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Family connects us forever – for better or worse

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Every family begins with a marriage. Two weeks ago, my family got together in California to celebrate our parents’ marriage with a huge party for their 60th anniversary.

It was a 1950s-themed party, minus the poodle skirts and black leather jackets.

My sister transformed her garage into a ’50s-style combination soda shoppe and hot rod garage, complete with a juke box in the corner playing classic rock ’n’ roll music.

Our cousin, Jan, a third-generation bakery owner like our grandmother, used a photo from my parents’ 1952 wedding and amazingly replicated the wedding cake our grandmother had made for them.

Other cousins came from around the state, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. My 91-year-old only living aunt was there, my mom’s older and only sister.

My daughters and granddaughter came too, from Virginia and North Carolina. Neither my parents nor my aunt had seen my granddaughter, Caroline, now 10 years old, since she was a newborn.

My aunt loves to say her name — Caroline Kennedy Smith.

My job for the party was to show up, clean my sister’s downstairs bathroom and give a welcoming toast.

When the time came and everyone had quieted, I raised my glass of champagne — and spilled it.

And then I turned to my parents and said: “Every family begins with a marriage, and in our family it began with yours.

“From this marriage came O’Brands (our family name is O’Brand), Kennedys and Watsons, Smiths, Fiamengos and Astorgas — 26 of us so far.

“From this marriage came machinists and electricians, military veterans, college students and graduates, marathon runners, writers, firefighters and EMTs.

“From this marriage came four children, seven grandchildren and now five great-grandchildren. From this marriage we now have Caroline and Dylan, Wesley, Madison and Leah.”

I told my parents to look around the room, that this family was and is their legacy.

And then I joked, “This is all your fault!”

It was a fun, joyful moment as was the rest of the party.

One of the best things about family is the telling of stories. My sister, cousin Jan and I told my granddaughter about how our grandmother used to ice cupcakes at her bakery by scooping her bare hands into a huge tub of chocolate frosting — while wearing multiple diamond rings — plop the frosting on and twist off the excess.

I remember being fascinated at her speed. She could ice a dozen cupcakes in probably less than a minute.

My cousin said after our grandmother died she found a ring that still had chocolate in it and that she would never have it cleaned because that was a part of our family heritage and history.

At the party we talked about the house where we grew up and wondered if the “hairy eyeball,” a glass marble stuck in the mortar of a cement block wall that we walked past on the way to school, was still there.

We whispered about the time Mom found a marijuana plant growing in the back yard and she pulled it out and taped it to the wall with a note: “Who does this belong to?” We laughed about that, also about the time Dad danced the entire 27 minutes of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” with us and then dove into the swimming pool with all his clothes on.

We’ve told the same stories a billion times, but that’s what binds families together. By our stories we reaffirm ourselves as a family, these people to whom we are forever connected, for better or for worse. Likewise, that’s what binds God’s family together. We tell each other stories about our Father and our common faith.

When it comes to family, no one chooses which one to be born into. We don’t choose our parents or our siblings. We can’t custom design our children. It’s a toss of the dice — we play the hand we’re dealt.

Even so, the psalm writer said God sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). He chooses moms and dads, brothers and sisters. We may get along or we may irritate like sandpaper, but we are family nonetheless.

As a family, we grow. We comfort each other in bad times and celebrate the good times — like the marriage that began our family 60 years ago.