The stucco house could be found on a quiet street, neatly kept along a wide road. The giant tree outside was planted especially for each and every child who tried to wrap their arms around its giant girth, for family photos throughout the years. For the really adventurous, that tree stood strong and steady for each child to pull themselves up to the nearest branches and claim victory to those who were unable to scale its massive trunk.
I had never noticed how small the house was. I only remember feeling excitement every time we would pull the car along the curb. Every single time, without fail, there he would sit. He always wore a white t-shirt, his suspenders to hold up his sagging brown pants. It was hard to see from the street, but he wore an eye patch over one eye, and kept his spittoon near-by to spit his Copenhagen into. Sometimes, the spittle would run down his chin and onto his white t shirt. He would wipe at it from time to time with his hankie, with only a few fingers on each hand. He had been missing fingers and toes for I don’t know how long, but I had never thought much about it, since that is the only way I had ever known him to be. He would gaze out his window, at the giant tree that intimidated some, gave shade to many, and seemed to give him company when he no longer had anywhere he needed to be.
The walkway was narrow, and with a pull of a handle, the door would give a familiar squeak. I remember hooks to hang your coat on, a dark small cramped area to remove shoes and then with a few more steps, and a push of another door, a small warm home enveloped all who entered.
My grandmother would be sitting in her chair, across the table from my grandfather. My grandfather would bluster, yelling for us to come in and close the door. My grandmother would gingerly stand, and I would run towards her, anxious to smell her, and feel her arms surround me. I can picture them as if it were yesterday. I remember the smells of soup on the stove top, the lemon candies in the glass bowl that would make my face pucker. I would sneak more when no one was looking. My grandmother seemed to delight in anything and everything I did, and she loved to watch me dance, or play. She had a magic about her that I have never felt since.
Dinners were filled with cousins running throughout the house, and aunt and uncles taking up space in the chairs, couches and love seats. I could crawl into each and every lap and know, without a doubt, that I was loved. No matter the time of year, if we visited my grandparents home, it was filled with family, laughter and love, as if these emotions and people were bursting from the seams of every room. Outside, a fridge filled with soda, lawn chairs and a wooden swing, and most importantly, the bug killer! This caged blue light seemed to hypnotize flying insects of every size, zapping and sparking, delighting every child, as they watched with excitement and a bit of awe, as each bug would fly to its doom, causing the blue lights to spark and flash. The strawberry patch, the gardens, the flowers and the fence. There are just so many memories packed into such a small time frame for me.
These are my earliest memories. These memories are of a childhood, and of a time that seems to have stood still for me. For just a moment in time, I had a real family. Parents, two brothers who I loved to annoy, but would protect me at all costs. Grandparents, aunts and uncles with cousins running everywhere.
Those memories stop when I was five years old. My father died. With his sudden death, everything in my world changed. The good times became less and less, and the safety and security I felt in those early years were just a memory.
Is this why I struggle now? My expectation of what a real family should be is so deeply ingrained in my memory, that there is no way anyone could ever hold a candle to “how it should be.”
All these years later, I have yearned to experience those moments again. When I was eighteen years old, I eloped with a man. He was an only child. There would be no cousins for my children to grow up with, to tease and torment, and stand in unity against the world. Many years later, when I met another man who would ask for my hand in marriage, I would have an expectation again of what family should be. I have since learned that my dream of having a close family, with cousins for my children, and aunt and uncles for my children to lean on for support will never be their reality. I think this has been weighing on me more and more the last few months.
This time, I am older, and I realize that expectations are as close to the devil as one can get. But damn, sometimes it hurts to realize that moments will never be repeated. Feelings can never be undone, or forgotten, and families will still disappoint.
Is it the innocence I miss, or the disappointment that my expectations were set too high? After all, expectations are just disappointments…better to not have them, so as to keep your disappointments to a minimum…