On Family

My first big event with Catherine’s family after we started dating was to accompany her to her brother William’s and sister-in-law Debbie’s wedding in 1992. Coming from a tiny family as I do — both my parents are only children — it was an immersive short-course in large-family logistics. I survived, though, and have felt a welcome part of the clan ever since, even if, technically speaking, we’re still “dating.”

Seventeen years later and we’re back in Napanee for another family wedding. Both of Catherine’s grandmothers have since died, along with her Grandpa Joe, her Uncle Hilton, and her Aunt Lois. Niece Patricia and Nephew James have been born and grown up into mature teenagers, cousins Pam and Wendy have both had children, and wee nephew Allan, who was four years old at that first wedding, is now engaged himself. And he drives a pick-up truck and is very, very tall.

Saturday it was niece Valerie’s turn to get married, and this was the first time in a long time that everyone in the immediate family was able to sit down in one place and share a meal together. And what was once foreign and daunting now feels familiar and even, dare I say, comfortable.

Spending time with your partner’s family is like turning up the volume. Take everything you love about your partner, and everything you can’t stand, all their endearing qualities, and all the things you’d edit out if you had the chance. And then amplify them across a swath of relations.

It can be a shock to the system.

For the longest time I thought there was something unique and particularly demanding about all of this, but this weekend I realized that this is just how it is: what’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh. So much of what I love about Catherine comes from this place and these people, and while swimming around in the undiluted extra-strength version of this ethos can be challenging, it’s also an immutable aspect of being part of this coalition.

And then, as I write this, comes the final piece of the puzzle: after 17 years, I am now part of this place, part of this life, part of the cacophony, as much responsible for what it is and what it means as any other. That’s both comforting and completely daunting.

Off to a final dinner (I’d say lunch, but that’s not what they call it here) with the family before heading off to the Rukavina version of same where Catherine can reach her own conclusions about its virtues.


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