View from Rue Saint-Georges

Family Matters

Closing my distance from a distant relation

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | April 3, 2019
Flickr/Damian Gadal
Flickr/Damian Gadal

In recent years, amid the Trump era’s hyperpolarized political atmosphere, I’ve felt my extended family contract. I no longer speak to a cousin and an uncle (although it would be more accurate to say they no longer speak to me), and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I know I’m not alone—many people admit to growing distant from people they thought they knew.

Which is why it felt like such a gift last week when my mother’s 75-year-old cousin, Walter, brought me to his home in San Diego. My grandmother was his aunt, but for various reasons, I never met Walter until after I had graduated from college, and then only briefly. After that, I didn’t see him again until I was married and living in Paris. He and his wife, Frannie, travel extensively in retirement, and shortly after I’d moved abroad, they began looking me up most autumns when they came to France. We’d meet for a glass of wine or a meal, and then they’d go on about their trip. They happened to have been in town around the time of both of my children’s births. They also began reading my work and keeping in touch by email. An invitation to their home was always on the table, and I was finally able to take them up on it.

We shared a few simple meals, some wine, and an oceanside walk. By the time Walter dropped me off at the airport the following day, we embraced and I understood what a lucky thing it is, as an adult, to witness a new branch of your family tree grow firm.

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