There is no substitute for family. Family is those with whom I grew up and created a bond from my beginning years. Family is those whom I talk to or reminisce about in my adult years. It is those whom I will seek in my ending years.
But what I seek most these days are the simple moments when family comes together for a cup of coffee, a quick bite, or a peek-a-boo hello on any given day. There is magic in those simple moments. Inevitably, the conversations tend to turn toward the past and a revival of a family heritage of stories. Stories they told while preparing for festive occasions, bustling in and out of doorways, darting between children, and setting tables to serve a family of over 50 people. Each with a personality or funny quirk of his/her own added to the shared heritage that bound us with unconditional love. At the time, we didn’t know we were gathering memories as we heard family members tell their stories that were to become the most distilled and meaningful truth in our lives…learning that in the end, when the trappings of life dissolve, all that is left is the love we return to in family. As children, when we listened to the elders tell their stories, we learned how to finish their sentences, and the laughter that ensued created new anecdotes. We repeated their stories from memory passed down from the oldest to the youngest, and we often interwove them with our own stories formed through our own created families…with siblings, spouses, in-laws, children, grandchildren, friends, and the list grows endless. Our family gatherings are time tested. The repeated anecdotes have become our own family heritage. They bear a language all their own and bring out an acoustical signature of laughter; and when everyone laughs, I laugh the loudest.
The families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through our choosing of friends. No matter in which of these families we are gathered, the visceral combination of sight, sound, and powerful emotions is part of the shared heritage of stories that binds members of the family together. It endures as a rich, nearly tangible memory within our minds, a place remote in time and space but instantly accessible to any one of us at the mere utterance of a simple catchphrase or a “remember when…”. It is in a glorious place to be, surrounded by these moments. A single word or phrase — said with the correct inflection can make us all diffuse into hysterical laughter, until someone finally catches his/her breath to retell the original story of the special event and how it gained significance as a tangible memory in our family.
One such family is the family of friends my husband shares with his high school mates. Back then, on the small island of Cyprus, there was not any part of their memory or existence in which they did not exist separate from one another. Today, whenever their entire family of classmates, school mates and teachers gather, regardless of the distance of time and space, they always laugh aloud and share the same stories about growing up and being in the boarding school. They repeat stories about neighbors and neighborhoods, stories about teachers they all had in school, stories about unfairly getting in trouble and who was really responsible for breaking the rules, stories of love, of competitions won and lost, of couples, of mischief, of nicknames and of a special unparrarel bond. The anecdotes are never ending. They carry a language all their own. All of these inside jokes and stories slowly become my stories. Here too, the laughter among friends has its own acoustical signature, and when everyone laughs and jokes, I laugh the loudest.
Over the years I realize that when family gathers for any occasion small or big, the conversations tend to braid our past and present stories with humor and love, making them beautiful and unique in their own way. I wonder if all those stories are some kind of a reminder for us about how much of our past inhabits our world and how family (born into, created or chosen) is the only safe haven of unconditional love.
This Thanksgiving, make your home a safe haven for unconditional family love. Fill it with endless laughter as you retell heritage stories that resonate from the heart and live in your memory. You will laugh the loudest. Happy Thanksgiving.