I suppose a lot of folks get sentimental this time of year. I don’t often get maudlin and start sniffling about things, but I do occasionally think about my situation and how lucky I am to be where I am today.
The holidays are supposed about family. For most of my wonder years, I kind of had a family, but it was never quite right. I’m not talking an abusive horror story or anything like that here, but it didn’t have the stereotypes that a classic American family was supposed to have. I grew up with my mother, my grandfather and grandmother. My grandmother died of liver cancer back in 1973 or so. I recall her illness as being rather long, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of pain (for her) involved in it. My mother was mildly mentally-retarded and died of a heart attack in 1980. She was 41 and had been complaining of what I later learned were classic cardiac symptoms. She died while being forced to exercise at the hospital. I went to live with my grandfather, who took care of me (and whom I took care of in his later years) until he had one too many strokes and finally had to go into a nursing home, where he died at the age of 96. I was working at the answering service used by the nursing home, and I took the call hat he was failing early one morning.
The one member of my family that I have always held in high respect was my uncle David Reyes, a World War II veteran of Iwo Jima who was an electronics expert and traveled the world for Admiral Television. He passed away in the early eighties, a victim of cancer. I also have an estranged aunt, and supposedly somehow I’m related to the guy who played The Flash on TV, but I have no idea what my actual roots are; though I have been told I am related to the Scottish clan McPherran (or I think more properly spelled McFeran). I never knew my father, as the man I had been told was my dad had been chased away the day I was born and has since died. I’ve also been told that my father could’ve been the postmaster of the town I was born in, but he too has been dead for a long time. That was pretty much it for my flesh-and-blood family.
I came to a personal understanding a long time ago that a family is what YOU make it. Blood ties can only go so far, and there are no entitlements or disenfranchisements because of a few shared or lacking chromosomes. My family has always been a small circle of people who have been important to me, and usually a houseful of pets. I moved to Pennsylvania back in 1998 and married my wife, Elona. She has been my guiding light all this time. I’m not the most expressive guy, but I hope she knows how much I love her and how much she means to me, and especially how happy I’ve been since I she became a part of my life. Like a good married couple, we don’t like all the same things so things can be interesting, and we have enough in common to keep things on an even keel, through the good times and the bad times.
Neither of us wanted children. I have enough trouble explaining to someone how to set up an internet connection much less trying to teach a kid something heavy like the difference between right and wrong. But we have a plethora of furry children; our family currently consists of two small dogs (Emiko and Montagoon) and four cats (Pip, Luli, Maxwell and Liam). And unlike regular kids, we don’t have to worry about sending any of them to college. Unfortunately, as we’ve found in the past few years, they are also not with us nearly as long as a real child, and the hurt often seems to be just as great when they pass on.
Elona doesn’t really have many relatives that we’re in regular contact with anymore, as most of them seem to have different priorities than we do. We tend to keep to ourselves, not because we’re anti-social, but more because few people understand us - our sense of humor, beliefs and values. Our “extended” family still includes a lot of friends instead of “proper” relatives. I’ve managed to keep in touch with a few of my friends from my former life in Wisconsin, and there are a few folks around here that I have become good friends. Dennis Sninsky and his dad Johnny, who run the service station two houses down from here, went out of their way to make me feel welcome when I arrived. It was almost like I walked in the door and I was at home with the gang of old (and young) fellas that hung around the station. Johnny passed on a few years ago, but you can still feel him in the neighborhood. Our postman, Jimmy Purcell, is quite possibly the anathema of all postmen: Our dogs love him. Heck, he was my dog Duncan’s uncle (we bought him from Jimmy’s sister). Jimmy is one of the few people who could lay claim to the title of “Nicest Person in the Known Universe” ... and I wish he would. We also get the occasional craziness of phone calls from my friend Larry in Green Bay, and the more level-headed nostalgia of my pal Jim in Oakland.
I suppose by most people’s standards, this is going to be a horrible Christmas in our household. No tree, no decorations, no presents. Guess what? We don’t care! Any cat owner knows most decorations are a frivolity that will be taken down before you even finish getting them up. And while I wouldn’t mind seeing what effect a tree would have on our beasties, I always thought it was very strange and rather contrary to celebrate the birth of someone who advocated life and peace by violently chopping down and displaying another living thing. And as for no presents, again who cares? We both have everything we need right at the moment. Elona and I have come through a couple of long stretches of financial difficulties. It was lucky I was a hoarder of books and stuff before I came here, because we’ve had to sell almost everything of value we had over the years to pay the bills. There was one moment where we were two weeks from losing our house and everything. I’ve been unemployed since March of 2009, and since May of this year we’ve been a one-income family, getting by on what she makes at her job. I was recently approved for disability and in a couple of months there will be at least that much security in our future.
Like many families in this economy, we’ve weathered some hard times. But we’ve managed to come out of them on our feet. We have a roof over our heads, food in the kitchen, furry creatures next to us on the couch, and there’s always a lot of smiles and laughter in our home. As long as you’ve got the laughter, you’ll always have a family.