Posted in family, friends

What family means to me.

Family means everything to me that it means to most people, but it also means more things.

“I love you” in American Sign Language with a rainbow hand.

Which means when I use terms like birth family I am not using them the way some people use them. I am not using them to either make it more or less family. All of my family is family no matter how they came to be a part of it.

I do not like using the words chosen family. I think that is a wonderful concept for those who experience it that way. It’s not how I experience family at all, no matter who the family are. I have not chosen a single relative, whether biological or not.

I won’t get into what makes someone family if they’re not biologically related. I’d never finish the post.

But love is a lot of it. And being in my life in certain ways is a lot of it. And I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has become my family in this manner.

But the important part.

The really important part.

Is this.

Having non-birth-related family does not take away from either my relationship with my biological family, or my relationship with my non-biological family.

And I do not, in my head or my heart or anywhere else people use as words for thoughts and feelings, I do not put either biological or non-biological relatives as more or less important, more or less loved, or more or less part of my family.

You’re all family.

And I love y’all. Every single one of you.

And I’m sorry I couldn’t make you the post you deserve.

But I did my best.

And the post got written.

And that’s something.

No, it’s a lot.

But thank you all for being in my life and making it better even though I am terrible at keeping in touch with other people. You all matter to me and having, say, a second mom, doesn’t mean I don’t also have a first mom. and these are all just bad translations of family relationships. But the big thing: More family means more people I love, it doesn’t mean dividing people into greater and lesser parts of my family. And yeah I don’t get along with everyone, but that’s true of every kind of family I’ve ever heard of.

Thank you for being out there.

Thank you for being my family.

Sorry, again, that I haven’t been able to make you the post that you deserve. But I love you, both people I know and people I don’t. people I’m related to by “blood” and otherwise. And again the reason I don’t use the term chosen family is because I didn’t pick anyone out any more than my biological family picked me out. My non-biological family are no more chosen than my biological family, and chosen doesn’t make anyone better or worse than anyone else, or more or less close to me, or more or less loved.

Also I have both immediate and distant relatives, and living relatives and ancestors, within my non-biological family. Just as there are in my biological family.

So. All of you: Thank you. I love you.

Posted in family

Uncle Lindy

Uncle Lindy standing behind Mel, who is sitting down with a cat on hir lap. Both are wearing collared shirts, suspenders, and flat-top hairdos, without intending to look the same that day. The cat is calico and wearing a Cone of Shame due to eye surgery. Uncle Lindy is wearing a blue shirt with green suspenders and has white hair. Mel is wearing a green shirt with black suspenders and has black hair. Both are wearing glasses.

This is my Uncle Lindy. Great-Uncle Lindy to be exact. He’s my mom’s mom’s brother. I just found this photo again so I thought I’d post it. My brothers and me always called him Uncle Lindy even though he was technically our great-uncle. Like many people in his family, he was long-lived.

He lived with my great-grandma until she died. She was in her nineties. I was about twelve. He took care of her so she could live in her own home.

Whenever people talk about respecting traditional family values, I think of that. In our family it is normal to move in with a disabled relative if they’re in danger of institutionalization. Some people in our family prefer to put relatives in nursing homes, but most don’t. Whatever else we all disagree on, most of us seem to agree that people belong at home and that we have some responsibility in making sure they can to the best of our ability.

I think about that a lot because that’s a value of both the family I was born into and the family I have acquired along the way. And Uncle Lindy showed it by what he did, not what he said. I never talked to him about it, I just saw how he treated his mom, and that’s how I learned you don’t put relatives in nursing homes. That’s a real traditional family value I can get behind, although I also think family members should have a lot more support than they usually do when they make decisions like that.

I want to tell you a bit about (Great) Uncle Lindy because he’s very important to me even though there are ways in which I barely knew the man.

Uncle Lindy rarely talked to me. I don’t actually remember having any conversations with him. They might have happened, but I don’t remember any conversations at all. I remember spending time around him, but I don’t remember either of us talking, and I don’t remember that being weird in any way.

Uncle Lindy lived with my great-grandma in a tiny house. Tinier than my apartment. There was a long thin kitchen that was a tight squeeze even for a child. Then one tiny bedroom and an equallly tiny front room that doubled as a living room and my great-grandma’s bedroom. I think it must’ve been a fold-out couch, but I remember a bed taking up most of the room and her lying in it most of the time as she got older. She had a voice almost too small to hear.

There were stories about Uncle Lindy’s generosity. He never bragged about it. You heard these things from other people. But things like, someone came to his door who didn’t have shoes, and by the time he left, Uncle Lindy had given him his shoes. He was the same way with animals — dogs and cats came to his door wanting food or needing medical attention, and he gave them both. If they stuck around, they became his pets. He wasn’t an animal hoarder — they were clean and he took proper care of them. He was just someone who loved animals and gave them everything he could. He also hiked fish into mountain lakes in his backpack.

Anyway most visits to Uncle Lindy were kind of like this picture. I really like this picture. So I’m gonna post it again.

Me and my Great-Uncle Lindy with one of his cats.

I would be sitting there interacting with some of the animals. And he would be there, or not be there, as the case may be. Sometimes he’d go off and take care of other things or talk to my parents. Sometimes he’d just quietly hang around me and the animals. I’m sure he must’ve talked to me about something at some point, but I don’t remember a single conversation. Conversations were certainly not the focus of our visits.

Glass knickknacks in the window at
Uncle Lindy’s house.

Also, it’s not quite as obvious in the photo as in real life, but behind me and Uncle Lindy, the windows are lined with glass shelves. And the shelves are lined with beautiful glass items that are great when the light shines through them. Little knickknacks basically. Vases and tiny sculptures and dishes.

Anyway, the light shines through all of those things, and it’s beautiful taken as a whole. He must have collected those.

Swedish decoration style involves a lot of ways to use light. There’s a lot of the year in Sweden where there’s not a lot of light at all. So Swedish house decoration often involves a lot of pale colors and other ways to make whatever light you’ve got count for a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lindy’s beautiful knickknack collection, which captures the light coming in the window and makes the whole room sparkle with colors from the glass, has something to do with this. Swedes are often experts when it comes to making a little sunlight go a long way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his mom took this expertise with her on the boat to America.

Also, we weren’t planning on dressing similar and having the same haircut that day, it just happened.

Calico cat wearing Cone of Shame
from recent eye surgery.

That was the last day I ever saw Uncle Lindy. I was in Oregon visiting my grandparents for the first time as an adult. I discovered that I liked Uncle Lindy a lot. So it wasn’t just bad discoveries on that trip, which is good because I’d also discovered the same day exactly how much I disliked my grandfather. But I discovered I liked Uncle Lindy just as much as I disliked my grandpa, so it evened out. (Both of them had to do with cats, too. My grandpa was proud of having hurt cats for fun. Lindy helped cats and never made a big deal about what he did. You can see one of the cats he helped in the photo, complete with Cone of Shame from recent eye surgery.)

Anyway, that’s my Uncle Lindy, and I miss him. He died shortly after one of the few relatives who does believe in nursing homes, had him put in one, away from his pets. After all Lindy did to keep his own mother out of one for decades (she ended up in one towards the very end, but he did his best), this seemed horribly unfair.

But what I remember the most about him is the way he cared about people, whether two-legged (human), four-legged (cats and dogs), or no-legged (fish). And he never talked about that, to my knowledge. He just did it. But what he did showed enough of his character, you didn’t have to talk to him to see it.

Posted in family, history, Okies

Atomic Vets Again

I’m late for Memorial Day, and I have no new posts on it planned to make, so this is it. But I made old posts. So for Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, I always remember America’s atomic vets. I have at least one in my family — he died from the experimentation he was subjected to by the military — and until I heard his story, I’d heard of this kind of thing but had no idea my grandpa’s cousin was involved in what I’d thought of as just another part of history. And that’s the thing: History is made up of people. Every single one of us is history. That’s important. And it’s important that we understand where we and our families and friends are part of history.

US Army troops in Nevada, training for nuclear warfare.
These troops are about 6 miles
from Ground Zero. The Pixley Farm was about 120 miles away.

Ronald Baggs, My Life As a Ping-Pong Ball

My father wrote this in his memoirs about living in the San Joaquin Valley on a farm called Pixley Farm during that time period, which meant Nevada where the nuclear testing happened was right over the other side of the Sierras:

In the early 1950’s, everyone was afraid of the communists, Russia and China in particular. In 1949, the communists took control of China and Russia exploded its first atomic bomb. Russia was supplying arms, ammunition, aircraft and tanks to the North Koreans and China. China joined with the North Koreans to fight UN troops in October of 1950. The mood in the United States was one of near paranoia. It seemed that war with Russia was inevitable. The specter of WW3 loomed on the horizon. It was at this time that Senator Joseph McCarthy began his famous communist witch-hunt. He contended that there was “A Red under every Bed”. The United States engaged in extensive Atomic Bomb testing in Nevada. From our vantagepoint on the farm, the flashes of light from the tests lit up the sky behind the Sierra Nevada mountains. Following the flash of light by a couple of minutes, we were jarred by the shock wave. The roar of the blast came many minutes later. It was an eerie experience. On one occasion, just before sunrise, I was helping Dad set siphon pipes when we saw the flash. We hung on to the pickup until the shock wave arrived. When it hit, it was so strong that it sloshed water out of the irrigation ditch. On another occasion, I was knocked out of bed by a shock wave. Atomic bombs were fearsome things to a nine-year-old kid. (They are fearsome things to a 66-year-old.)

Ronald Baggs, My Life As a Ping-Pong Ball
The red marker that says E Terra Bella Ave shows roughly where Pixley Farm was located, where my dad could see the atomic testing over the mountains.

This is the part where my dad talks about meeting the atomic vet in my family, who eventually died as a result of the radiation:

One afternoon, I came home from school and there was a strange man in the living room talking to Dad and Mom. He was one of Dad’s cousins and was home on leave from the Army. I sat and listened with wide eyes as he described his participation in the atomic bomb tests in Nevada. He along with many other soldiers had sat in a trench one mile from ground zero. They had dark goggles and ear protection that was their only special equipment. The bomb sat on a tall tower. They were told not to look at the tower or to raise their heads above the edge of the trench. When the bomb went off, Dad’s cousin saw a blinding flash, and was thrown backwards against the trench wall. He said that the blast was deafening and that a sheet of hot sand whistled over his head. We talked for a while and then he left. I never saw him again. Six years later, in 1958, I heard that he had died of leukemia.

Ronald Baggs, My Life As a Ping-Pong Ball

I made a more detailed post on atomic vets awhile back, called America’s Atomic Veterans, if you want to read it.

I think it’s important to remember not only the soldiers who died in foreign countries, but also the soldiers who died right here in America. They died without volunteering to be experimented on by their own government. The government considered them expendable. Just human guinea pigs to see what the bomb would do to them. And while we’ve made progress, neither the living vets nor the people who died have been properly compensated for the mess created. This isn’t a partisan thing, and it’s not about whether you approve of the military or not, this is just messed up what happened to people.