Pap left a bag on my back door. Homemade, handcrafted chocolate candies were inside. Sweet treats he begins working on in October, using a special recipe and chocolate from ONLY that store in that neighborhood.
Technically he isn’t Pap. He’s Haylee’s Dad. However, from the moment he introduced me at the family reunion as his ‘adopted daughter’, the honorable mention has stuck. My husband’s name is Ron not Rod, however, ‘Pap’ privileges grant naming rights when chocolate is involved.
We’ve lost so much family. Two mothers, a dad, two grandmothers and an aunt-all in under 6 years. An ache that washes out the joy leaving us often in a pale approximation of life.
Pap’s candy, is sweet. It reminds me that while many who were technically family are gone, the spaces are slowly becoming filled with ‘heart’ family.
We spent last Christmas in a room full of Haylee’s people. Aunt Sandy gave me a purple peeler-she gives everyone the same, practical gift (and WHO doesn’t need a purple peeler?) It is so sharp both Haylee and I nearly needed stitches on first use.
This past weekend we celebrated Christmas/Steeler game day with Pap Mike. The ‘boys’ got together for the annual smoking of the cigars (all the sweeter as Tom Brady’s tears fell).
Aside from my son, doing his best ‘grown dude’ impression, and a brother-every other person in the picture isn’t ‘technically’ family. One is a father-in-law. One is a step-father-in-law. Then there is the step -father-in-law’s son. Finally, there is Rutter. Rutter, the gentle giant who grew up with my husband and now has been so thoroughly adopted that we ask “Where’s Rutter?” if he’s not at the table.
In two days we trek down south to stay with family in New Orleans. Nephews will be spoiled, from all sides. Sisters-in-law-AND-heart will be hugged while laughter and tears (as I FINALLY win the family poker tournament). On the way home we will stay with heart family deep in Tennessee or as I describe them, “my Tennessee people”.
I first met Tennessee LaDonna at a writing conference. Her sweet southern accent and addictive laughter was the reason I just KNEW she could help me find sweet tea in the farmer’s market. We quickly became heart-sisters, her Ruth to my often bitter Naomi. She introduced me to Dana and Annie, who-over gobs and bad poetry-adopted me. Her people have truly become my people.
My definition of ‘family’ has become less technical. The boundaries squishier, the connections fueled by food and inside jokes. My kids don’t have just one Pap, but several older men who can look my boys in the eyes and speak ‘manhood’. I’m surrounded by such a cloud of ovarian witnesses, who testify to love’s goodness and the greatness of a life given away. To a person they make me brave, secure and fill the spaces so recently vacated.
Technically speaking, this may be one of the best holidays in recent memory…because family.