I come from a long line of losers
Half outlaw, half boozers
I was born with a shot glass in my hand
I'm part hippy, a little redneck
I'm always a suspect
My bloodline made me who I am
~Kevin Fowler, "Long Line of Losers"
Last Saturday, I ventured to the funeral of my great uncle. For those who don't know about my family, well, I think Kevin Fowler does a good job describing it. My life may not be an exact mirror of the song, but it's not very far from it either.
My dad's side of the family are the descendants of a Georgia man who was on the run from the law after he accidentally shot the local sheriff who was trying to break up a fight (or so the story goes). He hopped on a train with a spare set of clothes, $5, and a sack full of momma's biscuits and headed west until he ran out of money - which happened to be somewhere around Fort Worth. That was sometime in the 1800s. His grandson was my dad's grandfather, Joseph. Joe had three sons, the first was killed in WW2, and the other two were middle child Roy, and my grandfather. My little brother was the third or fourth generation of boys born in that same county. With the exception of my brother, all the men on that side of the family (and some of the women) were North Texas rodeo kings. My dad and his uncle were steer wrestlers; my grandfather was a calf roper. I started riding a horse around the same time I learned to sit up and hold onto the saddle horn. This is why I never realized how insane steer wrestling really is until this past weekend's funeral, when the pastor was saying how fearless a man needed to be to grab a bull by the horns, while riding a horse running full speed, and to jump off that horse - plant your feet into the dirt - and wrestle the bull to the ground.
That explains a lot about my dad....
Until that moment, I always took for granted the fearlessness that was needed. Now, I never did any competitive sports - rodeo or otherwise. I was a delicate child with refined tastes. Plus, I was frightened by every single thing and always terribly afraid of getting hurt. My dad was lucky I would even get on a horse at all.
My mother's side of the family is similar in spirit. Both my grandmother and grandfather came from a small southern Mississippi town where they were the children of cotton farmers during the Great Depression. My grandfather was drafted into the Korean War, where he was promoted to officer and highly decorated. The reason why is pretty vague, since he never told my grandmother - she thought he was working in the base kitchen peeling potatoes and dish washing. She was pregnant with their first kid and he didn't want her to worry. When he got back from Korea, he seldom, if ever, talked about it. He avoided war movies, and once had a full scale flashback when my mom and uncle were teenagers. We aren't sure what he saw, but it must have been awful. When he was discharged from duty, my grandparents left Mississippi and headed to southeast Texas. My grandfather went to work for the gas company, and my grandmother did what women were generally not allowed to do the in 50s and 60s - she became an accountant. Not just a fancy secretary, but moved up to top spot keeping books for one of the most prominent lawyers in the area as well as one of the biggest timber companies at the time. Before the days of needing a CPA, she was the head accountant for these places. And she was a (married) woman with kids. It's really inspiring, actually.
The thing I love most about my grandmother, though, was her faith. My grandmother is a devout Baptist. She's in her 70s and has only had a single swallow of alcohol her entire life (it was red wine and she did not like the taste of it - obviously, I get my lush tendencies from my dad's side). However, she's the least judgmental person I know. My grandfather would, every year, plant about a half acre's worth of vegetables for the summer - and the multitudes of leftovers would go to the elderly and extremely poor in our area. You'd think it was more of a campaign maneuver (he was a local politician), but truth is he never left a name. Sure, he'd stop and visit if they were home and feeling up to it, but otherwise he'd just leave them hanging on the doorknob. My grandmother never said a judgmental word, at least where I could hear it, but always helped others, especially her family, whenever she could - often at her own expense. She really embodies the idea of "love thy neighbor as thyself".
My dad has 5 sisters, and my mom 2 brothers. When we were hard on our luck, most of those siblings (not all, but that's bound to happen with families) and my mom's parents would help out by taking us shopping for clothes (and picking up the bill) or letting us stay for a week or two in the summer so she didn't have to pay for daycare. It's just what you did for family. You help them, and my family never does anything half way. It's all or nothing for this bunch.
While my family is beyond strange, and a bit of a caricature really, I'm so blessed to have them. I look at my husband's family, who are cold and calculating - always looking to take something from the others when no one is looking. I can't imagine being raised by a father coming from some a contemptuous brood. I mean my dad had 5 sisters, so there was always some drama because so and so wasn't speaking to the other, but it was always hurt feelings because of our characteristic traits - loud mouths and the tendency to speak our minds out of turn. I love them all, but in small doses. They literally will exhaust you if you're around a group of them for too long.
I'm blessed that I have siblings that believe in the value of family like my dad taught us. We live very different lives and I don't get to see them as much as I would like, but I know that I can count on them (and them on me) if I need it. I love that my sister bought a new TV and when I asked what she was going to to do with her old one, she said she would give it to me. No cost, nothing. Like the realization I had about my dad steer wrestling, I am always reminded how much my perception is skewed when I see my husband react to these actions of generosity. He is always speechless, but as my sister said "it's what family is supposed to do".
Family is the rock we can fall back on when life is trying to knock you off balance, or the people we call when we fall - at least that is what they are supposed to be. I'm so glad that when I go through times like the past few months, where I feel so unwanted by the world, that I have a family (which includes my husband of course) that remind me how loved I really am. It also makes me so hopeful that if/when Brent and I have little geeks that they'll be able to learn that this is what family is supposed to be too, and that they'll be as inspired by mine as I am.