The laughter was familiar as it filled the room with joy. I looked around to see each face that had seen me grow. Through the stages of curiosity in childhood, to the stressed out teenager, to the woman who is in her struggling early twenties. All years moved by time, fostered in love, and perpetuated by potential.
My family is unique. My cousins and I grew up as friends, meeting once or twice a year for holidays or family reunions with our parents. The love of our grandparents kept us together, for they knew the power and importance of a strong family unit. As a child it was the best part of the summer as we went camping along the beach. Endless s’mores and songs that filled the coastal air. It was picture perfect.
As we all struggled to adulthood, many of us faced challenges. Staring depression in the face as the unknown seemed to creep into the crevices of life. The uncertainty of the future can cloud present thinking, which brought upon a few dark years for some of us. No matter the protection of a childhood, a child will meet the dangers of the world in some way. But it is the good times that pull you through the hard moments. It is reminding yourself of the curious child you once were that awakes the passion as you grow older.
Family is what shapes us as our personalities bloom in the wild air. Family is what we have to lean on and is the feeling of being unconditionally loved no matter how dark things get. I am lucky enough to have grown up in a family that was built on love, hard work, and appreciation. For others they have formed family units among friends, where their bloodline was unable to fulfill. No matter the form family takes, it breathes life into who we are.
A few weeks prior to the family reunion, I was perusing garage and estate sales with my cousins. We rolled up to one house that looked to be quite a nice house back when it was originally built. The garage was filled with military memorabilia and medals. I walked in and noticed a stack of photos, it was the deceased owners wedding photos. His wife who had long since passed smiled joyfully in the photo. It was still in its original envelope.
As I ventured further into the house I found more pictures of her, but few traces of her things. It seemed he outlived her by a few years, but her presence was still there among the quilts and cooking books. It tore at my heart strings to see their photos amongst a sale to strangers. All the collection of things over a lifetime filled the now vacant house.
I looked over at my sweetheart who slipped on a pair of leather shoes. They surprisingly fit him perfectly, which made me think they must of been the same height. I paused for a moment to feel the weight of a lifetime wash over my soul. I wondered what kind of life we would create that would leave a legacy for our memories. It tore at my heart to feel a life had ended with photos of his bride among strangers. He was a man of war, whose family served in the military over a hundred years. In a post-war era, he may have lived and died with secrets of the pains of war. Yet, it seemed his life cherished at least one lady.
As I pondered what life we would lead, I realized that our lives were already connected in others. Our stories are constantly in motion as we move and breath across cities and continents. With already a foundation in family, I realized that my legacy would reach to the next generation of family. A family that would laugh and smile over mom’s scrapbooks, and mess with dad’s rock garden as a joke. One of the most important things in this world is family, and I try never take the love of mine for granted.
Whether your family is the bloodline of your surname, or it is found among community of friends, your life is what you make of it. Your family shapes the very essence of your being and shapes your understanding of the world. My family taught me that the greatest thing you can do for someone, is to be there. To simply show up. In our family gatherings it showed just that. We all showed up to illustrate that our family means something, and no matter the years, the miles, and the finances, we will be there for one another.
For every stage of life, we will be there with unconditional love that was carefully fostered when our grandparents first began their story. A story that led each and one of our lives to the moment we breathe now. Life is built on memories. The good, the bad, and the ugly ones. So live them well, and always cherish your family roots.
**Photo Cred: Cousin Kayla**