August 27, 2019 By Phyllis Riley

Thoughts About What Makes a Family

I sometimes think I got shorted on family ties. Dad didn’t have much of a family, as his mother died when he was nine, and his sister died in her teens; his Dad passed when I was a baby. Mom was Canadian from British Columbia, so living in Rhode Island didn’t lend itself to much visitation and then the war intervened and there was no travel.

So, all I had was Dad’s aunt, “Auntie,” and that was quite enough. As children, Auntie fascinated us. She lived in an apartment in Boston, an arrangement unknown to us children; the most exciting thing about visiting her was to ride in an elevator. When that door slid shut, I was sure that we were trapped for life. In her apartment was a huge carved wooden chair, with arms fashioned like lion’s heads. It took courage to sit in that chair. She had a house at Nantasket Beach where we spent summers, and she would load my sister and I in her Model T rumble seat and roar down the road to play bingo.

She visited us often in the summer when we had a summer home on a lake in Rhode Island and would always do the dishes (much to the delight of my sis and I). She ended her days in Florida and we saw her occasionally. She always sent a box of oranges at Christmas, which we loved, though we never knew what to do with the kumquats! I think of her often and wish that I had been more aware of the history she lived through. Several of my favorite pieces of jewelry are the opals that she gave to me.

Mother grew up in British Columbia, and, like me, she was the middle child. After nursing school, she went on a trip through the US, ran out of money, and took a job accompanying an elderly lady back to Rhode Island. There she worked in a hospital and ultimately met my Dad. Growing up, I never met her family due to distance, and then the war intervened, ending travel. Her mother visited us once, and all I remember is her thrusting her false teeth at us kids, scaring us to death. So, we were a small family unit.

As a result of these separations, my sense of extended families came from my best friend who lived next door. She had her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all nearby, and I was included in many of the activities with her family. That large extended family was a source of fascination for me; I envied it. We are still close friends after 85 years, and she is as much of a sister to me as my own sisters.

Families are whatever you choose to make them. Here, at PVE, we have a different sort of family, which is the strength of our community. My own family was small in number, but large in love.


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