Monday, February 22, 2010

I had five grandmas

I changed my Facebook image to one that a relative tagged me in.
I'd never seen the photo. I'm about nine years old, and I'm pictured with four cousins and my sister. Everyone in the picture is smiling except me and I'm about a foot apart from the group. It's Christmas time because the Kaviris cousins are wearing matching red-and-white dresses, and they are surrounding their Great-Grandma Ruby at Grandma Ruth's house.
I can't imagine why I wasn't smiling because I loved going to Ruth's house, especially for her annual Christmas party. Her tiny house might have been 1,000 square feet, and we squeezed in babies, kids, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, grandparents ... it was the best holiday party. I always tried to duck from a woman named Harriet - and I have no idea how she was "related" to us - who would marvel loudly over her drink and cigarette at how much we grew from year to year, pinching our legs.
Ruth was my grandfather's second wife. Having a grandfather who married three times makes for an interesting family dynamic. He had my dad and his two brothers with his first wife and a daughter with his second wife. In addition, wife No. 2 had two children, as did wife No. 3 (I think she had only two; maybe it was three). Actually, my grandpa married four times, but the fourth wife was later in life, shortly before he died.
The "relative" who tagged me in the photo is my dad's dad's second wife's sister's daughter. Got that? So, really, we're not related. We're step-somethings.
The cousins in the photo would be my dad's dad's second wife's daughter's kids. So that makes them step-cousins.
I loved that I had so many aunts and uncles and cousins and "steps" that I never understood how or if we were really related. For years, I thought the Binnses, who lived next door to my step-grandmother, were actually related to us because they were always at family get-togethers. Add to that my dad's three marriages (his second wife died) and my uncles' five marriages between the two of them, and that made for a lot of extended family. Lots of steps.
Having had so many marriages and divorces had other effects, too. My grandfather and I had a conversation a year or so before he died where he lamented that one of us, his grandchildren, was living with someone without being married. He pointed out that he could have done that, too, but he did the honorable thing and got married. Four times.
Actually, I said, what I picked up was that marriage was disposable. If you didn't like it, you got out of it and tried it again. It wasn't a forever thing.
Hence, two marriages - one that lasted 11 months and the other that lasted nearly 10 years.
He wasn't offended. In fact, he said something like, "I hadn't thought of that."
I never wanted my family to fit some mold and be "perfect" like the Beavers on TV. I was proud of the fact that even when someone divorced, we got to keep the kids. They still came to holiday parties and summer cookouts.
If I wasn't smiling in that photo, it was probably because, as the oldest cousin of my generation, I was annoyed because some grown-up stopped us from spying on the boy cousins or tearing up Ruth's basement, so we could pose for picture after picture.
Thirty years later, I'm glad they did!

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