I grew up in a painfully honest family. We couched nothing in kid gloves, we told it like it was so consequently we all had pretty warped senses of humor. We had to have a strong sense of the ridiculous because that’s what our lives, laid completely bare, were. Nowhere to hide.

Fast-forward to my 21st year. I still only had one brother, a Mother and a Father. Two cousins that I had seen twice in my life since we lived in North Carolina and they were in New Jersey. And one visit was in New Jersey after my dad was transferred to New York and we lived just outside Princeton.

I married someone who had an enormous family. His immediate family consisted of both parents, one brother, but his mother’s family had throngs of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins– first, second and third, and then they started on the removeds. I thought this must be just wonderful. A never-ending sea of potential friends, cohorts, partners-in-crime.

Boy was I ever wrong.

I doubt all large families are like this. Most likely warmly recall the frog stuck in Auntie May’s purse when she wasn’t looking and then went to find a pen… or Uncle Bob’s attempt at a one-and-a-half gainer and the resulting broken ankle. The stories told as dusk faded to black, or as darkness turned to the groggy eyes of dawn on a stroll to the lakeside for a little pre-breakfast fishing.

No, this family was like none I had ever seen. I only made two of these “meetings” and both terrified me. I am still unsure of the purpose of them every two years, but from what I understand (I bowed out of this family only 5 years into it) they still happen. And now the relatives are so distant I wonder they even recognize anyone at all. My son still attends them, occasionally, but comes away in such a foul mood I can’t imagine what can be the point of going.

Most families relish the joys of recollection or sharing of personal successes, commiseration of unexpected setbacks. Not these. They fed on one-upmanship and critiquing, unsolicited, and to embarrassing degrees. I often wondered whether any of them would want to even see the others, ever. But sure enough, next time I attended there they all were.

I guess people show love in different and peculiar ways. Which may be why I remain a shy and reticent observer, happy to stay out of any limelight, but also happy to share anyone’s joys, recollections, or empathize with setbacks and restarts.

Snipe hunting anyone? Not me, thanks.

~Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.