This I Believe

Susan - Palm Bay, Florida
Entered on May 8, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: community, family
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It’s Never Too Late to Have the Family You’ve Always Longed For

My five siblings and I are the product of kind and loving parents whom we lost too soon and miss dearly. The fact that our parents were also alcoholics was not really something we thought much about while growing up. In fact, we never even used the A-word until later on in life when we were forced to deal with the associated health and financial issues, and, when we get together for “family nights” where the talk inevitably turns to our colorful upbringing.

Ironically, these get togethers usually become laugh fests about various coping mechanisms and the same funny and not-so-funny stories every family has—dysfunctional or not. One of the coping mechanisms that wasn’t apparent to me until later in life was mine and my siblings’ tendency to latch onto a particular family whom we deemed in our young minds to be a “perfect” family. There were two of these so-called families in our neighborhood that we all seemed to gravitate toward: the Nardi family and the Christiansons.

There was nothing particularly special about either of these families. They were simple, middle-class folks who rarely even went out for dinner—families with stay-at-home moms and modest homes.

Although my brothers would probably have denied it at the time, the Christiansons were the family all three of them longed to be a part of. My youngest brother, Patrick, put it most succinctly when asked recently about the apparent attraction: “They sat down together for dinner every night,” he said “they even had rolls and stuff.”

A few of us became fairly skilled at working our way into the hearts and homes of these “perfect” families. I managed to finagle my way into a permanent seat at the Nardis for dinner every Sunday. And, although it became a running joke, none of them ever questioned how I just happened to be visiting every time a snowstorm struck stranding me at their house for days.

My oldest brother proved so adept at his ability to work his way into the Christianson family that he stood side by side with the rest of the kids in the family portrait that hung in their living room.

When the Nardi girls came to visit for a family birthday recently, one of them unknowingly led me to my belief as she sat at my brother’s kitchen table where we now gather with our own extended families for celebrations and family nights. “I wish I was part of your family,” she said. “You guys always seem to have so much fun.”

I stared at her for a long moment letting the words sink in. Could it be that our family had become the kind of family we had been searching for all those years? I smiled to myself as I glanced around the food-laden table at my family—maybe not perfect, but the family that someone else actually longed to be a part of.