do not want to betray my brother's trust. It's a horrible feeling when you break someone's trust, especially if that is someone you love. No one ever wants their trust betrayed, & some betrayals are unforgivable. Sometimes, there is no coming back, & what is broken can never be replaced & is lost forever.
But my brother has never shied away from the truth of his origins. And he tells his story freely to those who ask & to make a point about family & love. He has never hidden how he came to be a part of the family, & he has never held back his tragic, horrific circumstances & the suffering that drove him into the wilderness & into our home. It was a part of who he was. His past, all the ugly & terrible parts, together with the happy & good parts, made him whole, made him stronger, made him better. And in his heart (& ours), he was a part of our family, my parents' son, our brother.
The truth is, the person who has the most trouble with his story is me. I get uncomfortable & stressed when I think about his story. I get so anxious, & afraid, & so angry. I'm not mad at my brother, no way! And it does make me sad & upset when I think of all the awful things that he lived through. But mostly, I'm angry at the world, not so much because of my brother's suffering, but because the world, the people we meet, don't always understand, & perhaps never will.
What I mean is I get angry when people learn of my brother, & then automatically make judgments like, he isn't really my brother, because we're not related by blood, that we don't have the same biological parents. And even if there were legal proceedings that formalized his adoption into our family, the idea that he is adopted somehow carries more meaning, as if to emphasize that he was not a real part of us. And that makes me so mad.
When I was a child, I'd get really angry when ignorant, stupid people made it a point to say that my brother was adopted, like that somehow should be the defining quality of our relationship. He was our brother, exclamation point! And my two closest brothers & I got into a lot of fights with kids who belittled our relationship with our brother. Hell, a few older kids, teens, & adults got an earful of cussing & threats of bodily harm for speaking lowly & gossiping about our brother's status in our family.
I admit, we beat up older kids & jacked up other people's property for talking smack. And we didn't care who they were or what their standing was in the community, but you mess with our family, & we will annihilate you! We didn't care if we got pulled aside at church to see the reverend for beating up other kids who made the big mistake of insulting our brother's ties to our family. Our rage was exponentially out of proportion to our fear of getting punished, & we retaliated on a massive, terrifying scale. We were so bad & so vicious in our response that we solidified our standings as bullies & hoodlums, & no one ever spoke badly about our relationship to our brother ever again in our presence, even the adults!
My parents tried to get us to calm down & teach us not to be so hot headed, not to let other people get to us. But that's a hard thing to do when you're an impulsive child with no patience & a strong sense of loyalty & love. Our brother would tell us the same. He didn't care what people said, so we shouldn't either. We were a family, & that's all that mattered.
I wish I could say that I was as understanding as my brother & my parents. But for us three youngest, we still feel rage when someone insults our relationship to our brother, & we are still quick to anger in our response. Though we've learned not to deliver a vengeful, devastating retaliation immediately, it is still a struggle to remain calm & ignore the insult, trying to determine if it was made in ignorance--in which case we educate that person on our definition of family--or if it was made purposefully offensive--in which case we destroy that person, giving him an education of a different & totally painful kind.
The three of us get so riled up & defensive because we really love our brother, & it really bugs us when someone belittles our relationship because our brother is adopted. My brother still doesn't care when people learn he was adopted into the family, & our older siblings don't think much of it either. I guess for us three youngest boys, we just wanted the world to see that our brother was our brother, blood or adopted, it didn't matter. And it's hard for small children to learn when to stand up & fight & when to let things go. In a way, the three of us youngest still think like small children, & we're still so defensive because we love our brother, & he loves us, too, with all our flaws & shortcomings. And that's family, the people who accept you & love you for who you really are, for all your imperfections & mistakes.
I suppose I didn't want to share this story, because it brought up all these feelings of anger & sorrow & memories of some really terrible times. And it still feels raw when I think of my brother's painful origins & the cataclysmic loss of our parents. But I realize now that I need to remember these things, to remember the hard times, so that I can see where I came from & remember that all was not so bad, & that we did have good experiences as well. Those good experiences outweighed the bad ones, & the bad ones we survived remind us to be thankful & grateful for all that we have & lived through.
It's taken me a long time to get here, to the point that I've finally found myself in a position to let go--to not let other people get to me, to not let others ignorance & insults define my relationship with my brother. Yes, I still feel mad if I dwell on it, so I won't. Yes, I still feel the stirring of anger when someone doubts of our family bond. But I'm wiser now, & in some ways stronger. I don't care so much about the world's acceptance. What I've finally learned is that the only thing I should care about is my own relationship to my brother, & all that matters is that he is my brother, & nothing & no one is ever going to change that.
In sharing this story, I've finally come to realize that truth, that we define our own family, others do not define our family for us. And in dredging up long buried memories, I've finally learned to let go. It took a very long time to get here, & I didn't even know that I was still so wounded & still hurting from all those years ago. I didn't realize that I needed help to move on, that the only way to heal was to dig up the painful past, examine it & remember all its joys & sorrows, to accept it as done & gone, to let it go, to finally find peace, & embrace serenity.
I didn't need to fight so hard to hold on to something or someone that I all ready found a long time ago. I was so devastated by the sudden loss of my father that I refused to lose anyone else that I loved, so I fought so hard against the forces that threatened my family. It's why my two brothers & I reacted so violently & fiercely to those who questioned our ties to our brother. Death had taken our father, & we'd be damned before we let anyone else tear apart our family, so we fought back hard against anyone who said anything offensive about our family.
It was the desperate attempt of children to fight back against what they could not understand; to do the only thing that their limited ability could do; to exercise whatever little power they had to seize some sort of control over their lives; to not feel so helpless; to not feel so lost; to not feel so afraid & terrified at the chaos of life & the too many changes happening at the same time.
Sometimes, all you can do is cry. Crying is all you can do, because the world has become a terrible, dark place, & there's nothing more that you can do. And sometimes, you're all cried out, & all you're left with is anger at the unfairness of it all, the injustices of this world, so you strike out. You fight back angrily & ferociously at anything that threatens you & all you hold dear. You fight hard because you have to; it's the only way that you can express yourself, to explain what you cannot possibly put into words, what you cannot truly comprehend, the fears & horrors you cannot name yet you fight so savagely to drive away.
When our father passed away, it was a life changing event in our family. It was a terrible, epic loss. We all suffered. And for us youngest three, it was more tragic than we realized. It was like we were no longer children yet at the same time, we were stuck in our development. We had experienced the terrible truth of life, that we could all die at any time. And yet, we were left without a father, no one to teach us the ways & wisdom of a good man.
Though we had a loving mother who got us through the dark times & raised us to be strong survivors, there are things that only father can teach his sons; & we were never given the chance to learn those things, because our father had passed on; & we were too young to understand, too young to realize just how great & immense was our loss. It's part of the reason why we acted irrationally & angrily & so destructive at times. Because the death of our father was an irrational, angry, destructive experience.
And it's taken us so many years to finally get here. We've learned to accept the loss of our father, just as we learned to accept the heartbreaking loss of our mother. And though we may accept it, we will never get over it. But we will learn to live with it, with the understanding that death is a part of life, & life must be lived fully, to appreciate all its wonders & glory. And we have finally learned that it doesn't matter what other people think, it's what we think & believe that matters when it comes to our family & the people we love, & that includes our friends, our other family, the people we cherish & share our lives with.
Love is what makes a family, & we were all made better & stronger & richer for having Gray eyes as a brother in our lives. When you practice kindness & share the love, you make the world a better, more beautiful, kinder place, & wonderful things happen. Mom & Dad were right: What makes a family is love.
All our lives growing up, Mom & Dad tried to instill in us good values--to be kinder & nicer to one another. And growing up in a big family, those values were often tested as we often competed for space, resources, & attention. Having so many different people under one roof will lead to conflict, as people try to do what they want & feel is important to them. So there will be head bumping & arguments over misunderstandings, territory, & in the establishment of relationships. But that's not always a bad thing. Different strengths & talents enrich us, make us stronger, & help us grow & be wiser.
I shouldn't have been so surprised when Mom invited Gray eyes for lunch that very first time we met him up in the fruit tree. Growing up, it was customary to invite people over for a meal. It was a sign of hospitality, a hallmark of the culture in the region. We were on the remote coast, & travelers were rare, as it was quite a long & difficult journey to reach our far off, rural coast. So any visitors or travelers who come our way were treated with kindness & hospitality. They were treated the way we would like to be treated if we were on a long journey & found ourselves in a strange land amongst strangers. And nothing encourages & symbolizes kindness & hospitality more than sharing a meal. I still think that way. I still invite people over for a shared meal, as a sign of hospitality.
Even after they had passed on, the life lessons & powerful results of my parents kindness, generosity, & love still resonate & made such a difference in our lives & the lives of so many others. And I want to do the same & have a good influence on the world, to make it a better place for everyone, especially those in need of kindness & care. We could all use a little kindness & care.
Of all the life lessons I've learned from listening to my parents & watching their actions, the most important is that character matters. Character is the essential defining quality of a person. It identifies who a person is & how to interact with (or avoid) that person. Character speaks volumes about a person. No matter how you dress or speak, it's the values & traits you practice & display that reveal who you really are. How you treat people matters just as much as how you treat yourself.
A person's word is valued by the deeds & actions supporting those words. Actions do speak louder than words. And when you have good character, good people will come to you, will trust you, & you can count on those good people when you face challenges or find yourself in difficult times. Burdens are easier to carry & dispose of when you've got someone to share the heavy load.
All my friends are people of great character, who display various qualities that make them unique, trustworthy, & special. Some are creative & talented; others are bold & courageous. All are intelligent, strong, & resilient, always finding a way to survive & thrive in this ever changing world. And I'm very lucky & fortunate to count them as friends. And that includes the wonderful & talented ones I've had the pleasure & honor of meeting here online through blogging. Hold close & cherish the people you love & care for, because they make life worth living & fill it with joy. Friends are the family you get to pick, so pick wisely & love them wholeheartedly.
People sometimes ask me about my family tree. I smile & tell them that I don't have a family tree. What I have is a family forest! My family is made up of so many different & wonderful people, all so diverse, all well loved, & all so essential to living & loving life. And like a tree in a forest, family needs to be nourished & loved so that they may grow & thrive. When you take good care of a tree & protect it & tend to it with love, the tree yields the most amazing gifts that change your life for the better.
Some of the greatest treasures are found in unassuming containers, like mighty trees from tiny seeds, brilliant gemstones from the deep dark earth, vibrant rainbows from tiny droplets of water touched by passing sunlight. Sometimes, it is only through love that the most precious gift can be found blossoming & blooming with joy.
Sometimes the most ordinary walks can lead to the most extraordinary finds. And when you take a chance & be merciful & kind to someone in need, you might just find the most amazing wonders in the most unlikely of places, like a sailor in the fields, a treasure in the trees--a new beloved brother who makes the family whole, who brings more love & joy to make a happier home.
Love makes people a family, & love makes life worth living. Life is a precious gift, so cherish it & enjoy it. Love the life you live, & treasure those you love. Life is for the living, so live fully & passionately! Live life with love.
The Boys of Summer
Brothers and Sisters
A good jacket keeps you warm
Hope is a yellow dump truck
Are you there, Santa? It's me
It's the Most Stressful Time of the Year
The thing about fathers
Veterans Day Reflection
Best Laid Plans
That offal taste