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Family Is a Choice

John W. Pinkerton


Almost all of us are born into an identifiable group we call family.  In my case, these were folks who, for the most part, seemed to be nice folks with good morals.  Some seemed to vere from the straight and narrow, but, as I said, on the whole, acceptable.

However it occurred to me that family associations are not created in the most democratic way: we are not in on the decision making about who our family members are, but we definitely are stuck with them without reprieve.

Being that my grandparents, my dad and mom, my sister and brother, most of my aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles have passed away, I felt I was getting a little low on relatives---mostly down to cousins, nieces, and nephews.

I guess running low on relatives was the reason I was delighted when a long-lost cousin showed up one day on my email---Cousin Patricia, daughter of my father's brother.  Although we had not seen each other for about 65 years, our emails back and forth made us realize that we are definitely related.

I guess it's time to make a confession: I've been secretly adding members to my family for years.

These aren't “blood” relatives but folks chosen in a more democratic way---strangers who became friends.  If I told the whole truth, I guess I'd have to confess that these chosen few seem like family to me even more than my family chosen for me.

Adding new members to my family began in High School.  I added three fellows to my family all of whom were fine young men and turned out to be fine old men.  Keith, Grey, and Gene.  I was Keith's best man at his wedding.  He and I had a falling out, as family members sometime do, and I didn't speak to him for about forty years, but I found him shortly before he passed away to renew our friendship.  Gene and I dated the same girl whom he married.  They moved off to Colorado, and I lost contact with them, but I located them in recent years, and Gene and I correspond fairly regularly.  Grey became a big time lawyer in Baton Rouge, and we haven't contacted each other for years.  All three of these folks, even without contact in recent years, are family to me.

In college, I added three friends to my family: Jimmy and Gene and Ronnie.  Jimmy was like a brother to me.  We kept in contact with each other through most of the years.  He passed away just recently.  I still miss him.  Then there is Gene who was from a little town north of my hometown that I went to school with at LSU at Alexandria and on the main campus in Baton Rouge.  Gene was a big athletic fellow who went on to a big-time career at NASA.  I lost track of Gene until a few years ago and we check in with each other regularly to see if the other is still alive.  Terry and I went to high school together and roomed together one semester at LSU.  He had a brilliant mind and an aggressive personality.  Unfortunately, Terry passed away a few years after college.  That was a real shock to me.

When I was in the service, I only added two family members, Ron and Troy.  Neither of these folks I kept in contact with until recent years when I tracked them down.  Ron went on to become a big time artist, and we correspond on a regular basis.  Troy and I became friends when we were in the service.  Other than Jimmy, I don't think I ever admired anyone more, and he's the only “family” member whom I felt was smarter than I.


In recent years, I've added many others to my chosen family.  Some from my years working in education, some from my dabbling in art.  They, of course, don't know that we're related, and I doubt that I'll ever tell them because most are within easy driving distance and may wish to express their displeasure at being chosen by whipping my old butt.  Such is family.

Blood is blood, but family is a choice.