by Pat Edwards
Those who know me are aware that the most important thing in my life is “family.” From the very beginning, I was blessed with a loving family. I not only had an adoring mother and father, but I was raised with an older brother, Jim, and a younger sister, Barbara. We siblings were all five years apart; I was the middle child. When I think of my childhood, my memories always include my close relationships with my paternal grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins. Our life revolved around shared family times – holiday get-togethers, travel, camping trips, lake fishing and a move every few years. My maternal grandparents and extended family lived in Southern California and, although we visited frequently, our relationship was always long-distance and not as close.
My father never seemed to be able to put down permanent roots. He was a good provider and always had a job, but he always seemed to have a bit of the wanderlust inside. Wherever we moved, whether it was to Lebanon, Oregon, Phoenix, Arizona, Eureka, California, Portland, Oregon or Eugene, Grandma and Grandpa Smith were always close by or frequent visitors. Grandma Smith was always my role model. Even though she’s been gone a long time, I still miss her.
One of my first memories was sitting on the broad back of old Bid, half of Grandpa’s work team of Champ and Bid on their ranch located near Lorane, Oregon. I have no doubt that is where my deep love for horses and farm life was born. I read every horse book I could find in the libraries nearby. Even though my childhood, except for that short stint on the ranch, was spent in urban areas, my dream was to someday have my own horse. That didn’t happen until my junior year of high school, but I’ve had one ever since.
Grandma Smith and I were pals. We both loved to play games and our favorite, when it was just the two of us, was to play “Double Solitaire” in which each of us tried to beat the other in adding ascending cards on the piles in front of us. The games would get so intense, we frequently laughed hard enough that tears would begin running down our cheeks.
I remember how much I enjoyed helping Grandma do her laundry in the old ringer washer and hang it out to dry on the clothesline in the backyard.
While we were outside, we’d always make sure to pick a nasturtium leaf for Petey, her canary, and his song would always accompany whatever activities we happened to be doing, almost always in her kitchen.
Grandma and Grandpa always had a dog and while I was growing up, it was a golden cocker spaniel named Bonnie. One of my favorite activities while at their house was to take Bonnie for a walk. Frequently, my sister, who I’ve always called B.J., and cousin, Carol, would join me on the walks around the 16th and Willamette area of Eugene where Grandpa and Grandma’s house was located, and since Carol lived close-by on 22nd and Emerald, she would usually bring her dog with her.
So, this is the basis from which my love of family has evolved. My own adulthood began on a rocky note when I put my first baby up for adoption. It’s an event that has marked my life and left me with a feeling of guilt, even though I know in my heart that it was the right decision at the time. Stacey re-entered our lives over 20 years ago and I feel so blessed that she and her family have joined ours.
I married a man who had the same love of family that I did. Jim grew up in a large, close-knit family of eight children and both of us wanted to put down roots and give our own children the kind of childhood that would allow them to explore possibilities and grow in whatever directions their interests and talents would take them. Once again we were blessed.
In fact, I feel blessed in so many ways and am very much aware that others have not had the close relationships with parents and grandparents that I have had over the years. But, does that mean that they cannot ever experience “family?” So, what is family, really?
I don’t think any of us need to have genetic or blood ties to be family. To me, “family” denotes those people who you grow to love; those you have bonded with in some way. “Family” keeps growing to include not only the group you were born into, but all of those who you have a special connection to.
I keep adding to my family. Over the years, I have felt the closeness and warmth of good friends even though we don’t get to see each other often. To me, they are part of one my families, because I now realize that I have many. I have my immediate family, my extended family, my Groundwaters family, my community family, my UO Neuroscience family, my writing family and all of those special people who have entered my life over the years and have stayed close even though we don’t see each other often. This is what family should mean to each of us.
I am truly blessed, and Grandma would be so proud!