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>Family. Gratitude Challenge, Day 13, Part III (PHEW!)

December 28, 2009

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The Clan.
Thanksgiving, 2008.

Christmas, when I was younger, was usually a quiet affair.

Extended family weren’t involved; Dad, being one of the youngest of six, and the only living on the left coast, was never joined by elder siblilngs. Mom’s troubled childhood usually kept her brothers away. Often our grandparents would come, from either side, but as I said, it was usually a relatively quiet affair.

I positively LONGED for the hustle and bustle of a big, family Christmas.

I hungrily watched movies about big families, houses filled with cousins, noisy dinners, and the joyous chaos that would ensue.

This year, I got to experience my first noisy, boistrous, joyous, fun-filled, chaotic Christmas.

Backstory: After spending 10 years slavishly meeting the needs of my mentally and physcially ill mother, my devoted Dad, my hero, gulped down the last of his grief and got his 60 year old self on eHarmony. God was merciful, and after only two months, he met Nancy.

Nancy is everything my mom was, and could have been, but braver. Mom was always timid and insecure. Nancy has every ounce of her gracious hospitality and panache, and a big ‘ole dose of moxie besides. (Think Jackie O meets Amelia Earhart meets Caroline Ingalls.) She raised two rapscallion boys practically on her own in the Sierras, miles from anywhere. She’s done everything from slaughter her own cattle to going vegan. She is as at home hosting a banquet as she is camping out in a tent. Truly a marvel of feminine mettle is my stepmom.

(Here they are, still acting like newlyweds and cutting a rug at a wedding. Aren’t they adorable?)

And with her came two step-brothers and a step-sister. I ask you – when have two families every been joined by marriage and not resulted in conflicting personalities? When? In just about every case I can ever think of…except mine.

I have six new siblings and eight new nieces and nephews and I love ’em all. All different. All unique. All a whole big barrel full of fun.

There’s the oldest – the bald, bodacious giant who married a mite of a woman (who’s tougher than all of us combined. She races dirt bikes. And wins.) He was the first to immediately begin calling me “sis” and showing true, brotherly, “love” (i.e. stuff like shoving his nasty, sweaty, stinky biker boots in my face).

Then J – he’s an arborist by trade and a preacher by destiny. He doctors trees for a living in order to pay his way into the African desert, providing sustainable employment, water, and education for Tanzania. His wife is all that is wise, and gracious, and pious, and their kids are the ones I want to model mine after. She lives to serve – primarily the underprivileged half a world away. Someday somebody is going to write a book about this family. (Hey, maybe it will be me!)

And our East Coast pair – the posh Manhattanites who rub elbows with the smartest financials minds in NYC, at my house they pour my coffee and clear my table with manners that you don’t find in most modern homes. I was initially in awe of their Big Apple refinement, only to find they were easier to be around and to talk to than many locals. They are blessed with adorable and active twin boys that make me realize just how easy I’ve got it dealing with only ONE two year old.

On top of all of that, I have another barrel full of new step-cousins, aunts and uncles. And they are all super fun to boot.

What kind of miracle is this? Is this divine payback for suffering through mom’s illness and her mother’s before her; for the lack of familial joy and connectedness at the holidays growing up? Who knows, but I gotta say this was one of my favoritest Christmases ever. I loved the noise, the banter, the chaos, and the joy. And I can’t wait to do it all again at Bass Lake in July.

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