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Hollie Grimaldi Flores: Making a family

Hollie Grimaldi Flores
Columnist

It’s summer which, for many, is reunion time.

From formal class and family reunions to the more nebulous reunions — we reacquaint ourselves with friends, neighbors, children and spouse as school breaks and vacations and nice weather, bring people back together in a more concentrated fashion.

For me, this summer means missing a major family event. The cost and uncertainty of travel made it too difficult to attend my brother and sister-in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary. It’s happening this weekend where I grew up, in New York state – a suburb three hours northwest of Manhattan — holding no resemblance to the Big Apple, whatsoever.



My upbringing was very small town with lots of trees, rolling hills, plenty of rain and more than a fair share of humidity. In August of 1972, I was in grade school when my brother married his high school sweetheart. They met in the 8th grade and have been together ever since. A literal lifetime. I remember that my mother, sister, and I wore matching dresses that my mom had sewn. Light blue with lacy sleeves is my memory, but I could be wrong about the sleeves. Maybe those sleeves were only for the mother of the groom and not his youngest siblings? In truth, I don’t really remember the ceremony, but I remember the reception was outside on a hot, sunny day and I remember getting in trouble for playing with my stepbrothers in a creek in the aforementioned light blue dress!

I’m sorry to miss the commemoration, purely for the opportunity to share my affection and admiration for their ability to stick it out and just possibly – it’s looking likely, at this point — to have lived happily ever after! Not to say the relationship has been a fairy tale. There has been a rough patch or two in that long and winding road. They grew up together, shared their life, bought a home, moved across country and back, worked many jobs, started, and closed a business, and managed to retire. They raised two sons who in turn gave them five granddaughters. For fifty years they have lived for better and for worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health — all the things they promised they would on that hot, sunny day in August. It took some doing but, I think that is the point. Even through the tough times, they managed to find their way, and stayed together.



I admire them for that.

Family tends to be complicated. As it turns out, blood alone does not make for a compatible, sympatico experience! Add extended family, stepfamily, they-married-into-the-family, and used-to-be family, and you have a heck of a grouping of individuals coming together. You may imagine that this California girl may not see eye-to-eye with one or two of them, which is the one thing that makes missing the anniversary party a little easier to take.

If I am being completely honest, the idea of going back home comes with mixed emotions. Maybe it wasn’t just the exorbitant cost of airline tickets and rental cars that kept me from attending the party, maybe there is a smidge of hesitation that comes with coming face to face with some of the bloodline.

As the youngest of my siblings, with a rather large gap between the second youngest and me, I was subject to a lot of leaving. My dad moved away when I was very young but also my eldest brother, then a sister, and then another, and the next brother (the one having the party) all moved out of our family home well before I hit my teens. That is a lot of being left behind, and though I am not a therapist, I have had enough therapy to tell you it had an effect!

To compensate, I created a family of my own, choosing friends and treating them like family, or, better than family, because I never take them for granted. Unconditional love is hard to come by. In my life there have been plenty of examples when I thought I had it, but somewhere along the way I found out there were, actually, conditions attached. Sometimes there needed to be conditions! There were deal breakers. Love ended. Family ties were broken.

It takes work to keep relationships alive. I am willing to do that with those I value. I am usually the one to reach out when I have not heard from someone in a while. I love to gather. As a result, I have friends that have been my friends for over 50 years. Talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly! We’ve been through puberty and menopause together. Talk about for better or worse. They know me at my most basic self.

When you find those you can call on to be there in the middle of the night without a need to explain; when you find those who joyfully celebrate the wins, who will help shoulder the losses, and provide a soft and safe place to fall, who are able to forgive your transgressions – no matter how egregious – who love without condition, hold on! That is truly what family means to me.

Thirty-seven years ago, I put 2,700 miles between me and much of my bloodline. Social media has put me in touch and helped cultivate relationships with cousins and siblings, nieces, and nephews but I definitely feel the distance. I am a long way from the girl playing in the creek on a hot summer day at her big brother’s wedding. Many who attended that day have passed on including my mother in her hand sewn light blue dress with the lace sleeves. But I know she would be very proud to see her son celebrate a half a century of marriage and that she understands the daughter who created a family of her own.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at http://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@gmail.com


 

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