TIES that BIND


I have no idea how it started or who launched it. Nevertheless years after all of the women in my family died (they were the initiators of all of our major family events and thingamajigs). After the demise of these women our family unit was left largely comprised of men). In recent years, I started paying attention to remarks that I'd heard growing up and today continually heard from other family members about how our family is considerably dissimilar or substantially distant from each other and how we were markedly contrasted from that of other families. As a young adult, I sold into that inconsistency and I eventually started to believe it. Now, from top to bottom I fervently want to know how this mis-perception spawned. I had to see for myself if this "assumption" holds water.

For years, we never even batted an eye when someone described our clan as being "distantly different" or because we were just "living our own lives" and rarely visited or even spoke to one another on more of a consistent basis. (Some live in different cities within Chicago or have moved from Illinois altogether). That action or lack thereof was justified by some with the remark of "well you know how we are". Only recently have I begun to exasperatingly resent whenever I heard that comment.

As I frequently do when a believable answer is not plausible enough to curb my ever-voracious appetite for the curious, I allow my mind to journey into an objective mode. Consequently, I intellectually remove myself from my customary "family character" sanctioning a view of my kinfolk with an unprejudiced angle.

Having had to listen to this misconception for years and years, today I finally am challenging myself to try and change it. I want to finally set the record straight. I hope after some have read this story, I won't have to hear it anymore because it won't be uttered. At least not in my hearing range.

I am returning from a trip to Windy City Chicago where I grew up. During my visit with my family, my eyes were opened to a host of existing modifications although some were new ones to me. I say with resounding pride, the changes that I witnessed were heart-rending.

First and foremost, two of my cousins have recently married amazing women who support and love them very much. Both have darling children under five years old that kept one of my cousin and his wife nothing short of being on their toes.

It seemed only yesterday when my sister, cousins and I were the ones running around during family get-togethers. We were the cores of attention and all of our uncles; aunts and senior cousins were doting on US. Here and now WE are the ones who have traded places with those elders (some have passed on while others are well into retirement years and/or in ill health), and now WE dote on OUR offspring and grandchildren. This new-fangled exchange of ranks swiftly required me to come to grips with my own mortality. These scenarios were continually restated inside my psyche and I was once more reminded that time waits for no one.

My only niece (the ravishing beaut that she is, used to stick to me like glue back in the day and always wanted to follow me EVERYWHERE) now has a bubbly daughter of her own! I am still coming to grips with THAT one because it seemed to have happened over night.

It's reflective to see my cousin (who can be described as eye candy and is as fine as the Denzel Washington's and the Shamaar Moore's all skillfully wrapped in one crisp package, and has the deep dimples just like my sister has. He is the Editor of his OWN newspaper. He sat and interfaced with our relatives and articulately discussed in meticulous terms "grown folk" talk with the best of em. (I'm sure he will love reading me write that I used to change his diapers!).

When I gaze into the faces of my niece and this particular cousin, I still envision them as they were in babyhood. Inasmuch as I try not to view them in that manner, I am helpless. It's as though I'm lovingly gazing into the faces of my very own son and daughter when I first brought them home from the hospital.

Another cousin is writing a book (no I am NOT the only writer in my family by a long shot!!). He and I were as thick as thieves when we were teens and we were always getting into mischief. Although when we were caught, he was the one who was able to maintain a straight face (same holds true today) hence, since I did not have as much restraint as he, I'd always burst into tearstained laughter and ultimately end up taking the fall for our blunders.

He and I enjoyed a heartfelt tear-jerking laugh about an OLD, OLD joke. The familiar vibe that we shared as teenagers still remained as comfortable and familiar as an old pair of socks. I finally had the opportunity to finally meet his wife along with his three sons. He has a family to be proud of. He has done well for himself and I am proud of him.

Yet another cousin has his own sound production company. He does the "sound" at concerts of popular recording artists and a lot of his clientele are the ones that we see and hear on videos and radio. I had the opportunity to sit and talk at length with his daughter (who is named after one of my favorite aunts who passed away a long time ago). She is furthering her education and is on her way to success. I beam with pride when I hear the strides that the young people in my family are making.

Because of the geographical distance that I created in my life the family-tie, as I knew it back then will never be the same with my cousins and my niece. People grow up, procreate and begin to build a life interdependent of the lives that they experienced with their immediate family. But aren't these types of transitions supposed to happen? Due to the "modernity" in and of my family tree, I have accepted this latest trend along with the new position that it puts me in realizing it's not worse, nor better, it's just different. Hey it is what it is and life goes on.

A few of the aged and pre-existing changes were not immediately recognizable from the naked eye. Maybe it was because they weren't CHANGES at all, but had always been an actuality amongst our family. All anyone needed to do to see it clearly was to take a visually detailed gander and there it was in full view. The reality of what I saw pertaining to my family as a whole is that the women as well as the men have ALWAYS maintained steady employment. I'm not talking about 5 years here, 3 years there. I'm talking employment of the fixed kind. You know the types. The ones who have been at the very SAME job for 30 plus years. THOSE FOLK. I know you have a few of those in your family too. Most families do. These people have spent protracted years at one job. Today they have retired from their places of employment and are living the remainder of their lives in harmony and repose. This is what people naturally do after no longer being able to do what they've been accustomed to doing for a great portion of their lives. Others have left one job and taken on another. God Bless em. When I retire from one job that's it for me!!!!!! Everyday I am trying to ensure that my retirement will be just that. RETIREMENT!

With that said, I fail to see how my family "differs". Where is the true dysfunction? I say "true" because all families exhibit some sort of idiosyncratic behavior within itself. Each family has lapses of time that they go without seeing or speaking, especially if distance is a factor. Each family has members that they don't like or don't like as much. There are always gonna be quirks, behavior or personality differences or traits amongst relatives that agitate some. The fact of the matter is that we will never like all of our relatives. There will always be one, two or maybe a handful of our kin that irks the heck out of us no matter what they do or don't do. I am sure that I drive others to the brink of combustion with the idiosyncrasies that I've had all of my life!! Those are just the factual realities of having family. Nevertheless we indulge or ignore them and make no material issue of it. We tolerate these differences or minor annoyances because we ARE family and we are all tied. The importance of the closeness that we all share should outweigh the insignificant irritants. The end result is the difference between what matters most and what matters much.

The most dominant virtues that really caught my attention were that none of us are drug abusers. None of us have been in jail, or have criminal records. None of the men or women were physically abusive to or abused by their significant other. Not one of my family members even smokes cigarettes, not ONE!!! In a distressed world such as we live in today, the former characteristics are momentous and say an awful lot about a person, more importantly an entire family. Are we unusually different because we live our lives as productive members of society? Beats me.

I'll admit that we were all guilty of being distant for a while. When most of the women started dropping like dead flies no one knew how to behave as "family" anymore I surmise. For years we remained in devastation. We are guilty of that. So sue us.

Sentence us if you will because for years every woman (who was the glue that normally kept the reunion that is coupled with FAMILY in tact) got sick and eventually died a slow, painful death from cancer of some sort. Therefore, leaving the men to do what those women who passed on did best. The men that were left had no interest whatsoever in calling relatives to plan a thanksgiving dinner, a birthday party or a weekend hob knob. They didn't have to. They simply moseyed on over to a girlfriends house, or a neighbors house or your local diner and grabbed a meal. What I'm trying to say is, it was the women, at least in my family back in the day, that orchestrated EVERYTHING. With them no longer amongst us, the men were at a loss.

As the existing women grew up and got married, we gravitated to the women in our new family. It was/is a natural progression or so it seemed. We took the position of planner and orchestraters. We were the ones that made those phone calls and invited our mate's relatives to OUR home for the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and so forth. I guess once we pass on, if there are no women left to pick up where we left off, then this yesteryear will repeat itself.

The points of view to remember here are the relatives that I have are family members of mine. I claim them with all of their eccentricities, peculiarities, quirks, foibles and unconventional behaviors. We all have them and no one is perfect. We are all woven from the same threads of cloth. They are part of who I am today. They are the blood that travels inconspicuously throughout my veins that thrusts life into me. They are my roots and my end and my beginning. They are my sounding board and my cushion.

I had to travel back to Windy City Chicago and I thought I was going back to visit an ill uncle and to establish some semblance of a re-connect with those that distance and time pulled me from and I'm glad that I did travel back.

I realize that I have a family that anyone in their right mind would be fortunate to admit and recognize as being their family. I have people that are part of me who are editors, musicians, soundmen and writers. Correct me if I am wrong but aren't these some of the same job titles that we see when credits are being rolled at the end of a movie? Aren't these some of the positions that most rattle their brain spending countless hours studying to become while attending Ivy League Schools across the United States? And here I am lucky enough to have members of such within MY very own family. Sure we might not see or speak to each other every day. But I guarantee you if I needed them I mean REALLY needed them, they would be there for me in a heartbeat. I can say that now but TRUST ME I didn't always feel this way.

When I was married I naively believed that I no longer needed my biological family. (I was harboring resentment for my mom because she told me when I was a young girl that my biological dad was dead. A lot of my family knew the truth and since no one told me any different I was angry with everyone when I found out the real deal behind this "daddy business". Years later, and with profound heartache and disappointment, I found out not only was my dad alive but within the last ten years, he was released from prison for murdering the husband of a woman that he was seeing when he was supposedly dating my mom. My mom didn't want us to associate with him and that is why she told us that he was dead. I have to admit this was the one time that I was sorry that I was always so inquisitive. To this day, I do not even know my father's name nor do I want to. Luckily, my mom and dad never married so I can thankfully say that he is not part of my wonderful family unit). I had buried my " natural family" in my hurt and tears. Hadn't I experienced enough hurt and pain in my OWN life? I thought.

I blamed my entire family for a bad judgment call on the part of my mother. They all thought that I knew my dad was alive, at least. Imagine MY devastation when THAT news was laid on me!! Whew!!!!!!!!! But true to form, eventually I bounced back. Lots of families are full of drama but mine was full of death and trauma. No wonder we were taken aback. It took years for us to recover after loosing so many women so quickly. We needed a minute to regroup, refocus and invent another game plan wouldn't you say? What family wouldn't?? But we all managed to survive. I come from an entire generation of survivors.

My wake-up call came when I divorced and the family that I thought would always be there for me ultimately was not. Eventually I was slowly ostracized from them. After that happened I didn't feel as though I belonged to "anyone" or "anywhere". I didn't feel I belonged to a "family" unit.

If you're married and you think the family that you married into will be there for you, get a divorce. On second thought go for the gusto and just get separated. There is no other way to remind one that blood although often doubted, is ALWAYS thicker than water. I encourage you to e-mail me and let me know the end result if you so desire.

Point being is I was drawn back to the very same biological family that I tried unsuccessfully to deny and ignore. It just goes to show you that we are always drawn back to our roots for something. It is an inevitability that we cannot deny. I know I could not and no longer want to deny mine. Thank God there is a lesson to learn every day. Where would I be without MY family???

Today, this writer doesn't care how it started or who launched it. It doesn't matter how "dysfunctionally dissimilar" people think we are, be it a relative or someone on the outside. We are all part of the same gene and love one another. Maybe we have a quiet way of showing it. Maybe we don't exhibit our love in terms of how society dictates that we should. But the bottom line is we are all linked as one no matter how much some fight it, hide it, run away from it, disown it, cover it up, ignore it or deny it. WE ARE FAMILY. As far as I'm concerned, my family is a great-big-deal. My family is the one bind that I don't mind being tied to for these are MY TIES that BIND.

2005 by C. V. Harris. All rights reserved.

The true story of how one womans visit back to Windy City Chicago prompted her to view her family the way they "really are" realizing that her family is comprised of true survivors.


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