Wednesday, October 24, 2012

All I Ever Got

"All I ever got from them was love.
They made no difference between us and their own kids," she told me.
She was talking about her aunt and uncle,
who took her and her brother in when they needed a home.
"They've always been like that," she said.
Becoming family to people who need one.
She went on to tell me
about the many strays she and her husband took in over the years.
Kids who had been on the streets, and didn't have anywhere to go.
Her husband died when her youngest was fifteen.
Alone, she kept taking kids in.
Her grandmother did that, too.
I knew a little of her story from her cousins,
who spent years living as siblings under the same roof as children.
I've seen her in the family photographs, tall and smooth-haired.
She's seen too many sad things,
but she smiles and helps others who hurt.
We keep looking at each other.
"You look like your mother," she tells me.
I see my great-grandmother in her cheekbones, and her dark eyes.
I was recently given copies of so many old pictures.
Pictures that show my sister's resemblance to my great-grandmother,
and that seem to have come alive in her.
And I see her uncle in her eyes, too.
I can hear my great-aunt's voice in some small measure when she speaks.
And I even hear how it passed down partly to my aunt.
And those eyes... like my great-great-grandfather's sister's.

She tells me stories decades older than my memories,
stories that fill in a little more family history.
I learn about her and her children
and grandchildren
and parents
and grandparents
and great-grandparents.
The ones I have seen in the pictures.
She tells things that they felt the pain of,
but she has her mother's humor, and makes me laugh.

I was afraid it would be uncomfortable.
I haven't grown up knowing her, and I am not an at-ease conversationalist.
But she talked about people I know and love,
and she knows and loves them, too.
And she saw them giving long before I did, and imitated it.
"I don't know what would have happened to me if not for them," she said.

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