As the holidays neared, I fretted over where to spend them. This was the first Christmas that my children had lived with their father, and I was torn between wanting to be with them and with Mike. Carol, knowing that I had no family, invited me and my children to her home for Christmas. This was the beginning of Carol’s kindhearted generosity. Her goodwill would be extended to me and my children over many years to come.
Sadly, about a year after first meeting Carol, Bobby fell in love with another woman and asked Carol for a divorce. Carol was devastated and in need of some moral support and an immediate job. I was working as a life insurance agent, and my company needed a top-notch front office person. I recommended Carol, who was hired on the spot. There ensued a wonderful two-year working relationship that was frowned on by the majority, bewildered the minority, and amused us totally. We have all vacationed together, and last year Carol attended my husband’s family reunion, a weeklong gathering of sixty-some people, tucked away on the shore of a huge picturesque lake in Northern Wisconsin.
Fast-forward thirty-five years, and this coming Christmas, Carol and Christine will again outdo themselves with a delicious dinner for their non-traditional family. From all directions we will spring, gathering at Christine’s house. Carol’s new husband will arrive with a pumpkin pie. Helping with festivities will be Christine’s husband, Matt, and eight-year-old son, Matthew. Matt will serenade us with his guitar, accompanied by my husband, the “opera” star. From across the state will come Matt’s mother, her husband, her ex-husband, and his new wife. Bringing good cheer will be Bobby (Christine’s dad, in case you are losing track), with his usual humorous barbs for everyone, and his now-wife, Phyllis. My grandson, Zachary, will charge in with my daughter, Alex, and her husband, Andres, exhaustedly in tow. With twinkling eyes, my step-daughter, Ann, and her daughters, Cheyanne and Hanna, twenty and fifteen, will arrive. Dogs barking, eggnog flowing, aromas abounding, this family of old sorts and new sorts will greet one another with handshakes and hugs. Left unspoken are any of the tears and fears of the past; as the changing faces of “the family” transition with good cheer.
For Carol’s example of magnanimity, I will forever be grateful. Some thirty-five years after she first opened her door with such grace and generosity, I am moved by her ability to forgive, include, and unite. I look forward to seeing those beautiful blue eyes every Christmas day.
Mike and I married two years after our first meeting. Our friendship blossomed into a solid and lasting connection despite our first eight years of tumultuous arguing, which was precipitated by alcohol. Mike’s original open invitation remains open thirty-five years later. He tells me that he admires my grit. Growing up on a farm during the Depression years, he learned that he had to keep going no matter what the obstacle. Once, as I marched out the front door heading toward a new challenge, head down, forehead knitted into a determined frown, wearing my favorite blue jeans with the big pockets, my beloved shouted, “Go get ’em, high-pockets!”
We have spent at least half of our Christmases with Mike’s daughters and gracious ex-wife. I adore my husband, and I have come to deeply appreciate the complexities of blended families and our remarkable life together. This opportunity alone has stretched me into a much larger person than I could have ever imagined myself becoming. Growing up, inclusiveness was valued in my family despite its otherwise profound dysfunction. My grandmother would have been proud of me had she lived long enough to witness our family. My mother did get to witness our marriage, and was grateful that at last I was in “good hands.” We combine admiration, appreciation, and respect, and nothing can be finer in a relationship. I once read a poem that expressed my heart regarding my beloved Michael:
The one I wanted came, The one I called. Not the one who sweeps away defenseless skies, stars without homes,
moons without a country, snows. The kind of snows that fall from a hand, a name a dream, a face. Not the one who tied death to his hair.
The one I wanted. Without scraping air, Without wounding leaves or shaking windowpanes.