Weather Helmed

an adventure in renewing the spirit and living the dream…on a sailboat

Weather Helmed

Taken In

August 7th, 2010 · 6 Comments · First Mates, Introspection, Thoughts on Family

Family. It’s a funny word in this confusing day and age with even high court justices trying to decide exactly what it means to be a family and who constitutes a family member. It’s also probably a fairly sensitive topic on a blog that all sorts of blood relatives allegedly read… 🙂

Growing up, “family” really just meant my mom, my dad, my brother and me. Obviously, we had aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, but when someone asked about my “family,” I had only the four of us in mind. But, I envied those kids who were close with their “extended family;” the ones who had annual reunions or cousins sleepovers, who spent summers with their grandparents. I was not one of those kids. I knew my extended family and we saw them on occasion, but due to various circumstances, they really weren’t a big part of my life.

As I got older and my own relationships and friendships became stronger and more complicated, I came to include friends (my own and some of my parents’ friends) and their families in my definition of “family.” The Perezs, the Arreolas, the Benders, the Prewitts, the Roberts, the Rushes, the Easlings, the Powers, the Gees, the Eisenbises, the Browns, the Mantooths, and so many others endeared themselves to my heart. After a time, I no longer felt that I was “missing out” on those big family get-togethers, etc. Bloodlines didn’t matter – I knew I was surrounded by people who loved me just as I was. (Over the years, my brother and I have been disproportionately blessed with amazing friends!)

However, when we were in high school, certain girlfriends and I would daydream of marrying into one of “those” big wild families – lots of rambunctious kids running around, cousins reminiscing about their crazy antics of the past and planning future ones, each generation sharing common bonds and laughter, and passing their memories onto the next.

When I met Matt, you would never know he came from one of “those” families. Matt is a loner, like me, to some extent. He’s never felt a strong need to remain in the same state or same hemisphere as his family. He doesn’t always call, doesn’t always write… but when he starts talking about his grandparents, his cousins, his aunts, well, it’s clear that family is more than just a word.

I was introduced to his family slowly, meeting a few over Thanksgiving dinner one year, a few more another Christmas. I didn’t get the full impact until our wedding last October. We were married on the front lawn of Matt’s parents’ house, a beautiful home that his grandparents had lived in previously, and numerous Holmes’ before that. Although the house itself was built in the mid-1800’s, the property has been in the Holmes’ family for almost four hundred years. Sandy’s family also has strong ties to the area and so it was only natural that our wedding served as a sort of mini-family reunion for them.

And in the middle of it all, there was me.

Unlike most couples, our wedding was not an even breakdown of Matt’s family and mine, at least not in the traditional sense. My closest friends were there and my brother and mom. Everyone else was from Matt’s side or our mutual friends. We had a separate event in Bakersfield, my hometown, for my other relatives to attend. Initially, I hadn’t thought this would be a big deal, but when I looked at our invitation list, at how few names I recognized, I felt – briefly – that I had made a mistake in our plans. Is it better to surround yourself with family who sometimes feel like strangers, than strangers who will soon be family? Either way, I had chosen to get married in New Jersey, under the fall leaves, just as I had always dreamed, and now it was too late to turn back.

The week of the wedding was stressful. I’d thought having it on the lawn would make things easier, but it just meant we had to do everything ourselves! So many decorations to make and decisions about what goes where, tents to put up… our “to do” list was overwhelming. And then, the sisters arrived.

Of Sandy’s five sisters, I had only met one and heard rumors of the others. They showed up a few days before the wedding, jumping out of cars, throwing their arms around me, asking “what do you need me to do?” Then cousins came by, introducing themselves with hugs and congratulations. My best friend soon came – thank God – and took charge of everything, creating order out of the chaos. It was crazy, but magical – watching all these men and women running around, working hard to turn the front lawn, the whole event, into my dream come true. I remember falling over myself at one point, trying to thank one of the sisters for everything that they were doing and she stopped and looked at me funny and said, “What do you mean? You’re family!” And just like that, I was.

Because of how we grew up, I think my brother and I are pretty fluid when it comes to “family.” We both seem to love the ebb and flow in our lives as friends come and go, our “families” expand and contract. The best part is that there’s always room for more. And, who your father is or where you came from doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether or not you can make me laugh, make me a cry, and make me a fabulous drink (or cookies!) while you’re at it.

My family grows again this weekend as Matt’s cousin Derek and his fiancee Lauren get married. Lauren has been around the fam for a while, so, unlike I was, she’s fully aware of what she’s gotten herself into! 🙂 We obviously won’t be there for the wedding, but I look forward to seeing the pictures and hearing all about it!! Congratulations you two!!

Tonight, I think, too, of all my other friends and family, those who have gotten married, some who have had kids, some who have just found out they’re having more, friends who let us stand by them in their adventures and struggles… I feel so blessed with how many people invite us into their lives and let me love them in my own faraway, flawed way. Perhaps I am becoming more sentimental with every nautical mile, but even something as silly as looking at my facebook page reminds me of all the “extended families” I’m part of, too, and as I think of you out here on this great big sea, you all make me feel a little less lonely and a little more at “home.”


6 Comments so far ↓

  • Dana

    I’m truly honored to call you family. What a beautiful post. Thank you.

  • Barry Reese

    The best post I’ve ever read on any blog or any other internet page. I know Jon and Matt. They are freinds therefore they are family. you are married to Matt, therefore you are my family too, you just don’t know it. Thanks again for these amazing words and thoughts. Perfect. Hi to Mat and Jon from me and Donna (here in Colorado). Barry

  • Lauren

    Aww Karen what a sweet blog post! You may not have heard, but I stalk your blog daily while I am at work, and I have enjoyed every minute. I think that you should continue blogging even when you and Matt return from your trip! Derek and I greatly missed your (you & Matt!) presence at our wedding, we are *hoping* to see you at Christmas!! Best of luck for the remainder of your travels, I can’t wait to read further!

    Also, I adore the Kindle, Derek got it for me as a Christmas present. After the initial buying frenzy wore off, I tried to limit myself to a few books a month. It is hard, but they are just way too easy to buy!

  • Karen

    Barry, you made me cry!!! Thank you so much for the kind words. It means a lot to me to know you enjoy my writing AND that I’m part of your family 🙂 I told Matt and Jon about your comment and they both said to tell you hello, as well, and they look forward to hanging out with you again one of these days soon. Thank you again for making my day!!! 🙂

  • Karen

    Lauren! You’re supposed to be on your honeymoon! What are you doing online?!!??! 🙂 thanks for reading and for the kind words. It’s always nice to know I have an audience 🙂 ha. Can’t wait to see pics of the wedding and hear all about it! now go enjoy yourself!! 🙂

  • Nicole

    Such a sweet touching blog. Love being part of your family.

Leave a Comment