My First Unusual Idea of Family

My aunt Caro, my mum’s younger sister, jokingly calls herself a child bride as in her early twenties, she married an older man amid much questioning and criticism from family and friends. Although Caro would probably never admit to such wisdom, I will always believe that something inside told her not to care, that life is short and love precious, in whatever age or shape it comes in. And so despite the obstacles, they beat the odds, had two amazing children and were very happy for several years.

Before either of the kids had reached their teenage years, the family moved out to the country to escape the chaos and pressure of city life. Soon after, Caro’s husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor and less than 6 months later, he was gone. As expected, this meant devastation for the family. A young woman, not yet 40, widowed and two young children with no dad.

At the time I was only 15, and no matter how I thought about it, I could not see how they were going to manage through this immense difficulty and despite the limited support they had offered during the years Caro’s husband had been alive, the rest of our family felt the same way. What no one took into consideration was the woman who lived next door and the difference she would make to everything.

Image from Wander_Lust

At the time, Ruth was a single lady in her mid-40s; she had lived in her country home for several years – one of only three homes on a dusty lane at least 15 minutes from the nearest town. Ruth had appreciated the previous owner of the house next door, who had been tidy, quiet and who had kept to herself. She had also not anticipated what the new neighbours would bring to her life. Ruth was a nurse and worked at the nearest hospital, so when she learnt of her new neighbour’s diagnosis, she offered whatever assistance she could; helping out with advice, checking in on my uncle at the hospital, checking up on the kids when Caro couldn’t be there. During my uncle’s illness and in the months and years that followed his death, Ruth was amazing. She came in to all of our lives and changed everything for the better.

As time went by Caro and Ruth decided to take down the fence that divided their properties, exchanged keys to each other’s homes and started shopping and cooking together. Now we call their home the kibbutz, as the unspoken rule there is that everyone takes care of each other. They share everything, families, responsibilities, burdens, special occasions and everyday tasks and goings-on. They have taken care of the children and each other through everything, and share a home that has more laughter, love and support than most I have seen. Quite a few people have asked me what they are, and how everything fits together, are they a lesbian couple? People want to label everything and if it can’t come in a neat little box with a name tag attached then it can’t be real and long lasting.

I didn’t stay with them long, only three months in fact, and only on my days off from the restaurant I was working at a few towns away. In spite of this, when I walk into their home, I still feel like I’m home. For me, and others that I have taken there to escape, it is a sanctuary where every topic is up for discussion and no issue is too big to be tackled and resolved over a glass, or a bottle, of wine.

Re-reading the words I have just written I have to stop and wonder what more you could want in a family, what more you could strive to provide for your children. I have learnt from these extraordinary women that life is bloody tough some times and things never go to plan.

The good things in life don’t come in perfect and predictable packages, in fact the best things almost certainly won’t.

5 thoughts on “My First Unusual Idea of Family

  1. I really enjoyed that post. It was beautifully written and so much was conveyed in such a short passage.

    I though the concluding lines were particularly powerful.

    Thanks for sharing.


  2. What a very, very cool story! Like the subtext in the idea of “taking down fences”, think many of us would be much happier if we did more of that.


  3. awesome story. i often think im really lucky to have a family like mine, but looking at what others have experienced, i realised my views of the “family” are quite narrow minded, and family can extend to so much more. As long as you have some kind of support structure that’s all that matters.


  4. The ‘taking down the fence’ part I can completely relate to. Both literally and figuratively.

    The literal story goes like this…our neighbours after we moved in many years ago became like family, and living in JHB “the fence” is usually electric. A couple years ago my mum was held at gunpoint on our property and when the robbers weren’t looking she raced across our property and leapt over the wall into the neighbours property who immediately helped her at a time when she most needed it. If that fence had been there she would have had nowhere else to go.

    Figuratively, having grown up with a small extended family scattered all around the world, close family friends became my “family” for Christmas, Easter, Birthday’s and other special occassions. There was however one big white elephant in the room throughout all of these and that is the one family’s mom is an alcoholic, yet it was never spoken about. Not even when she “went crazy” for want of better words when her husband was overseas and she and her girls moved in with us for 3 weeks when I was 11. 10 years later was the first time I had a true heart to heart with the girls about their mom and the struggles they had been through. They had built up fences around themselves as protection, however, when it came down to it, they told me, if you couldn’t talk to family, who could you talk to?

    It amazing how people, who really are family, although not necessarily blood relations are who you can count on to help you through things, both good and bad. These people in my life I consider family more so than my real aunts and uncles and cousins and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Thank you for your story. It was an inspiring read and you hit the nail on the head when you say “I have to stop and wonder what more you could want in a family”.


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