"Framily" - a network of friends who care for you and yours.
I hope you, my readers dear, have been blessed with a "Framily" or "Framilies" at some point in your lives. I believe that my own life has been made all the richer through the care and security I have found among so many people, who, though they are unrelated by blood, choose me, love me anyway, even though they don't HAVE to. They do this, sometimes as passionately as my own flesh and blood, and I believe this has less to do with who I am and more to do with who they are....
I recently had the honor of attending a 75th birthday party for the patriarch of one of my childhood framilies. I spent so much time at my friend Lucy's house as a teenager that I called her mother "Mom." Now that I am a grown up and mother myself, I can see what an extraordinary gift that was. With limited time and resources, such as we have when we are busy raising our own families, Julia and John raised two sons and two daughters and made room at their dinner table for me many a night. I consider myself so lucky to have been counted among their "kids" too. When I visited, I was expected to follow the rules they laid down for their own kids, a small price to pay in order to be included in the over-flowing love to be found in that small house, along a back road in the tiny town of Lopez, PA. I was a quiet kid and Lucy's dad loved to embarrass me by pinching my cheeks or giving me a big hug and a smooch. Lucy's oldest brother, Junior, would give me "tough lessons" --actually teach me how to punch people! I guess he thought I needed it. After 30some years of being apart, we all reunited for John's birthday party. As I was standing in the picnic line, John came up to pinch my cheeks and give me a smooch. A bit later, Junior walked by and punched me in the arm, just like old times. My first thought was, "Wow, he's matured, NOT!" But as I stood there, watching him walk away, I couldn't stop grinning, for with one smooch from the elder and one simple junior-high punch from the younger, they told me something I didn't know I needed to hear, and that was: "You are still you, I am still me, you are still my framily." The world is so slippery and confusing sometimes, it's nice to know that I am still able to pick up a Stacey-shaped push pin and place myself firmly upon the grid where Julia's kitchen chair intersects with April 10, 1983. Or perhaps I never really left...perhaps my 17 year old self still exists in that kitchen in Lopez. She is giggly and unaware of all the missteps she will make and misfortunes she will face in the years to come. I know, I know, we can't go home again, as they say, but if I ruled the world, and let's face it, it's my blog, I can write whatever I want, I would amend that to say "you can't go home again--to STAY, but you can visit for short moments." Moments that crystallize like frozen breath on a wintry morning in 'The Icebox of Pennsylvania'-- little pockets of time which slow doooown, ....staaaanndd stiiiillll...stop, and then, BAM! Timetakesupit'shurriedpaceoncemore, and we are left disoriented, but grateful to have been allowed that glimpse.
I grew up in the country, on a farm, in the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. I have an older cousin, a great writer I am just now realizing, who once referred to Forksville, PA as a "little silverware town". (Shout out to Tom McC!) It's part of a small, rural community; big city journalists will often refer to this type of community as "insular" or "closely knit". Forksville may have been closely knit, however, we lived on the outskirts, which meant that I could stand in my front yard and not actually see the houses of any of my "neighbors". But, oh, what a lucky girl I was, for my BESTEST FRIEND from first grade onward lived in one of those nearby houses which I could not see. My love for Janie could fill an entire blog entry, but I will save that for another time. Today I will tell you about her family--my very first framily. The cool thing was that she and I were the same age, both the eldest children in our families, and the only girls. We each had a younger brother, also the same age as each other and also best buds--we didn't call it "bromance" back in the day, but that's what it was, and still is. And, we each had another younger brother, who differed in age by a year, but didn't let that get in the way of a life-long friendship. Through sleepovers and camp outs, bike rides and trips to the mall, we loved, and played and forged bonds of framiliness that are of the FOREVER type. Her brothers are mine, and my brothers are hers. I would do anything for her parents and my parents would do anything for her. We are all crazy about each other's children. Our hearts, and those of our families, are so closely intertwined, that after 40+ years, the vines, if they actually existed in the physical world, would be so thick, so wild, they would look like the brambles which encase Sleeping Beauty's castle as Disney's Prince tries to hack his way through on the way to kiss his princess. There have been some who have tried to hack their way through, tragedy and evil abide in little silverware towns too, but in the end, that thick network of leaves and vines is much like a safety net. It has caught and will continue to catch any of us little birdies who happen to take a tumble for the earth below.
I spent my single-chick years in the Pocono Mountains of PA, about a two-hour drive from my parents' home. Those years between college and marriage - the sweet spot, as I like to remember it, were such fun. Mostly. There were moments when it would have been nice to have family around, and luckily, thanks to my Canadian friend, Kelley Farrell, I did. Kelley was lucky enough to still live at home with her parents, brother, sister and assorted pets in a rambling, comfortable, lived-in home. After my first few visits her mom became mine, I think I called her "MomO", but I don't remember why. Her dad is still one of my favorite people. The Farrell home was my go-to refuge, whether the residents knew this or not, on tough days. I loved being a "back-door-no-knock-necessary-pop-in" friend. There was always good coffee on and someone to talk to. Hannah, Kelley's mom served me my first REAL cup of properly brewed tea, while introducing me to the joys of half and half for my coffee. Prior to that, I had never thought of buying half and half to keep at home. I just lightened my coffee with the gallon of skim milk I kept in my single-girl fridge. (Eww.. I know, right?) Now I keep half and half in my married-with-children fridge and think of Hannah every morning when I wrap my sleepy hands around my quart of half of half. True story. I had many sleep overs with Kelley in that house (mind you, we were 20somethings) and they are some of my favorite memories. I was honored to be one of Kelley's bridesmaids and the night before her wedding she and all of her bridesmaids spent the night in a big bunch on the basement floor of the Farrell's house. In the morning we all woke and began our preparations for the big day, moving off in separate directions for fittings and hair appointments, only thinking of the hustle and bustle, schedules and deadlines that so often are the hallmarks of a wedding day, not realizing at the time, that even though it was Kelley's big day, it was also a turning point for the rest of us. It strikes me now, as I look back on that morning, it was one of the last mornings I spent as a child. I was engaged, not yet married, my future husband's fiance, settled into another one of life's sweetest spots. My only responsibilities were to make sure I was ready to do my part in the wedding and look after Kelley as she gracefully moved down the aisle and into the next chapter of her life as a full-on grown up, some one's wife.
And now, twenty some years later, I too am a full-on grown up, some one's wife and mother, still living far from my own parents and siblings. I watch the other moms I know from church and PTO who have the pleasure of their parents company for dinner any night of the week, and the secure feeling that must accompany them when they wake up for work to find a sick child and call on Grandpa or Grandma to care for the little one so they can go back out there to bring home the bacon. Oh my heart, it squeezes when I think of how much my children miss out on by not having that daily or weekly access to their grandparents and cousins. But, we do have a semblance of framily here, in Reading, PA too. I don't live in the friendliest of places, as I may have mentioned in a previous blog, but I have managed to unearth a gem or two from the cold German ground here. I have girlfriends I met in "MOM's Club" when my babies were still babies. I have my Church Family who pray for me and teach my children. And I have been gifted with one adorably nutsy neighbor who makes me laugh and to whom I would entrust my children's lives in a heartbeat. A big part of my current, cobbled together framily is my Canadian friend (why yes, I do have two Canadian friends! Jealous? You should be.) Taylor. Taylor is one of those people who can easily talk to anyone, my opposite in so many ways. She oozes friend appeal. Within 5 minutes of meeting her you want to get her out of her work clothes into something more comfortable (like sweatpants) and onto your couch, with a glass of wine and a movie. This serves her very well because her family of origin is even further away than mine. As a single mom she built the ultimate framily which cares for her and her son so thoroughly and completely, they want for nothing. It is a thing of beauty, a true framily.
My children are still in elementary school, where I volunteer in the library once a week and am heavily involved with the PTO. I do these things in order to meet people, always on the look out for the next addition to my framily. I do these things because I want to know who their friends are, who their friends' parents are. As the children grow older, I hope my house will be that warm home where they and their friends will come to hang out. It's kind of exciting to wonder who will these young people be who will sit at my dinner table and call me "Mom". If my children are lucky as I was they too will develop their own framilies among their friends' families and I will know where they are and what kind of people they are staying with.
I pray they will be blessed as I was to have all of these extra people in their lives to love them and guide them too. That can only be a good thing.