Family as a concept goes two different ways. One is the genetic branching that one presumably grew up knowing and conforming to. The other main way is what might be called a "chosen family," people to whom one feels close and will help, even at some sacrifice. Recently, as I get close to the end of my life, I'm aware that most of my families in both senses are -- as individuals -- dead. I don't think this is unusual. It's the natural generational wheel.
It was clear from the beginning that our two parents were quite different in style and origin. My father was from the flat tough northern prairies and my mother was from the intricate ridge-and-valley of the verdant southern Oregon. My father's family was Scots: secretive, fort-like, highly conscious of propriety, valuing of education and quietly arrogant. My mother's was Irish, contentious, mostly sisters, and braced for tragedy. Lovers of the exotic, almost secretly.
I turned out to be on neither side. Groomed to be a reliable achiever who would make both families proud, I failed to grasp that I was supposed to shine as a benefit for the families, not myself. But as a young woman my mother had been double-crossed, frustrated and enraged enough that she let me get away with narcissisms like reading until 3 in the morning. Too late, I began to realize that my grades and admissions and graduations were not for me -- they were interpreted as undercutting my brothers, selfishly taking the cream.
I don't feel bitter about this. My mother helped put me through college, the part more expensive than my scholarship, but I went to NU, a very good school mostly for wealthy achievers. I may have been the first of my generation on both sides. My brothers put themselves through college by joining the Marines and using the GI Bill. None of the three of us settled into conventional marriage with houses and children. When I went to Div School, my mother was very angry and did not help. I thought the denomination would be a family. NOT.
In early years we socialized locally with my father's side, including rural cousins on a farm, though my father's sister's family held themselves away. When we went to my mother's family near Roseburg, she was so embraced and loved that we kids felt it, too. (My father was barely there.) But it was a double family because the sisters married brothers who were more similar to the English rural rootstock that originally dominated the US. They were sexy and after money, almost brutal. They treated my brothers and I like mild freaks who didn't know anything.
When I left home for good and joined Bob Scriver on the Blackfeet Reservation, my betrayal of all that had preceded began. He himself was stranded between his family's Quebecois Anglo-speaking semi-Scots and the indigenous peoples of the place, both of which kept trying to make him choose. His compromise was sculpture. Since mine was writing, we were a good fit until he began to be successful enough for the money hyenas to pursue him. They hated me. Most of them are dead now.
Since my next redemption was ministry (I'd always been an over-idealist -- Bob said, "Get your feet on the ground!") I found out what that was worth. High education at U of Chicago Div School sent me high -- I would have left the ground except for indigenous forces back in Browning. When I returned to reality, all I wanted was to go back to Browning and write. By that time I was nearing retirement.
I was invested in poverty and singularity. The family thought I should be the backup mother and that I ought to "save" my brain-damaged brother, but I had neither the resources nor will. This period has been two decades long and in the second decade has been connected to Barrus as correspondent. When I say I write, I mean I think. Often after listening to TB and responding. I take it as far as I can, including research.
During this period our American continental culture has changed drastically, dramatically, painfully and destructively. I'm prepared to rock and roll with it mostly but my family is not. Those still alive are invested in preventing change. On my father's side they have worked at jobs they hated, but they ended up "comfortable." On my mother's side fortunes were various. Most all cousins' children achieved college educations and many were New Age. But I don't know them. A few of my father's family came to visit and it was painful all around.
So there went the last of my family, leaving in their nice car to go back to the urban comfort of their very nice house. All the things I've sent when researching our family are forgotten. They expected what they had at home: instant hot water, a washing machine, enough towels -- to look at it in one aspect. They didn't think there would be mosquitoes. (I've vanquished most of the flies with those little clear bags that have a yellow valve on top.) They didn't expect to recognize furniture dating back to my parent's marriage. They're Facebook preoccupied, but never asked to connect to my internet.
I slowly began to recognize autism in a few people, a reminder of my brother's concussed personality. When I suggested that there was rivalry between my mother and my father's sister over their claims on my father, they were as horrified as though I'd suggested something sexual. When I tried to tell about my father's violence, they simply denied it. (It was spankings, not beatings.) Their values are those of their neighbors: looking good, saving money. They told me nothing.
My family has a script in their heads and will use psychological force to preserve it. Material for the theatre. I'm living in an improv world from one point of view at a time, a video much reworked in the studio. They think I think I'm better than them. Certainly I'm different from them and the Big Shift in the world has meant there's no reason to stay connected. There's not even a way to guess who will survive what's coming. The Pacific Coast falls into the sea? (It's done it before.) A wall of ice approaches from the north? (Not so likely.) The United States comes apart and becomes a police state? (Already happening.) My family is a point of departure -- abandoned except for the unconscious parts that wants to be on time, doesn't give a damn about housework, meets pain with stoicism. And so on.
My genetics are from both sides. My view on life was from both sides but is very different now, unthinkable earlier. My cousins and I are aging. But I'm not like any of them. I just want them to leave me alone. We are only a fantasy of family. I don't even know the names of the present generation. There's always the possibility that I might turn out to like them after all.