It has taken time, but I have finally figured out the central theme of my books. I write about family. I write about large extended families. I love stories about interfering parents, doting grandparents, and of course the troubled sibling.
Doesn’t everyone have a quirky uncle or aunt? Isn’t there someone in your family who wants to tell the world all of the youthful secrets you thought nobody remembered?
My own childhood was shaped by a largely absent military father, an overprotective mother, and a long-suffering older sister. We lived in California, Maryland, Washington, and California before my father retired. If I were plotting my life, my father’s retirement would be a turning point.
Another turning point in my life was my sister’s first serious boyfriend, Cleveland Brown Jr. He had presence. When he entered the room, we all knew the party had started. It was the late 60’s and our county was involved in a conflict. Cleveland asked my sister to marry him before he was sent to Viet Nam.
They married in 1969. My sister had a new husband and I had a new brother. He took his responsibility seriously. Every Saturday, my sister and brother-in-law would come to Long Beach. The purpose of that visit was to give me driving practice. If any of you have ridden with new drivers, you know that it can be a scary experience. My brother-in-law was always calm when he rode with me. My sister, on the other hand, never got in the car with us.
I had a teenage moment when I was sixteen. I know, hard to believe. I went out with an older man. It created a tidal wave in my family. Everyone was upset. Cleveland asked me to go for a ride with him. He explained the dangers of dating someone much older than myself. Again, he was calm and his words made me think about what I was doing. I decided to stick with high school guys, even though they were idiots.
Cleveland believed in family. After I married and moved to Idaho, I visited less often. Once again, he was calm as he took me to task. By the time we finished our conversation, I had apologized several times. He was right and I made certain I visited my family in California at least once a year.
In April of 2009, Cleveland was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Once he got past the shock, Cleveland did what he always did. He calmly dealt with getting his affairs in order. He died on September 11th with his wife and children at his bedside. I mourn his passing each day, but I am also thankful that I had such a wonderful man in my life.
Family isn’t limited to the people you share blood ties with. Family is so much larger than that. Family are those people you can call on when you need someone to listen. Family are the people who take you into their hearts and share their wisdom. Cleveland Brown Jr., my brother-in-law of forty years, taught me the importance of family and for that, I’ll always be grateful.