By Lee Sullivan
Random Writers Week 11 Topic: What is one thing you miss from your childhood?
This has been a really tough week for me. I had to travel back home to Alabama to be with my family during a very difficult ordeal. My 20 year old cousin was killed five years ago, and the man responsible for her death finally faced a jury this week. The trial was not easy and sometimes brutal in its honesty, but we endured because we had to. That’s what families do for each other. We are there. No questions, no regrets.
While I sat in that courtroom, surrounded by only three and sometimes only two family members, it got me to thinking. I realized just how alone I felt, and I began to reminisce about the times when I felt the least lonely. I recognized those times were during my childhood when I was surrounded by my family. There was a sense of invincibility that being surrounded by family provided back then, and I realized how much I missed that feeling that nothing or no one can penetrate a wall created by kin folk.
I wondered in that courtroom what it would have looked like 20, 30, or 40 years ago. I wondered if all of the grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles would have come to lend their support and strength to those who needed it. I pictured a room filled with overalls and work boots and maybe even an apron or two as supporters left their tractors, cows, domino games, fishing poles, sewing machines, and kitchens to come hold a hand or wipe a tear. I’m a realist and I know that people have obligations such as jobs, children, and parents to take care of. I know times are so different now and that anyone who could have been there with us would have. I hope that my words don’t come across as judgmental or bitter because that is not my intention. I don’t hold any hard feelings for those who couldn’t be there. Those three days were filled with disturbing testimony, and I wouldn’t have wished anyone the pain we felt as we listened on.
When I was a kid, I lived for family get-togethers. I lived in a pretty secluded part of the country, so there were no other children except my cousin and my sister to play with. Sleepovers with classmates were a rarity. Play dates with other children just didn’t happen. This left me craving the times when our family would gather on a front porch, around a kitchen table, or on a fish pond. For me, these times were the best of times.
I fondly remember the New Year’s Eve parties at the Baileys each year. This was by far the highlight of my social life. There was also the annual Easter gathering and Egg Hunt at the Walker pond. Any time someone had a long lost child come for a visit, we got together. When someone had a wedding or a baby, we held showers. When someone had a birthday, we gathered to celebrate it. If there was a holiday, there was a supper table filled with food for aunts and uncles and cousins to enjoy. As bedtime came around, the blankets and extra pillows were pulled from closets and pallets of children covered floors and hallways. When someone had a tragedy or a death in the family, we circled the wagons and made sure that family in need was taken care of through whatever hardship they were suffering.
I was brought up to believe that nothing was more important than family and spending time with them. I miss that sense of comfort in knowing that no matter what we did, these people would love and care for us our whole lives. And then I grew up. Other things became more important to me. There were boys and friends and jobs and school and ultimately, distance. I have aunts and uncles I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. If you had told me as a kid that I would not see these people for so long, I would have insisted that you didn’t know MY family. My family would never allow so much time to pass between visits. It just wouldn’t happen. Except, it has.
I know times are different. All of us have grown up and have gone on to create our own families with new ties in new cities, not to mention new relationships and traditions. I have friends whom I cherish as much as if we shared the same DNA. These new families and friends are what make up my family structure now, but I will never forget those childhood memories.
I know that I am the most guilty of letting those early family ties just unravel around me. I have found that in my darkest times, my family has not been the people I’ve turned to. I don’t know why that came to be, but I vow today to make a change in my life. I may not live in the same city as the family by whom I was surrounded as a child, but I will let them know I think about them, that I pray for them, that I miss them.