(Note: I have an actual family, this is of course not about them, and no detail should be taken as autobiographical)
This is about your uncles
This is about your uncles
You love your uncles. You are an only child, and they taught you all the normally they would have taught your brothers - about dogs, about the insects who build houses out of little sticks or little pebbles in the stream, about starfish and crabs and how to tie a bowline. They taught you to ski, and they were patient and kind and it was obvious that, not having children of their own, they loved their time with you. They taught you about gun safety. They taught you about guns. They told you politely the first time that you were not a great photographer, but when you started taking good photographs they taught you to develop and print, they taught you about lenses and flash and spent hours with you in the dark room. They gave you the best lens you ever owned.
But, as people who are blessed with relatives living into old age come to know, they are older than you, and that makes them wise in many things but not all. They told you jokes about Jews, which you, to your eternal shame, thought funny and repeated. They proudly announced that they would never shake hands with a homosexual. They hold loud political opinions that you hope your boyfriend doesn't hear. You see your boyfriend wince.
You get married and by then your uncles are your closest relatives. They expect to hold a speech. You have seen them give speeches at other weddings, and you know that half your guests are either Jewish, or gay, or both. Hell, the groom is both. You really, really do not want your uncles to give a speech at your wedding.
This is about your mother
Your mother is scary. The anecdote you always tell people is that when she took the train from where she lived to the town she went to college she sat in an empty compartment and whenever somebody looked in to see if there were free seats she would look up, and they went away. They would sit down if there was no other seat in the carriage, but not before that.
Your mother is fierce and loving, but most of all she is fierce. She has quarrelled violently with all her friends, who have quietly walked away, despite the fact that she is a good, loyal friend. Her relatives keep a careful distance too, despite the fact that she can be counted upon to sit by your bed for how long it takes for you to get better or die, and she will nurse you with fierce love, quarrelling with all the nurses.
The town if full of shops she will not put her foot in any more, because they sold her a faulty item, or refused to change it, or were rude to her, and she has no half measures.
She is easily hurt and you worry for her. When people treat her like a dotty stupid old woman you want to go and punch them, and you would if you could. And it hurts you deeply, because your mother is anything but stupid, anything but dotty. You want to go to them and scream HOW DO YOU DARE? How do you dare speak like that to a woman her age? Do you think you'll be young forever?
You learned a lot from your mother. She taught you to stand up for yourself. You don't scare people out of train carriages, but you have never been harassed or molested, because people are a bit scared of you. She taught you to stand up for others - you stood up for her often enough. She reads more books than you do, and complains about them. She let you free rein with the family bookcases, and only tried to hide The Joy Of Sex from you by putting it in the top shelf behind other books, which did not deter you. She quarrelled with your grandmother when your grandmother deemed a book you were reading inappropriate for you and made your grandmother cry, and give back the book. She never refused to answer a question. She brought you up fierce and self-reliant and smart. She brought you up free.
You also learned from your mother that you don't need to wage total nuclear war for everything, as she does. You are sorry to have lost so many family friends, and for the long hiatus in some family contact, because of your mother, even if she was right. You think that buying groceries is not an emotional bond and you should be prepared to shop even from people who swindled you - you just pay more attention. Also, sometimes looking at things from their perspective makes you think that your demands (that your mother's demands) were a bit excessive. You go through life hoping like hell that you mother doesn't quarrel with her doctor, your father's nurses, the few friends she had left.
You have become, from observing your mother's example, laid back and forgiving, perhaps too much so sometimes. You laugh and defuse situations. If you need to, you quarrel coldly and without saying what you think, because you might regret it later, and say "oh but I didn't really mean it", as your mother did with you too many times. You learn to value friendship, and even family ties, above being right. You learn to say sorry, and to mean it. You learn to say sorry and mean it even when it might not get the friendship back. You don't talk about politics so much, which is a pity because you used to enjoy it but maybe that's a young woman's sport. Your mother still does. With you. You laugh and steer the conversation to cats.
This is about your sister
Your sister is younger than you. She's angry, as she rightfully should be as a woman in a man's world. She's very good at being angry. She is, after all, her mother's daughter. She is funny when she's angry, although less so if you are at the sharp end of her anger. She is passionate, and active, and unlike you, she gets things done. Like your mother, she has lost a lot of friends, but unlike you, she talks about politics, and social justice, and writes and is published, and people take notice of her, and makes you laugh like a drain, and you think if somebody can change the world it will be her, not you, and the world needs changing.
You sister taught you a lot too. It was she who taught you that you are white, something you previously hadn't noticed. She taught you that straightening you hair is a political issue, even if you are white. She taught you about the unthinking way you use your adjectives. She taught you about the value of rage. She pointed out a lot of things you and your friends do that are unthinking and cruel, and you took it on board, although your friends (because she's not their sister) did not, and just walked away offended. And you really don't want to choose between your friends and your sister, but you kind of have to.
You sister is a lesbian, and you desperately want to protect her from people like your uncles, even if she tells you that she doesn't need your protecting, thank you very much, she can cope on her own. But you also want to smack your uncles on her behalf.
You and your sister quarrel a lot. She won't be diverted onto cats. You find it exhausting, but she is your sister. You two stopped speaking for a while, but the thing is, you missed her. You even missed her being quarrelsome, and sometimes awful. You wish your friends could see in her what you see, that white hot shining rage, that shining lance of words, a warrior in armour charging the sun.
This is about your aunts
Your aunts are no longer young, but they were once. They taught you about makeup. They took you to feminist marches. You could talk about sex with them like you couldn't with your mom. They cooked fantastic meals, and talked about cats, and horror books. You spent time with them when your parents were having a hard time, and they taught you to eat raw mussels from the sea (or tried to). They gave you advice about virginity you didn't listen to (thankfully). In their house, a cat first nuzzled your face when your were crying and settled down in the crook of your arm purring.
You love them, and wish you could spend more time with them. You suffer when they divorce your uncles and are replaced by different aunts, who did not share your childhood.
The thing is, your aunts love your uncles. They are deeply offended when you decide not to ask your uncles to speak at your wedding. They ask you how could you, have you forgotten what your uncles did for you? Have you any idea how much you hurt them?
They say they, and your uncles, won't come to your wedding. And you cry.
This is about you
You love all of your family. You want everybody to get along. You think people could get along, if they weren't as ready to take offence as your mom, so unthinkingly opinionated as your uncles, so damn righteous as your sister. But at this age, you know that is naive. People are what they are. The world needs changing. And you wish you had the right words, but you don't.
ETA: Now open for comments.
ETA: Now open for comments.