Tuesday, December 20, 2016

what can hold?

how a family binds together

a family can coalesce into an enlarging whole,
maybe around a patriarch, a matriarch,
an idea that there is an “us,”
a reality that we need to stand together,
more gravity to what draws us together
than power that explodes us away from each other,

my mother’s family welded together
in love and caring for each other,
then by not enough money,
by watching their mother hold the center
when the Depression hit,
the father’s dreams broken,
the father dies,
the grand old house kept going by letting rooms
to boarders who helped pay the bills,

earlier, the kids grew up 
as if an in a Norman Rockwell painting:
Sunday morning before church,
the father creates the ice-cream
and lets those ready for Sunday School 
lick off the maker’s tools,
the mother wrings the chickens’ necks,
and fries them after church,
the first son builds a radio and hears of World War I’s end,
runs downstairs and announces “The Kaiser is dead!”
the best summary he can figure for what he has heard,
the first born daughter marries early,
and uses her new resources 
to pay the mother for doing the laundry,
maybe the first money the mother ever had direct control of,
the second daughter sends her first teacher’s salary 
back home to help out,
the first son devoted to his family
and helping out whenever he could—
with a car for a sister,
with resources for a niece with cerebral palsy,
with many acts of gratuitous kindness and support
I don’t even know about,
the third daughter and her husband thanking God
for the gift of a daughter with cerebral palsy,
each daughter and son committed to the family,

now they’re gone,
some of the next generation are gone, too,
what binds us together now?

today at the family Christmas party
some of us maintained that tradition,
no one from the first born son and daughter’s families were there,
a high percentage of those within easy driving distances,
and who were well, were there, but not all,

my wife and I went, 
and enjoyed the good people who stretched across 3 generations,
but I feel the sundering of distance,
and I wonder how hard it is for my East Tennessee kin
to quite get their heads around
that my granddaughters are Jewish,

what can so bind us together
that differences of race, of religion, of politics,
pale beside the vibrancy of how we are connected?

by Henry H. Walker

December 18, ’16

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