Home > Family Connections, Life, Writing and Poetry > The Family Member Who Wasn’t

The Family Member Who Wasn’t

Growing up in or around the South during the 50’s and 60’s was an interesting way to discover life.

When we visited my father’s parents in Kentucky during that time, everything seemed new and exciting to me. There were people who I didn’t get to see but a few times a year, people I knew as family. There were cousins close to my age, aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, and others who were attached to the family, though I was never really sure in what capacity.

One of the latter group members was a man named Paul. He lived with my grandparents much of the time, occupying an upper quarter of their house. He was a quiet-spirited man who seldom spoke, but when he did, his was a soft and thoughtful voice. He had a slow smile which told silent stories when few were looking his way.

As a girl, I couldn’t place him anywhere in my family lexicon, had no logical placement for him that pigeon-holed him neatly in relationship to me. He would occasionally speak to me, in greeting as much as for any other reason. He worked for my grandpa during tobacco season, as far as I knew. and lived with them as a kind of hired farm hand.

I was probably in middle school before I discovered that he lived on grandpa’s farm only part of the time. Paul had other places where he lived for weeks or months on end. That knowledge confused me more than thinking of him as what the books called “poor relations.”

Years later I found out that Paul had been wounded during the war. At that time there were only three wars significant enough to be given capital letters; the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

It didn’t matter to me which of the world wars was referenced. I’d discovered that Paul was a victim, a kind of hero who made his way in the world, doing whatever he could to support himself beyond the tiny pension he received from the government.

Paul wasn’t any blood kin. He needed help to make it in the world, and he received some of that help at my grandparents’ home. He ate at their table, slept under Granny’s hand-made quilts, and watched TV with them in the evening.

That tall, lean man, who presented himself with his neat and immaculate clothing, and who remained always self-contained, fascinated me. I wanted to know his stories, his history. I wanted to know why he’d chosen to get so close to my grandparents.

Throughout my adulthood, his existence, his attendance at the fringe of my early life, kept his presence within reach in the few early memories I had of grandpa’s farm. I always wondered why. When did he arrive within the family confines and how did he stay there for so long? I never found out.

One thing I learned over my lifetime is that families in the South ebb and flow through necessity and whim. There’s a belief in God’s will that places people and situations in a person’s life path. Single people, such as Paul, often found employment and a home at the same farm.

Knowing this common practice doesn’t compensate for not knowing the entire story. Over the years I’ve asked about this family member who wasn’t. I’m still not satisfied with the information gained, but I’ve given up on digging deeper. Perhaps this story is meant to remain a mystery for me.

I wonder how many of those I know now have such a person linked to their families. It’s none of my business, of course, but it begs the question. I’d hate to think that in that respect, I’m the oddball.

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