I write this while sitting in Florida at the home of my in-laws. A fan is whirring softly above me, the sounds of warmth are all around in this tropical place.
So many memories here — at this place where I first visited in my early twenties. I was a young nurse, had come back from Pakistan only months before. I knew they would be my in-laws even at that time, before any formal words were spoken, any proposals made. The family was completely different than my own. A military family with many moves and a fierce loyalty to both the military and the south. I knew then that it would be a cross-cultural marriage. That white bread and grits would compete with whole wheat bread and suji, a sweet, cream of wheat sort of hot cereal. That both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line would combine with Pakistan sometimes creating a clash of cultures that would reverberate around the world.
That is the wonder of two families uniting. The result is a third union that carries both families in the foundation and results in something completely different. But traces of each are woven throughout, visually seen in food combinations, felt more dramatically in other areas like personalities, character traits, discipline choices and parenting preferences.
This weekend memories flood across my mind creating a kaleidoscope of pictures and events. Our two little boys seeing but mostly hearing fireworks for the first time, covering their ears with hands that still had the chubby look of toddlers. The ocean where we would head daily to get that perfect combination of sun and sand, sandcastles growing yearly in size and complexity; the large, wooden swing outdoors by the garage where our kids loved to sit at twilight, mosquito repellent a must on those humid Florida evenings; riding waves so that the salty water got into nose and eyes and brought about a happy exhaustion. So many more but the kaleidoscope is so full of colors I purposely stop my mind from going further. I realize that this is the first time i have come to visit my in laws without any of our kids and the thought shocks me.
I think back on these times and I am grateful to both sets of grandparents for opening their homes wide to this nomadic family. For creating place and space when life shifted and airplanes landed, planting a family of five, then six, and finally seven on strange soil.
Our priest talks about how in Orthodoxy we don’t just honor the outcome, we honor the struggle. And along with the good memories I also think about the struggle. Honor the struggle – the struggle that is life, the work that is family. Honor the struggle for it makes the good times better and the hard times worthwhile. Honor the struggle- for sandcastles crumble and childhood ends, wooden swings rot and only the stand remains, still solid in the shifting ground. But the struggle makes the memories even more precious.
I read once that writers are custodians of the memory, and so I pause to write this, wanting to capture both past and present in a way that honors both.