Kinship is a slippery thing.
One night during dinner, our son asked whether his teenage step-cousins once removed were in our family, and to my dismay my husband responded “Not really,” while I firmly stated “Yes.”
I had no doubt that my teenage step-cousins were my relatives, albeit by marriage, since they are the granddaughters of my grandmother’s third husband’s daughter Irene. But once the scrutiny of kin began, the quicksand of questions kept pulling me deeper. I began to wonder about my hodge-podge of step- and half-relatives, thousands of miles away. Did their removals by marriage and divided ancestry make them somehow less valid?
To me, family is an abstract. Family can consist of friends you’ve had since you were young, or people who’ve taken you in, such as my Aunt Irene, whom I have always called “Reen.” I spent all my Christmas, Easter and summer vacations in her sprawling North County San Diego home, until I went to live with her when I was twelve. Technically, she is my mother’s step-sister, and there’s not a drop of blood between us, but we finish each other’s sentences, get each other’s jokes, and know how to heal each other’s wounds.
What I remember most about going to stay with Reen when I was a child is her unwavering devotion to my happiness. I experienced this in the form of Jack-in-the-Box French fries dipped in chocolate shakes, alfalfa sprouts growing on the kitchen counter, and long drives out to avocado orchards, where we would stop and “just grab a few.” I felt it all those times we’d watch old Shirley Temple movies in her king size bed when my uncle was away on business, opening thean immense box of crayons she gave me forat Christmas, and in her passionate whisper when it was time to say good-bye: “A bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck.” Continue Reading…