Jan. 3, 2004
In My Family
Poem: "In My Family," by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, from Italian Women in Black Dresses (Guernica).
In My Family
In my family we're all tenacious, decide what we want and go after it.
We work hard, moving forward, when we're exhausted, and
think we can't move one inch more. I wonder if it's in the
genes, this need to finish everything we start, this belief that
hard work and perseverance will get us through. My sister
kept going to work for months after she had seizures and
couldn't walk. Her live-in aide took her to work in a wheel-
chair, pushing her down the road, because the sidewalks in
Hawthorne aren't handicapped accessible.
My father had a degenerative disease of the spine. He dragged
one paralyzed leg behind him wherever he went, and went he
did, driving until he was eighty-seven years old, cloth around
the pedals of the car so he could reach the brake, one shoe
built up to compensate for the unevenness of his legs, driving
to his friends' houses to play cards and visit, driving to the
courthouse in Paterson to file a petition for his friends or reg-
ister the legal papers he drew up, his body failing him, but his
mind sharp and willing him on.
My son John wants to think he is not like us. I hear how even
at thirty-two he takes responsibility for his life, how he gets up
at 5 a.m., so he can be at his office by 5:30, how he handles the
complex legal problems of a large corporation, working
straight through till he returns at 6 p.m. to help with the chil-
dren and to deal with the house, the yard, repairs. He takes
everything seriously. I love the way John carries his son in his
arms, the child running to him for comfort and the way they
speak to each other without words. I know that even my son,
who wants to think he is not like our family, is driven as we
are to keep on going, no matter what.
These are the things my mother taught us by example, my
mother who tripped over our skates when we were children
and got up and walked the twelve blocks to Farraro Coat
Factory on River Street. She worked until noon, walked back
home to make our lunches, and then walked back to work.
Only after she came home at 3:30, so she could be there when
we got home from school, did she collapse into a chair unable
to move. When she came back from the hospital clinic with a
cast on her leg, fourteen bones in her foot broken, she had to
rest her leg on a stool. That was one of the few times in her
life that I saw her cry, not because of the pain, but because she
couldn't do the work she told herself she had to do.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) Tolkien, born in South Africa (1892). He wrote The Hobbit (1937) and the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. His family moved to England after his father died, and his mother taught him Latin and converted him to Catholicism. She died when he was twelve, and friends said he stayed a Catholic and continued to study languages in her memory. He taught himself Old Norse, and read the ancient sagas and stories of Northern Europe in their original languages. "Literature stops in the year 1100," he once said. "After that it's only books." He arrived at Oxford as a scholar of philology, and he met C.S. Lewis there. With a number of other men, he formed The Inklings, a group of Christian writers who met to read aloud what they'd written every week. They talked late into the night about whether or not books could be "morally serious fantasy."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®