I am writing from Raleigh, NC, where we are visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and two of my three nephews (the third is stationed overseas). My oldest nephew's fiancée is here, too. We have been talking, laughing, and eating nonstop. I am having a thoroughly enjoyable time. I am crazy about everyone in this family.
This may not sound newsworthy, but historically, in our family, holidays like this are anomalous. Members of both sides of our family routinely quarreled and disowned one another, and no one ever forgot a grudge. As a result, my brother and I grew up in a steadily diminishing family circle; most holiday dinners were tense, nuclear (in both popular senses) affairs.
As an adult, I can see that both of our parents carried deep familial wounds that were exacerbated by abandonment and social isolation. Growing up, all I knew was that they were angry all the time. Today, much of their behavior would be considered grounds for removing us. I withdrew into depression; my brother spent as much time away from home as he could. We didn't really know each other, and the trust factor was minimal.
In adulthood, and especially after we had children, we made a concentrated effort to do better. We started visiting back and forth, calling and exchanging emails, and taking vacations together. It was awkward at first, and fraught.
Our parents were not wealthy, but they made some sound investments, and their house, in an area of suburban New York that has become desirable, appreciated dramatically over the course of 50 years. Our father made it clear that their joint will split their estate evenly between my brother and me, but after he died, I had reason to believe that my mother had disinherited me. When she passed away, I told my husband, "If Jack gets everything, I won't contest it," and he agreed. Our relationship was too important and too fragile to put to such a test.
In the event, we were each left a half share of the estate. Our parents' home, though, was close to mine, and much larger. "If you want it," Jack said, "it's yours, no strings." He had come to the same conclusion I had: no amount of money or home equity could replace a loving family connection.
Nothing could have induced me to live in that house again, so we sold it and split the proceeds. The money has helped defray college costs for our children and provided some lovely vacations we could not otherwise have afforded. The cousins relate more like brothers. We joke that our family has a country house in North Carolina, and theirs has a pied-à-terre in Brooklyn. We are planning a joint trip in the spring to visit my overseas nephew. Everyday life for many of you, I am sure, but to me this is a constant source of amazement, and among many other blessings this year, this is one for which I am deeply thankful.
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