A lot of times, I feel like the odd man out when it comes to family. Both my mother and my father came from fairly large, close-knit families. Dad had a gazillion siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. My mom had only two siblings, but a lot of cousins, aunts, uncles and multiple generations living within a few miles of each other. It was only natural that they all would be close. However, when my siblings and I were small, we lived hundreds (if not more than a thousand) miles from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Sure, once a year each side of the family would hold reunions our parents would drag us to, but for the most part, my brother and I stayed pretty much to ourselves. Jodi was always game to play with cousins and chat with extended generations, but she had the benefit of being older and having had more time to get to know them. Once she died, Joel and I were pretty much the weirdos in the family and preferred to stay away from everyone else, unless forced by one or the other parent to "make nice" and visit. At least, I'm pretty sure Joel felt the same way I did, but since I'm not a mind reader, I won't pretend to speak for him, and the rest of this post is about me and my thoughts only.
When Jodi got sick, we moved closer to Mom's family and most of Dad's relations. It just so happened that University of Kentucky Med Center was one of three hospitals in the country at that time who were willing to conduct this "experimental" treatment called a bone marrow transplant for people with leukemia. This meant Dad's insurance wouldn't pay for it, though, which also meant we had to find a way to raise the money to pay for it. I don't know exact figures, but I do know Mom paid on that surgery for YEARS after Jodi died.
Our moving got us closer physically to Mom's family, but not emotionally. Mom's parenting style was vastly different from everyone else's - plus, she was wrapped up in trying to get Jodi well, so she didn't really have time to take us to each relative's house for visits. Pretty much we saw family at the yearly reunions, occassional brief visits when they'd come to the house or the hospital, and then again at Jodi's funeral. The only exception to this was my mom's mom, Granny, who stayed with us during the day so Mom could spend a lot of time at the hospital with Jodi, and later Granny stayed with Joel while I was also in the hospital donating the bone marrow. But Granny was more of the "children should be seen, not heard, and ask no questions" variety. This was in direct opposition to what my mom believed.
After Jodi died, and my parents split up, we didn't see much of family because Mom - understandably - was often working her butt off to keep us fed and a roof over our heads. When Mom was home, she was generally too tired to go driving all over the country to visit family. So this meant we grew up with limited contact with our families. Yeah, we knew (pretty much) everyone's names and the general area where they lived. We knew (basically) their "begats" (Gordon begat Gordie, Randy, Danny, etc.; Dean begat Deanna, Tonya, etc.) and who was married to whom, but that was the end of it for most of them. No knowledge really of their religious beliefs, political stance (other than that the older half were conservatives, and the younger ones were uber-liberal) - no real sense of who they WERE. Hell, I didn't even know until AFTER my son was three years old that my Uncle Dean (one of the few I had gotten to spend some time with and liked) was actually my Godfather as well as my uncle.
I feel bad for Jamie that I'm the only (biological) family he really knows, although he loves his Uncle Joel an awful lot. He yearns to know more about his uncles and aunts. He didn't know he had cousins until 2005, when he met my Uncle Alvin's grandkids on a visit back to Kentucky for my friend Ann's wedding. My ingrained habits of isolationism and stubborn independence (well, mostly) have negatively affected him. For that I am sorry. However, I am grateful to those of you who haven't given up on me and, biological or not, have insisted that we are family and are loved by others. You are wonderful gifts to both me and Jamie. Words cannot express how much you are loved and appreciated.