My husband grew up in a small town in Tasmania where almost everyone was related by blood or marriage. As a transplant from another country, he wasn't related to anyone, but was soon accepted into this big, messy, close-knit family of a town that he would later name our son after. (To clarify, we named our son Scott, not Scottsdale. With a surname of twelve letters, the poor kid didn't need a first name with ten more.)
Although I, too, come from a big extended family, I couldn't imagine one that encompassed an entire town. It sounded wonderful. In my mind they were always cheerful and happy to be together, watching each other's children, bringing each other casseroles, and never having to plan family reunions because they lived in one.
Apparently, it wasn't like that. They were just regular people with regular problems who had their share of illness, addiction, sad stories, and squabbles. I was so disappointed to hear it. Surely, there was something special about this inter-related town? It turns out there was. When anyone had a problem, word quickly spread through the family grapevine. If you fell, someone would pick you up, if you were hungry, they would feed you, and if you were feeling down, they would sit with you. Ah, that's more like it! If only we could all live in a town like that.
In my first year as a lawyer, we hired a law clerk named Mindy who was engaged to be married. When Mindy's future mother-in-law Sondra asked who she worked with Mindy mentioned my name. Sondra said she had attended my wedding. After Mindy picked her jaw up off the floor she learned that Sondra was my mother's second cousin, that their grandfathers had been brothers. The next day, Mindy brought her fiancé to work so she could introduce me to my third cousin, a new lawyer himself who looked like he could be my brother--if I had a brother. It was surreal. Now, whenever I have an immigration question I call him up and say "Hey Cuz, got a minute?" He and Mindy broke up but he will always be my cousin.
My mother loved to host huge Thanksgiving dinners at our home in Florida and invite all the relatives. One year, my great-uncle Al, a widower in his 70's who had just remarried, brought his new wife Diana to dinner. As he was introducing her, he said, "Diana, I want you to meet someone from Connecticut." She replied, "I only know one person from Connecticut--Harry Sugarman." To which my other great-uncle replied, "I'm Harry Sugarman!" It turned out that Diana and Harry had dated fifty years ago. In other words, my grandmother's brother married a woman who had dated my grandfather's brother and they reunited by chance in a different state half a century later. The odds of that happening seemed astronomical, but were they really? If we reached out to strangers and asked enough questions, wouldn't we ultimately find a connection?
After my father died, his cousin provided some family history that we were unaware of. He told us that when my great-grandfather immigrated to the United States in 1885, his brother went to Africa and they never saw each other again. So, I may have family in Africa too.
In the end, we are all like the baby bird in that Dr. Seuss book who goes around asking everyone: "Are you my mother?' But instead we should be asking: "Are you my brother?" The answer to that question is yes.