La Familia Es Todo

Feb 19th, 2013 by Nicholas Pell in Personal

I just got back from Michigan where I basically had a second wedding reception and visited with a handful of my bazillion relatives. Here’s some reflections on the trip.

It was two years ago that I last saw the family. Much has changed since then. I’m married and the parents live in Michigan, not Massachusetts. The latter filled me with dread before the visit. I knew I wasn’t going to be in Kansas Massachusetts anymore. I get that Grand Rapids, MI isn’t Mud Hollar, AR. Still, I have adolescent memories of old ladies clutching their purse and crossing the street. When I got off the plane the amount of slack-jawed yokels staring at me and the wife like the Martians just landed wasn’t helping matters.

Over the long haul, however, the trip wasn’t just worth it as something to get out of the way; It was a lovely time spent with my rather large immediate family (that’s Grandma, Ma and Pop, my brothers, their wives and the kids above — a mere fraction of my Grandfather’s descendants), as well as uncles great and small, cousins first and and second I haven’t seen in decades.

My grandmother is 91 years old and, as such, not much longer for this world. Her body is actually in remarkably good condition for her age. Made mostly of plastic at this point, she refers to herself as the Bionic Woman. The problem is her brain. She didn’t recognize me at first, something that I expected but was a bit strange to me nonetheless, as she’s always delighted in her grandkids. She did, however, recognize my nephew and my brother. It’s nice just to spend time with her, but I also learned an interesting tidbit about her from my mother: Grandma hates church.

The parents steeled me against her condition, but I didn’t find it that concerning. Maybe I’m the stupid one here, but who is expecting a woman who is nearly a century old to do cartwheels or tap dance?

Harder was visiting my grandfather’s grave. He and I were very close when I was a child, though he died before I turned 10. I don’t have a lot of pleasant memories of my early childhood, but I do remember my grandfather as an incredibly kind, loving and gentle man who cared for me a lot and was always happy seeing me be happy. I didn’t talk to him, because what’s the use in talking to a ghost? It was nice to be near his remains, though painful to think about what it would be like if he were still around. He was on the young side when he died and if he hadn’t smoked Camel straights incessantly, he might well still be here.

Saturday my parents basically had a second wedding reception for me and the wife, which I was very nervous about. I hadn’t seen a lot of these people in years and in some cases decades. I felt a bit like I was going to be under a microscope, examined. My anxieties were, as per usual, completely unfounded. I had a wonderful time with familiar and unfamiliar relatives alike.

When I went home two years ago to visit, I felt very connected to my family, but also the city of Boston. For those of you who don’t know, if there’s a building of any significance in Boston that went up over the last 30 years, my pop worked on it. It was strange and awesome, in the literal sense, for me to reflect on the fact that my father’s accomplishments will be around for decades after he dies. This time, I felt connected not to the future, but to the past. Pop took me and the wife, my brother and nephew around his old stomping grounds in Grand Rapids. I looked at a family tree book published 20 years ago. I got a sense of being part of a vast continuum of existence going back to a small village in Holland and even beyond that.

In the family tree book I spoke of earlier, I am cataloged as I-3-2-4-3. This means that I am the third child of the fourth child of the second child of the third child of the ninth child of the man who came to America from the Netherlands. I know but a fraction of my relatives, most of them on the I-3-2 branch, all of them on the I-3 branch. I’d love to be in a room with as many of them as possible to see just how similar and different we all are, and to discuss what are almost certainly very different experiences of being Pells.

Most of all, I love my family and feel fortunate for the opportunity to be close to them. I miss my grandfather very much and anytime that I’m around my family I feel as if I have a bunch of little parts of him with me.

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