Friday Five: Families

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time for the Friday Five! This week’s topic is families.

  1. Did you grow up with your parents together as a unit?

Yes, I did. And they were happily married for most of it. They split up when I was recently out of college and living alone in my first apartment. They were more than 3,000 miles away, so I received the news by phone, when my father called to tell me he was leaving my mother. I suspect that she told him if he wanted to leave then it was up to him to tell my sisters and I. She knew he’d been rather distant for a while; my sisters and I had noticed it too. But she was completely blindsided by the fact that he was moving out and wanted a divorce. It was devastating to my sisters and I, too. The divorce came through a few years later; I think I was 25 by then. He remarried almost as soon as it was final.

2. Did you reach adulthood with four living grandparents?

No. I did reach adulthood with two living grandparents. (And two living step-grandparents, if that counts.) My paternal grandfather died when I was 8, and my maternal grandmother died when I was 11. I remember both of them very well.

My mom’s father remarried. (Technically, he didn’t, because of the financial hit they would have taken, but they lived together long enough for it to count as a common-law marriage in their state.) My step-grandmother was a family friend (of both of my sets of grandparents) so we already knew her. She passed away when I was in my 30s and pregnant with my son. My maternal grandfather died almost eight years later — strangely enough, on the anniversary of my paternal grandfather’s death.

On my dad’s side, I was very close to my grandmother. She also remarried, but my step-grandfather (“Gramps”) passed away when I was in my 30s. For quite a while I was the only grandchild within easy driving distance of my grandmother (a little less than 5 hours away) and saw her often. She was so excited to hear that I was pregnant. Unfortunately, she died a few months before the baby was born, and within a few days of the death of my step-grandmother on my mother’s side. (By the way, my father-in-law died a week earlier, just after 9/11. Not a good month.)

So my son grew up with a grandmother (my mom) he is still close to, and a grandfather and step grandmother (my dad and stepmother) he knows but doesn’t see often, because they live on the other side of the country. But he also had a great-grandfather, my maternal grandfather, whom he saw often and who died when my son was seven, so he was old enough to remember him. My son also knew his paternal grandmother, but again, she lived too far away for him to see her much. She passed away six years ago, when he was 13.

If you’ve been paying attention and untangling the relationships, that means my son was in utero when he lost a grandfather, great-grandmother, and step-great-grandmother, all within two weeks’ time. I wish he’d had the chance to know them. Of all the various grandparents, steps, and greats, he has always been the closest to my mother.

3. Is your extended family a close one or not?

Yes, on my mother’s side. My parents’ divorce has made it harder to stay close with the uncle and cousins on my dad’s side, though we see each other on Facebook and occasionally send cards. They also live a lot farther from me than the relatives on my mother’s side.

  1. Does your family have a ‘black sheep’?

It depends on how you define black sheep. If you just mean “the weird one” who sometimes does not quite fit in, that would be me. If you mean a family member who is seriously on the outs and doesn’t get along with anyone, no, we do not. We’re Italian, so we may have a cultural inclination toward loud arguments and dramatic gestures, but we’re generally best friends again by the next day.

  1. What is your first memory of a family member that is not your mother or father?

That would have to be my older sister. We were born the same year; ten months apart. And we were in the same grade in school. So we were together almost constantly for much of our childhoods — way too much to choose one memory and say it was the first.

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