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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mary Mary, Quite Contrary, How does your Garden Grow?

In my case, it's not my garden that's growing (though the window box with the mint is doing nicely, thank you).

It's my family, and not only are new sprouts sprouting, but old branches and tangled leaves are becoming intertwined with the trunk that we once thought that we knew pretty well.

Growing up, my father's maternal side of the family was pretty tight. Seven siblings had come from Belerus (Bobroisk, near Minsk)during WWI (they had to travel through Japan, because the Atlantic was closed to civilian shipping) and most lived in the Detroit area. Cousins grew up near each other, and till today, there's a family newsletter that comes out fairly regularly and a family reunion every few years.

My father's paternal side was looser -- my grandfather came from Lithuania (Birzai, we believe) with his sister and a cousin. There was some contact between the cousins on that side, but as the first generation has grown older, the connections are lessening. Even more frustrating is the fact that two sisters were left behind in Lithuania, and we know almost nothing about them, their families, or anything about them so that they can be memorialized, as they almost certainly were killed in the Holocaust.

My mother's maternal side was similar to my father's....The Aunts made sure that we cousins all had ample opportunity to socialize and feel the importance of family, and I even had one cousin who was my age and who I was very close to as I was growing up.

My mother's father came to the states from England in 1918 (or thereabouts). His wife, my grandmother, was the family correspondent, and the decades that she wrote and kept in touch were rewarded in 1977, when I first met my aunt and her family while visiting England. They wouldn't have known me if I would have fallen on them otherwise, but just the knowledge that I was their cousin was enough for them to welcome me into their home, their lives, and their family. We've remained in touch ever since -- some of the family came to live in Israel before I did, and for a long time, they were my only relatives in Israel -- they made a big effort to come to our family affairs, important, since no one else really could.

The recent (last week) wedding of my son has made me reflect on family connections and their importance. A number of cousins turned their lives upside down to come and celebrate with us, and it's given me a whole new outlook on the concept of family.

I'd dabbled in genealogy in the past and even tracked down some information. Mostly, it's my cousins (some of whom were at the wedding) who have done the massive research that is allowing us to slowly put the pieces together that allow us to learn about our roots and heritage.

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