Despite sharing surnames, family members can sometimes be so divergent in their lifestyles and opinions, that the only commonality they share is the blood in their veins. And there are times when you meet someone who has led a very different life than yours, yet the two of you see eye-to-eye on just about everything and even share many interests. The road to solidarity can be a seamless, easy mystery that just “works,” but it can also be a lengthy and cumbersome one that requires a unifying cause.
This last year has been one of great transition for my extended family. It became necessary for my grandparents to move from their home of 60 years in the tiny town of Flomaton, Alabama, to an assisted living facility in a nearby city where they can receive better care for their needs. My father and his three brothers (and my mom and aunts) initially had many discussions over the phone, Facetime and through email about the steps involving moving my grandparents into assisted living, and then again recently when putting their childhood home on the market after it was certain that my grandparents had settled into their new home comfortably.
For me personally, the sale of this house will mean saying farewell to the only home that has remained a fixture in my 38 years of life. I was raised in an Air Force family that uprooted and moved every three years, and then married a man who possesses the same wanderlust as me. Throughout my life, I’ve returned to Flomaton from places like England, the Netherlands, from Arizona or Seattle or Luxembourg. No matter what, that little house on Wilkerson Street had the same scent, the same floor plan with minor changes, the same loud family voices and bodies sprawled on couches and floors, the same prayers and Bible stories and hymns, the same neighbors and even the same casseroles and pies.
Those shared experiences with my relatives and the background of faith and loyalty and love that my grandparents have poured into their sons, their daughters-in-law and every one of their grandchildren, are what have laid the groundwork for solidarity in our family. As my cousins and my aunts and uncles walked through the house in these last weeks, claiming furniture and quilts and trinkets and dishes, the memories and the lessons they’ve learned in years past poured out of them and reminded us all, even over Facebook, of the legacy that our grandparents bestowed to us, which gives us something to uphold, together, regardless of our political, vocational and lifestyle differences.
Last week my parents, who have lived in Germany for the past 17 years, worked from sun up to sun down with a few of my aunts and uncles as they combed through each cabinet and drawer of the house on Wilkerson Street. As they hauled away trash, donated used goods and sold items in a yard sale, people from town both familiar and estranged came around to recall memories of my grandparents and their “boys”. Relationships were renewed and restored. They told me about the unexpected help that came from unexpected people who felt that they shared in my family’s story—people who delivered doughnuts, helped carry heavy chairs and even provided encouragement to rest in the shade with laughs and glasses of sweet tea.
Two days ago my mother posted a photo of my father helping my grandfather shave. I think my whole family was struck by how this photo represented life coming full circle—a son helping his elderly father shave, a father who most certainly showed that son how to hold a razor a very long time ago. And it spoke to me of the unity in my family, that despite the differences of opinion that we have or the distances between us, just about any one of the men in my family would be at the sink in the bathroom doing the very same for my grandfather—because they love him. Love helps us see needs around us. Love compels us to join a hand and give, instead of using that hand to point fingers at who should be doing more. A time or moment of need is often the very thing that reveals common ground and gives us the opportunity to tread it together—all of us, for one family, one goal, one love.