As my husband and I drove through the flat, expansive prairie farmland of Saskatchewan this past weekend, under an enormous blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds, I thought of a book my son gave me a few years ago entitled “If this is your land, where are your stories”. The title of J. Edward Chamberlain’s book came to mind for a few reasons. For one thing, the prairie landscape is compelling; it is very different from what I am used to in the east and I was reminded anew of the strong role land and landscape play in forming our view of the world. Also, Saskatchewan’s indigenous population plays a significant role in the culture of that province, and the land and stories of indigenous people are central to Chamberlain’s theme of the importance of land and place to our sense of belonging. By the end of our weekend of sharing family memories and forging new ones, I realized that the same can be said for families.
We were at Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan to help my husband’s sister and brother-in-law celebrate their 50thanniversary. We weren’t the only ones there; in fact, we were 2 of 53 people, if I counted correctly. For years the family gatherings on my husband’s side centered around his parents and then his mother when she was widowed, and included some or all of their 4 offspring, their spouses, and an increasing number of grandchildren. Now my husband and his three sisters are the seniors – OK, and their spouses – and this particular family gathering centered around his younger sister and her bridegroom of 50 years. The impressive demographic bubble they’ve created accounted for thirty-three of the people assembled, including 7 children, 4 partners, 1 happily-integrated ex, 13 grandchildren, 3 step-grandchildren, and 3 attached boyfriends. As their oldest daughter said when she was introducing a splendid slideshow featuring family pictures through 50 years, they use a loose definition for what constitutes family. I really like that approach.
I’m not sure that I completely agree with the saying that blood is thicker than water, but it is potent. Family relationships can be the ones that sustain us through our lives, even though they can be pretty complex. Every family has its story; that’s what makes such gripping reading in the best novels. Our family stories help define us. New chapters are written as we interact through the years, hopefully filled with happy memories.
And that’s what was happening this past weekend. We used to watch our kids play with their cousins when they were little, often when we were all visiting their grandparents. Now we are the grandparents and their kids are playing with cousins and second cousins, making new memories that will become part of the family narrative. This past weekend, the younger cousins and second cousins were interacting in ways similar to the previous generation, swimming in the pool at the lodge and taking turns sliding down the water slide while their parents stayed close at hand. The older cousins and second cousins, on the other hand, chose bonding activities that included a hot tub and a lot of liquid refreshment!
A good time was had by all … a new chapter has been written. Congratulations to the bride and groom, 50 years on!
– Title of post adapted from the excellent book by J. Edward Chamberlain.