13 January, 2008

Sorting it all Out... Family and Choices for the Future

This weekend, I have been thinking about my current place with family. Family used to mean so much to me, after all I am third generation Italian! I grew up with a huge family. My mom is the oldest of 5 children, her mother is the oldest of 6 children and my mom's dad was the oldest of 3 children. Add all of that up, with spouses, cousins and great grandparents and you have a LOT of people crammed into one house. Each and every holiday, baptism, wedding or baby shower, wedding, first communion, birthday, anniversary and family outing was with this gang of people; not too mention the terrific food!

Italo American Culture is a large part of who I am. There are certain things that I have no idea on the American equivalent. I was so blessed to be the first great granddaughter born in this country on the Birthday of my great grandpa! What an honor to share this man's birthday. (I never met him, but he knew I was coming. He died halfway through my mom's pregnancy with me.)

The Italian Culture oozes family bonds, blood thicker than water type thing. In many ways the movies do portray it right when it comes to the family loyalty. But my family went one better than the movies or the stereotypes... we really enjoyed each other. Each and every one of my cells are embedded with laughter, music, loud conversations - 10 at a time, wondrous smells, real tears, strength, beauty, hugs, kisses, the dialect, I could go on and on.

My father is the oldest of 6 children, his mother is the oldest of 9? children, and his father is the oldest of 3 children. So my large family was mirrored on my father's side too. Culturally, there is this distant Hungarian side from my grandfather and my grandmother is everything, Native, Irish, English and Pirate, or so we were told. Culturally, what was passed on was this "American Farmer" mindset. You see the Hungarian Culture was almost forbidden by my father's mother. She was convinced all Catholics were going to hell, and anyone foreigner who spoke their mother tongue was saying evil things about her. Why she married my grandfather I will never know, beyond the fact she was running away from her grossly incestuous family.

There are a couple of Hungarian things that I have, my great grandmother's recipe for Paprikas, Kifli, Potato Egg Casserole -(no idea on how to spell it, my last name that I didn't change when I married and my European sense, or so my father tells me. (That could also be due to my mother's family or that I was born in Germany while my dad was in the Service).

There is this other romantically depressing thing about my great grandparents... they met while in the Opera house. My great grandmother was an Opera Singe and my great grandfather was a playwright. Once they fled Hungary and arrived in Ohio, they spoke no English and were unable to earn a wage. My great grandfather took to the bottle and beating his wife. My great grandmother took to depression, divorce and then suicide. Tragic, I know.

Large families, on both sides; kissing and hugging each person while arriving and departing each gathering, making the rounds, we used to say. I enjoyed growing up
[Insert current track Signatune] with my great grandparents, all 6 of them. 2 died, suicide before I was born and then heart failure while I was "incubating". The last great grandparent died when I was 20! I loved my great grandparents, at least my great grandmas. When I was 1, another grandfather died, then at 5, the Hungarian boozer with no teeth, short and round head died - (he always gave me dollar bills when we visited), at 6 my last great grandfather died, due to heaving smoking and boozing as well.

My herstory is pretty detailed and I was able to interact with 3 sides of my family that lived in other countries. I knew my ancestry came from Europe, where things were just more beautiful to me and rich with culture, food and tradition. Add on the fact I was born in Germany and took my first breath in European Soil, well there is no more proof I need to know my blood is mostly European. Growing up, I have had to work this out for myself and defend my roots and traditions to many. But I gladly did it. I never wanted to be a person who didn't have this richness about them. I just couldn't imagine being the family that considered family to be a nuclear thing. Family to me is the entire lot! (Less my dad's side at age 20. Another blog to explain that family frustration, choices and inner spirit!)

Now to tie this back to relocation and why I am having such a hard time with moving away from family - one that has caused me much sadness throughout 2007, horrible childhood secrets that were worked out in my 20's and mini battles over finances and perspectives... how do I now become that nuclear family that I never wanted to be? My friends tell me that I am now able to choose my family members and include those people that enrich my life, instead of expect and take.

In theory, I get this. But practice the theory? It is hard to do, when my entire being does have found memories of the Italian part. I want to give that to my boys. I want them to always be part of my life. If they wanted to live with me forever, I would let them and their partners! I see nothing wrong with that family picture as long as it is built on love, honesty, respect and spirit.

I may have found the answer to my own predicament. My current Italian Family is disjointed now. The 3rd, 4th adn 5th cousins are just names and faces to me. They have no idea who I am and have really lost the culture and tradition that I hold sacred. They will never remember my great grandmother's cursing at her leg when it didn't work, or the way she smelled while making home made pasta every Sunday. They will never know the true laughter we shared because we had no real problems. They do not know the Italian words that I know, the dialect that I can hear crystal clear in my head. What makes me ache inside is that my boys will know that either. These precious memories are gold to me. They kept me sane throughout my father's family hell. I am okay today because I had my European Roots to ground me.

How will my boys grow up and what kind of men will they be without these roots? the job to give them a sense of cultural richness falls on my shoulders, I know. I am determined enough to do it, but it certainly would be terrific to have help, like my mother did. But that is not my story, that is hers.

My story has always been about inner strength and spirit. I am a trail blazer. I am a leader. I know what I am and how I got here. But there are times when making the tough decisions, such as relocation, I realize the greater potential impact. This is of course a key factor in being a leader, always seeing ahead to the potential outcomes. Knowing what is ahead will help prepare me for what I must do.

Hope this helps clarify some of my postings and bring a sense of connection to them.

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