All Happy Families

30 Jul

Anna and I walk past a cemetery on the way to preschool.  She looks at the markers, beaming:

“Mama, we don’t have any dead people in our family.”

That’s right, dear: no teenage mothers, no drug addicts and no dead people.   That’s the kind of folk you come from.

Can you blame her for feeling lucky, maybe even a little smug?

We have a few crazies, and a couple more rich uncles would be nice, but at least we don’t produce dead people.  Count it among our immutable characteristics: Medium-sized, middle class, educated family of live people.

That’s one of our beloved family stories starring my daughter.  And it sums up her outlook.

I am her mother: Brown hair, hazel eyes, fair complexion, reasonably intelligent, young.

34 Responses to “All Happy Families”

  1. Bee July 30, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    As I get ready to leave the house this morning on one of my many cemetery walks, I find this post in my inbox. Many people ask me if I am ever creeped out when I go to do my volunteer genealogical work and I tell them that I am not. I never found cemeteries creepy but see them as final resting place for loved ones and a place for living people to share a quiet moment. Thankfully I don’t have any immediate family in the cemetery but often stop and wonder when I see a young person “how it happened”. I too come from a medium sized, middle class family. I am brown hair, green eyes, fair complexion, somewhat intelligent and also young!

    • jenny July 31, 2011 at 6:28 am #

      Bee, I also love cemeteries. We both feel at home when we go there, so we’ll both feel at home when we go there.

      For now, I’m delighted that you are young! It means, for sure, that I am too. 🙂

  2. sledpress July 30, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    I only have dead people in my family. Either dead, or I don’t know and can’t afford to care. There is a small shelf in the spare bedroom which holds ashes, and photographs.

    Chestnut-to-red hair, muddy eyes, fair to the point of tan-proof, just smart enough to get into trouble and almost as old as Brown vs. Board of Education..

    • jenny July 31, 2011 at 6:36 am #

      OK, Sled, you surely understood that I didn’t feel only 100% life-affirming hallmark happiness when my daughter expressed pride in our family predisposition for being alive. I mean, this is a temporary quality. It’s not eye color, is it?

      It’s either build the small shelf in the spare bedroom or be on the shelf in the spare bedroom.

      From now on, I’m reporting my age by Supreme Court decision too!

  3. jass57 July 30, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Great. Lyrical. Roll over Beethoven and tell…. the news!

    • jenny July 31, 2011 at 6:40 am #

      @jass57: I know a little Beethoven because (here’s a distinct childhood memory) my father listened to a lot of Beethoven…lying on the floor in the living room.

      That’s the kind of folk I come from.

  4. Andreas Kluth July 30, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    The wisdom of children!

    Now your daughter’s phrase has taken over my mind, but I must let it recall the various things that I as a child, or my children, have said. I shall report back.

    • jenny July 31, 2011 at 6:41 am #

      I hope you do.

      Wait till you hear the wisdom of teenagers….

  5. Paul Costopoulos July 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    Got to admit that, at my age, I have more dead people in the cemetery than living ones that I know.
    Used to have black hair now mostly gone and what is left is rather grey to white. Forever young inside but worsening on the outside. I must humbly confess to being rather intelligent but not proportionately as wise.

    • jenny July 31, 2011 at 7:00 am #


      We have been telling this story about Anna for years, and I feel (in her words) the reminder of how great things are, but (see my comment to Sled, above) it always, always reminds me of how temporary all good fortune is.

      Your comment made me laugh: I’ve known for a long time that I’m silly to self-identify as a young person, as if being young were some permanent quality, like hair color. And, now, you’ve reminded me that hair (color/presence) is not so permanent either. 🙂

  6. Philippe July 30, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    I grew up in the quintessential 1950’s nuclear family – father, mother, sister, dog, house in the suburbs. No family was more perfect. I had no-where to go but down. And I did.

    • jenny July 31, 2011 at 7:09 am #

      I not sure, Philippe, about “no-where to go but down”. I know people who delight in the warm glow of family and love it unequivocally. Or that’s what they say. But I am ambivalent about family. I always have been. Who knows what you lost, what you gained?

      • Philippe July 31, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

        “…..I am ambivalent about family. I always have been……”

        You and me both.

        As Ma Joad said, “….Use’ ta be the fambly was fust. It ain’t so now……”

      • jenny August 1, 2011 at 2:05 pm #


        I know I should be like Ma Joad, but I’m more like Groucho Marx:

        Sometimes, I don’t care to belong to this club that has me as a member.


  7. dafna July 30, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    i think “anna” is wise to recognize her luck.

    it’s a great family story, wonderfully retold. thanks for sharing.

    is “anna” the one who recently studied in russia?

    • jenny July 31, 2011 at 7:15 am #

      Hey, Dafna! Thanks. Yes, Anna studied in Russia last fall.

      Since she was a baby, we have called her (ironically) by name and patronymic. It has a ring to it.

      She is a palindrome, so, of course, she is lucky. 🙂

      • dafna August 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

        ah… i put her name in quotes because it took me a long time to use my son’s real name on blogs.

        patronymic naming? how very russian of you 🙂

  8. Cyberquill July 31, 2011 at 2:21 am #

    Perhaps not so long ago your family was intelligently designed.

    • jenny July 31, 2011 at 7:16 am #

      I’m trying to imagine how you would respond to this (yours, I mean) comment. Come on, help me out.

      • Cyberquill August 1, 2011 at 7:46 am #

        You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You want me to pretend my own comment was written by someone else and respond to it? Sorry. Helping you out is not in my job description. Hilf dir selbst, dann hilft dir Gott, as they say in France.

      • jenny August 1, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

        My French is a little rusty:

        I vas denkin dat I vas hilfin mein selbst bei mei response, und dann hilft mir Gott (aka CQ).

  9. Andreas Kluth July 31, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    Oh, and your final sentence, as often, packs some punch. It’s deliberately open-ended and ambiguous, I would say. I’ve been pondering it.

    • jenny August 1, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

      @Andreas: You’ve been pondering it?

      What more could I ask for?

    • Richard August 7, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

      No need to punch. Just flash those hazel eyes.

      • jenny August 8, 2011 at 5:47 am #

        Richard: 🙂

        Well, aren’t we all looking for the equivalent (in written word) of precisely that?

        Hey, over here, look at me!

  10. Richard August 1, 2011 at 5:10 am #

    17th Century epitaph:

    Here lies, the Lord have mercy upon her,
    One of her Majesty’s maids of honour:
    She was both young, slender and pretty,
    She died a maid, the more the pity.

    • jenny August 1, 2011 at 2:21 pm #


      I love this theme. There is also:

      that Ronsard poem “Mignonne, allons voir si la rose…”
      Marvell: “To his Coy Mistress”
      Yeats: “When You are Old”

      Probably many others. Ideas? I bet Sled has some!

      They would make a great life-is-short-don’t-make-me-wait-any-longer compilation of poetry. Lovely little gift book. Guaranteed results.

      • sledpress August 1, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

        I’ll stay with the skeptics on this subject.

        Sweet Kate of late ran away and left me plaining:
        “Te-he-he” quoth she, “gladly would I see any man to die with loving!”
        “Abide!” I cried, “or I die with thy disdaining”.
        “Never any yet died of such a fit; neither have I fear of proving!”

        Unkind! I find thy delight is in tormenting:
        “Abide!” I cried, “or I die with thy consenting”.
        “Te-he-he” quoth she, “make no fool of me!
        Men I know have oath at pleasure;
        but their hopes attain’d, they bewray they feign’d,
        and their oaths are kept at leisure”.

        Her words, like swords, cut my sorry heart in sunder:
        Het flouts with doubts kept my heart’s affections under.
        “Te-he-he” quoth she, “what a fool is he stands in awe of once denying!”
        Cause I had enough to become more rough: so I did. O happy trying!

  11. sledpress August 1, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    Though there is always this, which sticks in one’s head.

    • jenny August 2, 2011 at 6:46 am #


      I had never heard the song or the poem. Thanks.

      The folksong reminds me of Rosalind: “Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.” It’s the “from time to time” that cracks me up!

      Now, this Miss. Gee reminds me that I need to read more Auden. I like everything of his I’ve read, but I only know him in bits. This one definitely goes in my anthology!

      • sledpress August 2, 2011 at 8:45 am #

        I used to quote Rosalind often. Sharp woman.

        Here’s a timely bit of Auden.

      • jenny August 3, 2011 at 6:20 am #

        Beautiful ending on that poem!

      • dafna August 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

        great poem by auden.

        about freedom and how we go from there to here?

        not the topic of the blog post but it reminds me of this great song by allen toussaint “freedom for the stallions” written 30+ years ago, still timely.

        what can i say…. some communicate through poetry, some through song and some through diagrams 😉

      • jenny August 8, 2011 at 5:40 am #

        Thanks for the Elvis Costello, Dafna. It all sounds good.

        Some people raise the debt ceiling, and some people raise the roof.

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