I remember hanging out with my nephew some seven or eight years ago when he was living with his father in a suburb of Seattle. I was staying with the nephew's bitchin' grandma and her partner out in Green Lake. These were folk with whom I had had very sporadic contact with since the birth of the nephew, but knew that they were good people and that I wanted to know them better. G-ma and partner graciously invited me to stay with them for a few days in their home (where nephew also had a room). We four spent time touring around town, seeing sights, eating lovely food, and, mostly, enjoying the company of one another.
One day my nephew and I took a walk on the beach near where his grandma lived. A woman walking her dog mistook us for mother and son. I was a bit startled although I conceded that I could have given birth at 19 years of age to someone who might have grown up resembling the nephew. Nephew resembles his mother's side of the family. When I see photos of him, I think of English and Swedish stock, not the dark-haired, dark-eyed Italian heritage from his father's side. My sister never married the father of her child. Their relationship was brief at best. Yet, my sis gave her son his father's surname. And, with that act, I was sad to see another possibility of passing along our surname crumble to dust. My neph may have a lovely, polysyllabic name ending in a vowel, but he's more Nordic and consonant-looking.
At one point while we were driving around in g-ma's PT Cruiser I turned to look at nephew in the seat next to me. He had the same sort of perma-blush in his cheeks that I occasionally still do. His sharp blue eyes and light blond hair made me think of my dad, who, by that time, had already died. I said to the nephew, 'did you know that you are part Swedish?' 'Huh?' he'd said. 'Your grandpa was half-Swedish', I persisted. Usually, I'd not say anything like that because, really, I'm American and not made up of quarters of this and that, although I did grow up drinking grog during the holidays and eating pickled herring on crackers all year round. My neph said, 'No, I'm Italian!' Um, okay, I guess swarthy trumps fair-haired, and homie hasn't looked in the mirror lately. I didn't correct him, or try to change his mind, but I felt a bit sad because with that statement came the ever-pressing feeling that his grandpa, my dad, was barely more than a concept to him. It also brought to mind that although we are blood-related, we aren't particularly close. His knowledge of his mother's family doesn't really go beyond what he knows of her and even that ain't much.
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