The gathering of the fam

Shoe lasts, Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

For once I thanked my feeble gut as I leaned on the powder room door, playing with five tiny light switches lined up like boxed lozenges, each one serene in their sole purpose to illuminate the sink, toilet, mirror, or room. I was avoiding the long dinner table outside – where my ears had been plugged with memories lost on me – eager to elongate time alone.

Outside the door the clan had gathered, a blend of Irish-Italian sugo. Mangia meets slàinte and it was loud. The bathroom was quiet except for the sound of clicking buttons.

The reunion of my husband’s cousins began at a Toronto tavern, where I met or heard about the Mikes – brownie Mike (also known as tennis Mike) and Vancouver Mike. I already knew old Tom and young Tom but had never met Tim or youngest Tom. I’d heard about Toronto John – not to be confused with Ottawa John – and had met the lovely Maryann and Joanie (cousins, not sisters), but not Sarah. Thank goodness for the familiar Ottawa cousins – Gerard (who prefers to be called Gerry, I learned at this event after knowing him for 36 years) and Elizabeth and her genuinely Irish husband Ronan, my dear sisters-in-law Meg and Ann (who could arguably be called the glue of our Ottawa family group), and my smart, kind, and important nieces, Katie and Joey.  Did I mention Patrick and trombone Roberta? There’s only one Patrick although they all may be Patricks in spirit.

Somehow I got lucky and married into this exuberant clan, crazy-glued on to a tree with so many forks and twists and layers and skins I doubt a dendrochronologist could figure it out. But when the clan goes into memory mode it’s impossible to keep up. In truth, there’s no need to ask questions because one story riffs off another and I’m the staff, the lines on the paper, the audience, the laugh track. Still, it was fun to watch and listen to the one-upmanship, enjoy the hugs, drink the wine.

While pushing buttons on and off in the powder room, it occurred to me that marriage is kind of like adult adoption. You join a family that you have no genetic link to. Maybe you come from a different cultural or racial group. You link arms, sway to the music of your new family and find yourself kicking in the wrong direction or bumping hips because you shifted left when everyone else shifted right. Eventually you kind of fit in although from time to time you’re still introduced as Sue from British Columbia even though you’ve lived in Ontario for nigh on 40 years. Or worse – they say you’re from Vancouver when you’re really from Vancouver Island.

See? I can’t shake my own clan roots despite the years, which is the reason I ended up in the bathroom playing with the light switches.



35 thoughts on “The gathering of the fam

  1. hilarycustancegreen February 6, 2016 / 1:29 pm

    This was a good insight for me. I’m from a largish family, but my husband is from a tiny one and now has only our two daughters as blood relatives. I know it has been overwhelming for him on occasion.


    • Susanne February 6, 2016 / 1:37 pm

      It was loads of fun but then I hit a wall and needed a respite. My family is quite small, too and we rarely gather. I had a great time at the event but it did require loin-girding and alcoholic fortification.


  2. Luanne February 6, 2016 / 5:07 pm

    Ah, I would love to have married into or been born into a family like this!


    • Susanne February 6, 2016 / 6:44 pm

      They are pretty darn wonderful, Luanne and talented, too. The video is of Patrick and his wife (I think she might be on piano in this one) but there are many musicians in the family, successful lawyers, doctors, writers, ad people. An intimidating crowd!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luanne February 7, 2016 / 12:38 pm

        Talented, smart, lively people!!!


  3. Bruce Goodman February 6, 2016 / 10:14 pm

    First of all – I have been to the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto – I had forgotten that! I used to fly to Toronto from North Carolina for a day and fly back into the States so that my Visa would be renewed! On one occasion I visited the Shoe Museum and enjoyed it!!

    I did laugh at the family – and enjoyed your presentation. One of the frequent pre-marriage statements I heard was “Oh but I’m not marrying the family, I’m marrying Johnny.” I always said, “You’re marrying the family. Get used to it.”


    • Susanne February 7, 2016 / 9:36 am

      The Bata Shoe Museum was one of the best small museums I’ve visited. It took about 2 hours to go through it all (one floor was not available as the exhibits were changing) and every bit of it was fascinating. Well worth a stop while one waits for a visa to be renewed, or before a family reunion.

      I can’t recall whether the priest who married us gave me the “talk” about marrying the family. He probably presumed I was down for that since he was the family’s parish priest and knew what a wonderful crew they were/are. He was more focused on my lack of religious upbringing and how on earth would I be able to raise good Catholic children. But I came with good references. My prof in the Philosophy of Religion course I took at University and I got along well thanks to his liberal sense of humour and he wrote a nice letter about me. How funny is that, eh? Gosh, hadn’t thought about that “marriage prep” course in a long time. Thanks for the memory jog.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bruce Goodman February 7, 2016 / 12:29 pm

        😀 Glad to have jolted – as your family story did to me!!


  4. Lisa @ cheergerm February 7, 2016 / 2:08 am

    Marvellous but then I come from a largish family, I think it has been a tad overwhelming at times for my ‘one sibling’ husband. Nowt wrong with seeking a quiet moment. Even I have to with my clan sometimes!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Susanne February 7, 2016 / 9:44 am

    Thank goodness for bathrooms. No one – except toddlers – comes in when they’re occupied.


  6. Osyth February 7, 2016 / 10:00 am

    I love that expression ‘Adult Adoption’ …. I come from a large but very stiff-upper lipped family and my husband is one of five children brought up by an impoverished single mother in Liverpool. When they get together it is mayhem …


      • Osyth February 7, 2016 / 10:33 am

        Oh yes! His family are typical Liverpudlians … full of laughter and fun. My family is much more reserved which made bringing them together when we married quite an interesting study in human behavior 🙂


      • Susanne February 7, 2016 / 10:39 am

        Always good material for writing, eh?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth February 7, 2016 / 10:45 am

        I always regret that Gerald Durrell got there first with the perfect title ‘My family and other animals’ 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. exiledprospero February 7, 2016 / 5:38 pm

    I am green (or should I say Green?) with envy as you seem to have an Abundance of Toms, Johns, and Mikes…


      • Cynthia Jobin February 7, 2016 / 6:20 pm

        Come on, now…….certainly lots of Dicks…..


      • exiledprospero February 7, 2016 / 6:21 pm

        Actually I was referencing John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines–as if I read young adult novels!

        Maybe you do have some Katherines in the family: Tom, Dick, and Harry–and his lovely wife Katherine.


      • Susanne February 7, 2016 / 7:08 pm

        Not a single Katherine. Or a married one either.


      • exiledprospero February 7, 2016 / 7:36 pm

        Darn. You’ll have to read the book now–there are plenty Katherines there, between the covers !


    • Susanne February 8, 2016 / 8:04 pm

      Me too. I have to credit a friend who recently told me in an e-mail that he’d been adopted by his wife’s family. I though, yeah, that’s one way of looking at marriage.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. J.B. Whitmore February 8, 2016 / 4:34 pm

    Funny. I have five siblings. When we all get together, is this what it’s like for the husbands and wives? Wonder who retreats to the bathroom to play with the light. Cheers —


    • Susanne February 8, 2016 / 7:58 pm

      Maybe. I have a streak of introversion that always seems to peek out at large gatherings. I’m much happier in smaller groups. But I bet there are a few of the spouses in your family who retreat to a quiet spot.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. dawnkinster February 8, 2016 / 6:09 pm

    My husband’s family is huge and confusing with many people of different generations with the same first names. We’ve been married over 25 years now and I’m still confused on some of it.


    • Susanne February 8, 2016 / 7:56 pm

      The night before the event a few of us sat down and made a rudimentary family tree so we could figure out who the cousins were and which Tom and which Mike belonged with which family. Oi. I still fumbled.


  10. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner February 9, 2016 / 9:42 pm

    Just picturing you krazy-glued to a tree…this makes me want to organize a family reunion. Ugh, it’s been much too long. Thanks for the nudge, Susanne.


  11. Andrea Stephenson February 13, 2016 / 3:36 pm

    Sounds like a great event Susanne, I do like it when my extended family of cousins gets together – it’s great fun, though it can be overwhelming 🙂


  12. Aquileana February 13, 2016 / 11:33 pm

    That one is certainly an exuberant clan… I love the analogy you used to describe the family tree… 🙂 … I guess the different version of each name, according to places and locations might be helpful… but still it seems tough to keep up!.
    Sending best wishes… happy sunday. Aquileana ⭐


  13. D. Wallace Peach March 22, 2016 / 9:21 am

    I had to dig back a bit to find a post I hadn’t read yet. Love this one, Susanne. Marriage IS like adopting an extended family. I love the way you describe it – our participation as audience members to the shared memories that we can’t partake of. I might be catching a breath in the bathroom too 🙂


    • Susanne March 22, 2016 / 9:28 am

      It was one of the nicest powder rooms I’ve ever spent time in and I’ve spent time in quite a few due to my dodgy gut. I’m glad you liked the introduction to my husband’s cousins. They are a great crew.

      Liked by 1 person

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