Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What IS a Family? (Part 2)

In my blog, What IS a Family? (Part 1), I wrote about several of my Jenner ancestors who had been raised by step-parents, including Samuel Jenner I (7x-great-grandfather), Moses German Jenner (2x-great-grandfather), and Almond Lewis Jenner (great-grandfather). In each case, one of their parents had died while they were in infancy and they had been raised by a step-parent. In each case, these children had never truly known -- and probably had no memory of -- their deceased biological parent. So the step-parent had been the only father or mother they had known. The inescapable conclusion is that a family is not merely biological, but consists of those people who love and care for each other and invest themselves in nurturing each other.

This lesson was brought home in a remarkable and powerful way just a few days after I posted my Part 1 blog. On Saturday, August 2nd, I was blessed to attend a birthday party for my "sister", Lisa. If you look carefully at her photo, paying close attention to the details, you may notice that there is not a strong family resemblence. This is because we are not biologically brother and sister.

I have known Lisa since around 1965, along with her brothers, Terry and Kevin, and her sisters, Claudia and Shari. I have no biological siblings, so the five of them became the brothers and sisters for which I was desperately longing. They filled a huge void in my life. They provided me with all the joys and heartaches, all the squabbles, the sibling rivalries, the playmates -- everything that was missing in my life as an only child. Lisa's parents, George and Betty, truly adopted me in every way except filing the legal papers. I can't count the number of hours I spent and the meals I ate in their home. For about ten years, I spent more time at their home than with my biological parents! Lisa could not be any more my sister if we had been born of the same parents.

And this fact was driven home at her birthday party last Saturday. At one point, the festivities were quieted and her Mom stepped up to the microphone and said a few words of praise and love for her daughter. Then she invited others to do the same. One after another, about a dozen people came forward and each had a similar tale to tell -- of how Lisa had become a surrogate mother, daughter, or big sister to them, how she had "adopted" each of them and showered them with love and care, even in the midst of her own struggles as a single mother and cancer survivor. What emerged was an amazing portrait of a strong, independent woman of character with a tender heart who became family to almost everyone with whom she has come in contact.

There is no official place in which to put Lisa and her family on my family tree. They don't meet the qualifications for a place in my genealogy. Nevertheless, they are as much family as anyone else in my family tree and one of these days I'm going to figure out how to give them their rightful place in my genealogical records. Until then ...

Happy Birthday, Lisa!

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