Friday, July 31, 2020

Insight: Families not defined by genes, rather by love

No family is perfect, some just seem to adapt to circumstances better than others.

Not long ago, my wife and I had dinner with visiting friends from New Hampshire who had recently gotten married. Each had been married previously and each had grown children from those marriages. One’s spouse had died and the other one was divorced, but this couple fell in love, and had decided to marry and spend their lives together as husband and wife.

Bill and Ida
End of story? Well no, it seems one of the newlyweds’ adult children objected to the marriage and will not allow her kids to visit with or talk to their grandparent on the phone. And all because an adult child resented the new spouse.

When I heard that story, it reminded me of a couple my own family knew when I was young and how those people changed my life for the better.

Ida was a real estate agent that my parents hired to sell their house in the 1950s. She became best of friends with my mother and soon our family met Ida’s husband, Bill, a World War I veteran with a heart of gold who enjoyed regaling us with stories about his job at Eastman Kodak.

Bill and Ida were in their late 60s and all alone except for a black cat they called “Blackie” and an all-white Spitz dog they called “Whitey.” Ida stayed single until she had married Bill late in life after a career as a newspaper reporter in Ohio. She was fun-loving, loved singing and once went on a date with former heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer in the 1930s.

By the time we were introduced to Bill and Ida, my brother and I had lost all of our grandparents. We listened to other kids talk about spending time with their grandparents and wondered what it would be like to have someone to be close to and do things with like that.

Knowing that we had no remaining grandparents that were alive, Bill and Ida informally stepped up and became our foster grandparents. I spent many Sunday afternoons with Bill watching baseball games on television or helping him cook popcorn. Ida showed me how to sew and how to pour a bottle of soda pop without it foaming over the top of a glass.

I could talk to them both about upcoming school projects, girls I was interested in or why my parents expected us to keep our rooms clean. They taught me to respect others, what calamari is made from and occasionally would take us in Bill’s 1963 Buick Riviera to Bob’s Big Boy for cheeseburgers, fries and root beer.

But the story behind this story is actually quite sad. Bill was married and raising a family with his first wife and he and his wife worked different shifts at Eastman Kodak. When one of them was arriving home on the afternoon bus, the other was just leaving for the Kodak plant on the departing bus.

One day only minutes after he had gotten off the arriving bus after a long shift at work, Bill watched and saw his first wife dashing across the busy city street to catch the departing bus as she was late. A speeding truck struck her in the middle of the crosswalk and she was killed instantly before Bill’s eyes.

He raised the couple’s three children alone and they all graduated from college and enjoyed successful careers and had families of their own. But after spending years as a widower, Bill met Ida and they fell in love and got married.

Bill’s kids would not accept that and disowned him, cutting him off from all access to his grandchildren. They didn’t call or visit him on Christmas or his birthday and he was profoundly saddened by that. He had so much love to share with them and it’s disturbing to me that he died a few years later without ever reconnecting with them.

But my brother and I came to love Bill and Ida and were so grateful that they chose to share their lives with us, even if their own grandchildren could not.

Time is too short to play hurtful games or to be offended by decisions you have no control over. The real strength of families is our love for one another no matter what and it’s a pity some people will never learn that. <

—Ed Pierce


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