In 1993, between bites of a piping hot dinner roll at Bertucci’s in Harvard Square, my father leaned across the table from me and declared, “When you marry someone, you marry their family.” He revealed this as if it were a carefully guarded secret that had been passed down from generation to generation.
I had been telling my dad about my boyfriend, specifically his mother, a clog-wearing woman who made her own earrings and often glared at me. My boyfriend and I broke up later that year. I still have a childhood blanket of his that my children sometimes use to build forts.
My husband comes from a large family. He has eight brothers and sisters, all of whom live on the east coast of the United States. Recently we pulled the kids out of school in Perth for three weeks and flew across the planet to drink Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in Rhode Island (medium, milk, one sugar). The last time we visited my in-laws was more than two years ago, when Dave’s youngest sister married a gregarious New Yorker with excellent taste in wine and cable knit sweaters.
The nine children and their assorted partners are a diverse lot. We are dentists, poets, accountants, stay-at-home moms, engineers, mail carriers, actors, economists, and students. We have strong opinions. Some of us drink eggnog coffee while others think this is a beverage for monsters. Some of us prefer cranberry sauce out of the can. Some of us believe in God. Some of us feel crushed by the recent presidential election and some of us are more ok with it. (Before our trip, I reminded my daughters that family is more important than politics, and the younger one suggested, “Maybe we don’t wear our Hillary t-shirts on Thanksgiving.”)
Several of the nine siblings have had children themselves, and the kids are just as varied. My eleven-year-old niece recently stood up to a bully at school, and my four-year-old niece likes to throw chairs.
There were 30 of us for Thanksgiving this year, and we descended on my sister-in-law’s house with side dishes and folding chairs. As casseroles slid in and out of the oven, and children chased each other up and down stairs, I felt like I was in a 90’s home-for-the-holidays rom-com. All that was missing was Bill Pullman.
After the feast and the cleanup, we put the little ones to bed, poured ourselves more sangria, and gathered in the living room for the most sacred of family traditions: Pictionary.
I have been playing Pictionary with my in-laws for more than 20 years. We are fiercely competitive. I was infuriated by my brother-in-law’s inability to draw a hot air balloon that looks anything like a hot air balloon, and he chided me for my attempt to illustrate “cold” without including a thermometer. (I drew a stick figure in shorts and then crossed it out.)
At one point, the newest spouse in the group, the gregarious fellow with the sweaters, became enraged by a teammate’s failure to quickly identify the “object” category on the Pictionary card and shouted, “Things that you can touch or feel!” His baptism was complete.
My dad was right of course. It’s no secret that when you marry someone, you gain a family. And if you marry someone who has lost a family member, you respectfully inherit this absence as well. I am honored to be part of this clan. It is one of the greatest blessings of my life. And I am not just saying this to score points. Unless we’re playing a game.