“We need extended families.… A nuclear family, a man, a woman and kids and a dog and cat is no survival scheme at all. Horribly vulnerable..”

Kurt Vonnegut

During the summer of 1954, we celebrated my grandmother's 80th birthday with a family reunion 

I've mentioned before that we saw quite a bit more of our family after we moved to Crystal City. We lived close enough to Brandon that we drive there and come back the same day. Or, because my dad's store was open from Monday to Saturday, we could drive up Saturday evening and come back Sunday evening, or go up on Sunday and come back Monday morning. Although the store was closed for lunch during the day, I'm assuming Dad had someone who worked for him part-time and could fill in as needed.

Also, while our relatives didn't visit us often, they did come on occasion.

However, during the summer of 1954, when I was six, we were able to spend several days with a large number of members of Dad's family. We were celebrating Granny Shaw's 80th birthday, and as many members of her family came together as were able. I have a feeling we spent most of the time in Brandon but also drove up to Rossburn for part of the time. That's where Grandpa Shaw and their second son, Bill, who died six months after I was born, were buried, as well as the two little girls who had died as infants. We visited that cemetery a number of times over the years.

Since I was six, I was now old enough to understand who was who and engage with them.

I assume the picture below was taken by a photographer. All eight of her living children were present. 

Back row from left: Lorne, Sarah, Margaret, Robert (Dad), Grace, Jean, Walter. Seated: Agnes, Granny Shaw (Jenny), George. No, my dad wasn't that much taller. He had to be standing on something. 

Two more photos from that summer (sent to me by my cousin Joan).

The first is Granny Shaw with some of her children; the second is Granny Shaw with some of the spouses of her children. I have a vague feeling these pictures might have been taken in Rossburn, but I could be wrong.

Uncle Lorne and Aunt Elsie are missing, likely because they had left on the long drive back to Ohio. Linda, Bill's wife, is missing. As is Uncle Lockie, Aunt Grace's husband. 

Back row: Robert (Dad), Sarah, Jean, Walter. Middle Row, Margaret, Grace. Front row: Agnes, Granny Shaw, George.

Back row: Alf Mitchell (Sarah), Mabel Shaw (George), Gordon Taylor (Agnes); Middle row: Howard Maltby (Jean), Margaret Shaw (Mom), Marguerite Shaw (Walter), Albert Roney (Margaret); Front row: Granny Shaw, her brother Jim Sherritt.

The picture below isn't a great one, but it shows me with Granny Shaw and the cousins I knew best because I saw them the most. They were all eight or so years older than me, which is a lot when you're six. 

From left: Ferle, Barry?, Joan, Darlene, Garnet, Faye, Eleanor, and me. 

Garnet, Ferle, Faye, and their older sister Theresa were Walter and Marguerite's children. Joan and her younger brother Barry were Howard and Jean's children. Darlene, Eleanor and their older sister Joyce were Alf and Sarah Mitchell's children. 

Those closest to my age were Barry, Joan, Eleanor, and Faye. 

I have a cousin my age! 

I'd heard my dad talk about his brother Lorne, and I'd seen a few pictures of him and his wife Elsie and their son, but they lived far away in the United States so, in a way, they didn't feel real to me.

However, they drove up to Brandon for Granny Shaw's 80th birthday! Lyle was only four months younger than me, and I was thrilled to have a cousin the same age! Not only that, but we had a lot in common since he was also an only child.

Me, Granny Shaw, and my cousin Lyle. No idea why I look a bit wild.

We were the youngest of Granny Shaw's grandchildren by quite a few years.

During the time we were there, we spent as much time together as we could.

In the first picture, Dad had taken us to the small park in Brandon to see the deer. 

We went there or to other zoos whenever we had the chance, and it was often Dad who suggested it. I'm just this moment realizing that he liked animals, which was probably why he hated being a butcher and a mink farmer.

In the picture on the right, where we both look very solemn, I have no idea who the little boy with us is, or the lady (his mother?) behind us. I'm guessing she's one of my cousins or cousins-in-law. 

Since I was the "experienced" cousin, and we spent a lot of our time at Uncle Albert and Aunt Margaret and Granny Shaw's house, I got to show Lyle the back yard, introduce him to the Chinese checker board Uncle Albert and I used to play checkers, and got out the little plastic bread container with its different coloured Bible verses. I probably asked Aunt Margaret to let us play with some of her flannelgraph figures in their bedroom, too. (More about these things soon!)

Being Part of an Extended Family 

I mentioned earlier that it was easy to feel that my parents and I, along with Bozo and Tippy, were all alone in a new community where many people were related to each other or had lived for many years and therefore had very close friends who were like family. 

I don't for one minute think anyone meant for us to feel like outsiders but, for me, it was hard not to, and I'm sure Mom felt the same.

I'm not sure about my dad. He was focused on doing his best to look after Mom and me, and of course he was busy with his store. Even though he'd been in a business before, this was a brand new venture for him. He'd never sold women's and children's clothes, and as far as I know, he had no mentor and no access to any kind of "rules of business." The only people he met who might have offered suggestions were some of the wholesale salesmen who came by, and of course, their primary goal was to get him to buy their products. Back then, it was do your best, learn what works and what doesn't, and keep trying.

I don't know about my parents but, for me, the time with our extended family that summer made me feel a lot more secure. We weren't adrift in the world alone even if it sometimes felt that way. It had been easy to see that my parents were good friends with many of the members of Dad's family, and that they were very comfortable with them. It was a bit weird that some of my parents' family friends were technically my cousins and were old enough to be my parents (at six, that's kind of hard to grasp), but all that really mattered was that we had people who cared about us. 

One byproduct of that summer was that when my parents talked about this person or that from the Shaw family, I could usually picture them in my mind or at least ask an intelligent question.

Sure, we might be outsiders in Crystal City, and we might not have any family or close friends there, but we did have family! Lots and lots of family! When I felt as though we were outsiders, I knew it was just temporary and it would be okay.

And even if I never saw him again, I had a cousin my own age who I really liked! 

.         .         .

Can You Relate?

Did you have extended family members near you when you were growing up? Or longtime family friends?

Did you ever feel like an outsider?

.          .          .

LoveChild: Life Lessons from an Ugly Duckling is the story of my struggle to adjust to the life I was given, and my eventual discovery that, not only had I become a swan but, contrary to my perceptions, I had always been one. Though I didn't realize it until many years later, my life was part of a much bigger plan that all made perfect sense.

I'll be blogging my story once a week.

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