Monday, February 20, 2012

Family, Part Deux

I am incredibly blessed to have a large family.  Having said that, I don't believe that family is only defined as blood relations.  My family is a bonsai tree that has grown in many directions and I am very proud of that fact!  I want to tell you about several of the most important people in the world to me.

These are, from left to right, Jennifer, Nicki, Jennifer's daughter, Elizabeth and Laura.  Laura is Jennifer and Nicki's mom.  Jennifer and my son, Jeremy, met in sixth grade back in 1988.  They became fast friends.  When they started high school both became involved in a lot of activities so Laura's and my paths crossed repeatedly.  At that time we were acquaintances who really liked each other but we didn't get together. 

Because Laura and the girls' dad divorced and Laura moved to Redding, a good 15-20 minutes away, Jennifer spent a lot of weekend nights at our house because she worked in Anderson on Saturday and Sunday.  We became very close and I referred to her as my daughter.  Jeremy and Jennifer had become as close as any brother and sister could.  I knew Nicki because I began to work at the same flea market as Jenn and ran into Nicki there pretty much every weekend.  She was a cutie with a precious little dog whose name I want to say was "Peter".  Forgive me, darling, if I am wrong. 

Then came the kids' senior year, 1994-95.  At that time both Jeremy and Jennifer were involved with Show Pop, a singing and dancing troupe from the high school.  They had a group of friends known as "The Circle", all very close to each other.  And because I was very involved with the music program, when I was named co-chair of the annual Mardi Gras dinner fund raiser, Laura and I got to know each other somewhat better.  Laura was involved in many ways and we spent a lot of time together organizing and getting that show on the road. 

I raised Jeremy, for the most part, by myself with the help of many angels along the way.  There was serious concern, legitimate if truth be told, about how I would react when he went away to college and I was "on my own".  Sure enough, Jeremy left for Chico State towards the end of August and by Labor Day I had quit my desk job and gotten a job as kitchen help/waitress at the local Win River Casino.  The Casino is owned by the Wynn tribe so it is not an understatement that my red hair and very pale face stood out like a beacon.  Because I was older and "responsible" I was put on night shift in order to keep a couple of hooligans as straight as possible.  No money there and my schedule was blown to smithereens.  On Jeremy's first break home he looked in the fridge and said with horror in his voice, "Mom, there is no food in here!".  I pointed out the yogurt and condiments and he repeated, "No food!".  I had always made sure that the fridge and standup freezer were full, that the shelves were filled with canned goods and that there was always something that the kids could nuke or eat out of hand.  Our house was a frequent stop for the circle and I loved it that way. 

After Christmas I stopped to visit Jennifer at her job at a legal firm.  I asked if she knew of anyone who might need a roommate.  She said, "What about Mom?"  I was stunned.  Turned out Laura was having difficulty managing on her own as well.  The problem was that neither of us really wanted a roommate.  However, on Jennifer's insistent urging, I went to Laura's for dinner.  We talked a long time and came to the conclusion that it just might work.  She had a double-wide mobile home with bedrooms at both ends so we would still have our privacy.  And thus it began.  I put most of my things in storage and took over one of the bedrooms.

It worked!  Not without hitches, of course.  We were both full grown women with our own views and habits and many of them didn't meet up.  But we worked them through.  Jennifer lived there at the time and Jeremy would come home on breaks or for the weekend.  Some of the circle would wander in and Nicki, who was living with her father, began spending more time with us.  Laura got a little overwhelmed by this but adjusted as time went by.  We all became that much closer.  I was Mom #2 to both girls and Laura was Mom #2 to Jeremy (he also has several other moms as we are blessed with very good friends).

Jennifer became engaged to Brandon, someone both kids had known since he was in 7th and also in band.  He and Jeremy had been very good friends for a very long time.  So the Bowmans, Brandon's family blended with ours.  I was blessed to make Jennifer's bridesmaids' dresses and the groomsmens' vests.  It was a joyous wedding!  And that wedding begat:

That is Sam on the left, Jen, Bran and Elizabeth.  By the time Sam was born I had moved to North Carolina and was heartbroken about not being there.  Some very resourceful soul (!) tracked down the fax number at the police department where I was working and faxed the first picture of Sam to me.  When the receptionist called me up to see it I burst into tears right there in the lobby.  The tears recurred every time I showed the picture to someone!  Elizabeth was born several years later but Jeremy kept me posted by phone while we waited and I got pictures very quickly afterward.  My name, by the way, is Grandee and I treasure that.

I was also blessed to make Nicki's wedding dress when she got married.  She is single now but I have a picture of the two of us together.  She was absolutely beautiful and I must say I am very proud of that dress.  And very proud that at both weddings I was in the family pictures, the "Mom" photos.  These girls mean the world to me.

Laura passed several years ago of pancreatic cancer.  It happened very, very quickly.  I lost my Jiminey Cricket, my very best sister/friend, my confidant.  When I moved back home from working in the Bay Area years before, I was working through some very traumatic experiences from down there.  On occasion I would have a "breakdown" of sorts and just cry.  And my Laura would just hold me, hold me until I felt completely loved and okay again.  She had the most glorious smile and the ability to make me laugh by saying "Oh, well!" when something took on unneeded importance.  We traveled together on a couple of occasions and did it well.  We were yin and yang.  And I will never, never stop missing her, ever.  But Laura was also the most spiritual person I have ever met and she loved Jesus.  She would say, "You can't scare me with Heaven."  I cannot hear the song "I Can Only Imagine" by any artist without tearing up because I know that my Laura is dancing in Heaven while Jesus smiles.

These are my girls and my boy.  Tell me they don't look as though they are from the exact same gene pool!  And that is the way they feel about each other.  Oh, they've bickered as have any other siblings but no one has each other's back more with Brandon right there beside them.  Brandon was one of Jeremy's groomsmen at he and Nicole's wedding with Sam and Elizabeth as junior groomsman/ring bearer and flower girl.  And Jennifer surprised Brandon by flying him out to New York City for Jeremy's bachelor weekend.  I not only felt Laura's presence at the wedding in San Diego but her name was spoken during the ceremony.

The newest addition to our family, Nicole, fits like a glove.  She was able to meet Laura a couple of months before Laura passed and for the very first time, the only time, Laura approved of the woman Jeremy had chosen.  It is the same with his siblings.  Nicole is the perfect person for this family tree.  We couldn't be happier to have her!

Bonsai, schmonzi!  This is my family and I adore them!

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