When I was born, there was just me and my mom and dad. Soon after that came my sister. Many, many years after that — oops — came another sister.
And that was my first family, the five us; living in the rented house I will forever call my true home.
The Woman Who Would Be President once told us, “It takes a village,” and nobody said she was wrong. It was in 1996 when her catchy little phrase came into society’s vernacular, but I realize now I’m older that I kind of knew that all along.
I’ve had many families over the course of my life and I look back on each and every one of them with different fondness as they have helped deliver me to where I am today.
Divorce, they say, can tear a family apart and I’m sure in some cases that is sadly true. Today, looking back at my own parent’s breakup so many years ago, it certainly created some stressful days and nights. But, it also expanded my own family, which suddenly grew even larger.
My mother remarried, bringing me a new father-figure.With him came two children, a step-brother and step-sister. Sure we were forced to live together in a three-bedroom home and, yes, somebody’s ass might have been literally forced through a hallway wall during a disagreement over bathroom privileges, but what family hasn’t fought over toilet time. Me and my stepfather clashed on far too many occasions, mostly over stupid petty things, but he’s been there and given my mother the rest of their lives and for that I am forever thankful.
My father met and fell in love with a wonderful woman named Della, who came from her own big family. She was Heaven-sent for my father and I truly believe he had never been happier than when she walked into his life. Not to take anything away from my mother, but Della seemed to be my dad’s true love and it just took them a little longer to find each other. She was also was quickly embraced as a part of the family because of her graceful smile, her touching demeanor and her strong love for sports. Her son, Tony, the youngest of a very large brood, was closest to my age and I have many positive memories of him when I dance with the ghosts of my youth.
Heaven giveth, but also taketh away and just like that Della was gone far too soon, taken from us all, but mostly from my father who didn’t deserve such a loss. Della’s death, I think, changed my dad and it started a domino of effects that forever changed my relationship with him. Sadly, not too long ago, Tony was suddenly gone, as well. He went to sleep one night and never woke up, but I have no doubt in my mind that when he arrived at his final resting place Della was there to embrace him and to talk about how the Boston Red Sox had finally won the World Series.
Dad would go on to meet somebody else and that woman had two daughters who I also consider family, sisters I cared deeply about and am pleased to know they are doing well in their own lives with their own families.
While my family of blood and marriage was always around, we were not the Walton’s. I would never use the word “close” to describe our family. It’s just what it was, it was the family we knew.
It was during these years where I realized you can become a part of other families, as well, and the word is not solely defined by the blood that runs through your veins or the people that you marry.
Growing up, my best friends’ family became my second family. My two best friends, Jody and Robbie, were brothers to each other, but they were also to me in a way that my step brothers would never be. They knew everything about me, I knew everything about them, and our competitive nature with each other led to wars on driveway basketball courts and the backyard football fields and playgrounds everywhere.
Their mother, Lois, fed me as much as my mother did and it seems like I spent as many nights at their house as I did at home. Their father, Jimmy, a police officer, watched over me as much as he watched over them it seemed. The sisters — Cindy, Anita and Amy — were like my sisters, always and forever.
The night I lost my virginity, 16 years old and stunned it had actually (finally) happened, I stopped by best friends’ house to tell them the news. How could I not share such a right of passage? Just one problem. They weren’t home. Only Cindy was there, but I couldn’t contain myself. Despite being aghast at my news, she was the first to know.
After high school school, as I grew away from my childhood friends and my world began to open up, as I moved away from home and out into the world, my tightly-knit group of friends became my family. We broke bread together, we drank together, we passed around the ceremonious hourly joint and shared in each others’ lives to the fullest. And when one of us needed help, we were there for each other.
It was soon thereafter that fate brought me to the Carleton family — Lee and Sandy and their three beautiful daughters, Jolene, Lisa and Robyn, angels one and all. I was always welcomed home there from the beginning, whether I was crashing in their family camper, hiding in Lisa’s closest, or getting arrested by foolishly pulling a fire alarm and having to call Jolene to come bail me out. They never judged me, yet instead learned the real me. Oh how to this very day I love that family and everything they did for me and my heart still cries for the losses they have suffered, even as time and distance has taken our lives in different directions. Still, we find each other from time to time. The day my son was born, Oct. 7, 1992, Robyn gave birth to her first baby in the very next room. Even more recently, we found each other again through Facebook and even though I haven’t seen them in two decades, I feel as close to them as I ever have. That means everything to me and I hope they know that.
Yet it doesn’t stop there.
In my 30s, my Biddy’s family is amongst my favorite because they became some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. Biddy’s was an Irish Bar in New Hampshire, a place where I had moved to, alone, shortly after my own divorce. I had no friends until I met Monique, who would become my platonic roommate, and one night we talked into Biddy’s for a beer. We were home. Cameron, Byll and Cheryl, Bill and Kathy, Joel and Janice, Danny the Bartender, Mike the Owner. There were so many other people who called the corner of that bar home and they were all family — some crazy uncles, crazy aunts — but our lives were intertwined over beers, shots, stories, laughter and tears. Once upon a time, I had the honor of telling them how much they meant to me and I don’t think I’ve ever said anything more true than I said that night when I thanked for their friendship.
Out of Biddy’s came Sheri and her family, who when I really needed to be saved, pulled me from the grasp of hell and gave me room and board, love and understanding. Sheri’s daughter, Stephanie just turned 30 — making me feel so god damned old knowing that Nicole isn’t the far behind. Steph’s birthday, coming on New Year’s Eve, is what got me thinking about all the different “families” I’ve had in my life who have helped make me who I am, who have delivered me to this day, to this moment, to these words.
The Nashes, the Browns, the Nortons, the Tardiffs. The St. Germains, the Boudreaus, the Douglasses. The Carletons, the Berrys, the Johnsons. The Lemieuxs, the Alberts. And, of course, the Whitehouse/Cwynar clan who planted the seed of this idea and made me realize how lucky I’ve been to have been loved by you all.
Yes, it takes a village to raise a child and within that village are families who will forever play key roles in the lives of others.
To those who were there for me, I thank you.