Thursday, October 29, 2015

Who is your "family"?

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
The Socratic Salon discussed this one!
Other reviews: 
Catherine of The Gilmore Guide to Books
Lauren of Malcolm Avenue Review

I loved this book! The cover image is so deceptive--so simple...and yet, much like each of us, so very complex as we navigate the layers of our life and being. The who of who we are. I noticed that the jacket and the paper covering the inside of the front and back are made to look worn and even water damaged. And perhaps that is the purpose? To denote that each of us is damaged, as is the book itself. And we all are, just in different ways and to varying degrees. 

This book demonstrates the many layers of existence each of us portrays. Much like our skin. There is the surface layer, mainly known by those who truly do NOT know us at a personal level at all, only basically know 'of' us. Under that is a layer known by those who know us very little, but at least have some direct contact with us in one way or another: as a professional, within our scope of employment, as a volunteer, as a blogger, etc. And then there are those who really know us! These are the people who must endure us day in and day out, those with whom we connect. There are varying levels of connection within and among these groups. Clegg does an excellent job of depicting just those dimensions of 'knowing' and forming/maintaining relationships with one another. He compares and contrasts them to demonstrate that we are all connected to some degree, whether we realize it or not. 

When a tragedy strikes, there are always those who feel they might have been able to avoid it...if only...they had... In this case, there were several people feeling as if they could have prevented what happened, none more so than June and Silas, I feel certain. And the resulting losses were so very they always are for those people 'closest' to the victims. Though, how do we judge our 'closeness' to others? I believe one of the reasons each character seemed so real is that each revealed something about themselves, often something from their past they could or did regret...and that, after all, is something we all share--we all have regrets.                                                             

Merriam-Webster's definition of FAMILY: 
1) a group of people who are related to each other
2) a person's children
3) a group of related people including people who lived in the past
There are so many people I consider to be 'family'--more than just those with whom I share a biological link! One of my friends introduced me to the phrase, "Friends are family you choose!" And the older I get, the more I believe that and realize it is so true in my own life. Don't get me wrong--I love my children, their partners, and their children/my grandchildren. Always have and always will. However, I have much closer interpersonal relationships with others than I have with them. I honestly don't know how much of that is a function of who I am, who they are, or just simply our personalities and attraction to each other. In adulthood, I believe compatibility is key to forming and maintaining relationships that are long-term and truly meaningful and rewarding. 

June had "crossed a line" by "starting up" with Luke, whose 
looks came from the fact that he didn't look like anyone else around here. He was like a wild orchid growing in a hayfield. No one ever knew who his father was, but they sure knew he was black. I hate to say what it suggests about this town that there is virtually no one who could have been the father. (24) 
Definitely not an area where someone who appears to be "racially different" from the mainstream would necessarily feel comfortable. [June] was, she sensed sharply as she reached the far side of the parking lot, an untouchable. Not from scorn or fear, but from the obscenity of loss. It was inconsolable, and the daunting completeness of it--everyone, gone--silenced even those most used to calamity. (11) 
It is often true that others tend to avoid those who are left...the survivors of extreme tragedies. June does run away. Really, I didn't blame her at all. How ironic that she ends up finding the letter and staying where her daughter had been, and there she makes a "friend" of Cissy.                                                                  

Edith, the florist, had cut the daisies for Lolly and Will's wedding herself, to place in the 50 or so jelly jars the couple had collected since they first became engaged. Although she disapproved, since daisies are not truly acceptable wedding flowers, she was going to do it for them. After all, she was getting paid... As she describes the exhausting lives of those living in a 'resort town,' noting they were also
...too busy performing their roles as jolly country folk on the weekends for the pampered and demanding New Yorkers, spending every last drop of civility and patience on these strangers with none left over for their wives and husbands. The weekenders from the city not only take the best houses, views, food and, yes, flowers, our little town has to offer, but they take the best of us, too. (22-23)
I can imagine that to be true. When I was teaching, there were more days than not that I had to have just 15-20 minutes or so of 'veg' time in front of the TV, or outside doing something once I reached home, to regain sufficient emotional energy to deal with my own children! We do tend to 'give' much of ourselves to our work. 
...we no longer live in a town, not a real one anyway. We live in a pricey museum, one that's only open on weekends, and we are its janitors. (25) 
I think Edith spoke for many others in her local area--the population overall felt subservient to the New York upper echelon who invaded their community on weekends and vacations. 
No one ever accused me of being a soft touch, but when something like what happened at June Reid's that morning happens, you feel right away like the smallest, weakest person in the world. That nothing you do could possibly matter. That nothing matters. Which is why, when you stumble upon something you can do, you do it. So that's what I did. (29) 
She used all those daisies in funeral arrangements, or whatever was ordered--she made them work! 

Ah...and Luke. How could you not love Luke? He was hard-working and conscientious, even as a teenager when many of us are irresponsible to a fault! Not Luke! And he had a scholarship and was off to college. Until...well, I won't spoil it, but there are times when we allow "outsiders" to manipulate us to the woe of those we love most. As Rick states,
One thing about Luke is that he never talked shit about other people He could be moody and sometimes lose his temper, but he didn't talk trash. (51) 
He was too big, too handsome, too something for the likes of us. No one around here looked like he did, and I don't just mean because he was black. I caught Sandy looking at him more than a few times, and I thought what the heck, who can blame her? (52) 
...facts never got in anyone's way when it came to Luke, so I guess it should be no surprise that the story of what happened that night would be no different. (58) 
Lydia (Luke's mother), six months after the accident
takes a long, late-day look at the town where she has lived her whole life, where there are no friends, no family, but where her feet are famous to the sidewalks. (46)

The relationships! I have a Goodreads shelf: Relationships-relationships-relationships. Relationships between and among characters is one of the things I love most about books! And this one is extraordinary! George and Lydia. How bittersweet, especially with regard to Luke. I can relate to a lack of connection to your biological father, having never met my own and learning he died some 18 years ago. Rebecca and Kelly. Kelly and Penny. Cissy and Ben. Will and Cissy. June and Cissy. Dale and Mimi. Dale and Will. Perhaps most unlikely, June and Lydia... The resulting interconnectedness of our lives is undeniable. For me, the theme of being kind, respectful, and genuine was uppermost...for you never know just how you or someone you love may be connected with that person or another who is important to him or her. And besides, that should be our overall motivation--to put kindness and goodness into the Universal energy flow. It does matter. 

As Dale describes Lolly and Will:
I think Will sensed that despite her girlish manner, something was broken in her. Mimi says wounds can sing a beguiling song, and for Will--who from boyhood felt compelled to fix and help and take care of nearly everything and anyone in his path--Lolly's song was irresistible. (210)
Of Lolly and Will June believes: 
This is the pivot between youth and age, the thrilling place where everything seems visible, feels possible, where plans are made. On the one side you have childhood and adolescence, which are the murky ascent, and, on the other, you have the decline that is adulthood, old age, the inch-by-inch reckoning of that grand, brief vision with earthbound reality. (163) 

My final take-away: do not delay. Communicate with those you Now. You may well never have another opportunity in this lifetime. Don't leave your love, respect, or appreciation of others unstated. The next time you communicate with them? That could be the last time. 

Keep writing, Mr. Clegg. I am definitely hooked! If you've read this one, what did you take away from the experience? 


  1. I haven't read this yet, but I hope to. Good to hear you loved it!

    1. I think you would definitely enjoy it! I'm be anxious to read your thoughts about it!

  2. This one sounds so interesting! Checking it into my TBR.

    1. It certainly 'worked' for me! I loved reading it and various aspects of this book pop into my thoughts every once in awhile even weeks after reading it. If you do read it, I'd love to know what your reaction is.