FAMILY: It's one of those words that mean different things to different people, yet have a common, underlying element, so that in a general way everyone understands what is meant by it.
One of my dictionaries (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate) devotes many words to its definition, or definitions, from its derivation from the Latin for "household" (the word familia, from famulus, servant, includes servants as well as kin to the householder) through our most familiar(!) inference as "the basic unit in society having as its nucleus two or more adults living together and cooperating in the care and rearing of their own or adopted children," and on to "a unit of a crime syndicate (as the Mafia) operating within a geographical area." Other definitions include "clan" and "a group of things related by common characteristics, as a closely related series of elements or chemical compounds" or "a group of related languages descended from a single ancestral language," and "a group of related plants or animals forming a category ranking above a genus and below an order." And there's even one I never heard of: "a set of curves or surfaces whose equations differ only in parameters."
In the same dictionary, these are followed by its definitions as an adjective: "1. of or relating to a family 2. designed or suitable for both children and adults <~ restaurants> <~ movies>" It doesn't mention <~ way> or <~ values> ...
There are nuclear families and extended families, close families and dysfunctional families, and probably any number of variations and combinations among those and other adjectives I haven't thought of. The family I grew up in, and which pretty much defined the word's parameters for me for most of my earlier life, was close in the sense that arguments were rare, and there were no long-standing feuds among any of its members, even in its most extended range. While I of course once thought that was the norm, in looking back I consider myself extremely lucky in that respect.
The basic unit consisted of my natural parents, my brother and sister (who, as young teens when I was born, provided subsidiary parental care, nurturing, and authority) and, at the third tier, my maternal grandparents— more authority, some care, little nurturing. My paternal grandmother was still alive when I was born, but I have no memory of her at all. My sister, primary keeper of the family memorabilia, has a picture of her looking down at my crib. Grandfather Chamberlain had long gone, even then. She had been his second wife, whom he'd brought to the U.S. from Denmark. James Hale Chamberlain had been a sea captain; my brother (who was named for him and I guess would have been entitled to use a roman numeral II after his name) has a picture of his ship. I indistinctly remember it was called The New World, but not its type (clipper, merchantman, brigantine, whatever), other than that it was a fine-looking sailing ship—lots of masts, sails, all that kind of thing.
Our extended family, not large by some standards, consisted of my two aunts on my mother's side, Elisabeth and Bonnie (her name was Miriam, but that was just how we addressed her mail), Aunt Esther, my father's sister, her husband, Uncle Norman, and her children, Cousins Richard and Audrey. Included was Aunt Bonnie's long time companion, Dorothy (you needn't speculate; they were school teachers who found it convenient to live together; they themselves would have been horrified at any suggestion that they were lovers, but they nonetheless might almost as well have been—they certainly loved each other if they were never in love per se*), and, when Aunt Elisabeth married, Uncle Bill (nee Willard Phelps).
* Actually, I could be wrong about this, all things considered. It might be significant that their best friends toward the last years of their lives were a gay male couple.
Dad was away quite a bit for most of my earlier life, assigned to various locations around the country in his job with the government's Fish & Wildlife Service. He was an aquatic biologist and what he did was stock farm ponds with fish appropriate to the locale, type of water and other factors mysterious to me. He loved to fish. But there were long periods (which is to say, months at a time) when he was home, so I got to know him as a father reasonably well. He was a jolly, thoughtful man; though not a great intellect, he loved to philosophize and speculate on the nature of life. Picture me without the whiskers, a beakier nose, a little chunkier, a little shorter, and a bit more outgoing. I remember him as great fun to be with when he could spare the time. When he came home from his trips, he'd bring me presents. I don't now remember what they were, toys of one sort or another, but later on I discovered that he'd also bring home copies of such wondrous magazines as Astounding and Weird Tales. They were beyond me initially, but as the years went by, I found the shelves where they'd been stacked, and began to discover new realms of imagination...
Mother was 40 when I was born, Dad 42, so outside of pictures I never knew them as other than grey-haired and middle-aged, and all too soon white-haired and aged. I'm sure I contributed to the speeding up of that process. I know from the pictures that she had been a very attractive woman in a sort of sensible way. She was always involved in community or church things, though not particularly devout; wherever they moved to both she and Dad tended to attend a church where they got friendly with the minister, rather than vice versa. So it was more of a social or community thing than a religious one. But not social in the sense of "Society," we never got involved with the local "upper crust." Not that were apt to have; Dad's government income was definitely at a lower middle class level, and we rarely spent money without thinking long and hard about it.
Before I came along, Mom and Dad, and later my siblings, frequently moved together to various base locations—Hale was born in New Hampshire, Elinor in Iowa, and, growing up, I heard many stories of their homes around the country. They had lived in Bozeman, Montana, before moving to Brevard, North Carolina, not too long before I arrived on the scene at the end of May, 1937. I believe it was in Brevard that Grandma and Grandpa (which I pronounced Granma and Granpa) joined us, so as far as I was concerned they were always with us.
Grandpa, after whom I was named, was a tall, slender man; red-haired (auburn) in his youth, but I only ever knew him with white hair. Facially, think of Charlie Callas, but not in character or temperament! He had been an entertainer—Charles Ross Taggart, The Man From Vermont, also The Old Country Fiddler, but don't imagine bluegrass or country-western; he drew on English and Scottish traditions that predated those. He not only played the fiddle (sometimes with special effects, like loosening the horsehairs on his bow sufficient to run the fiddle's body between the bowstock and hairs, and doing a passable church organ impression that way), he also told stories, gave recitations and even did ventriloquist bits. He'd traveled on one of the nationwide entertainment circuits—not the relatively well-known Chautaqua Circuit, but another, called Redpath—and he made several records on the Victor (or Victrola) label.
But one day, before my time, he collapsed on stage, in performance. It turned out he'd had a stroke, which left one side numb. So he had of necessity retired. In the years he was with us, he practiced his violin constantly, the bow attached to his nerveless hand by rubber bands. He had a fund of stories that he loved to tell, jokes and anecdotes, and songs to sing, probably many from his act. But I think he was always uncomfortable with me—I was quite young and not too sensitive a kid—so I tended to upset him on occasion. While he tried to be good with me—I learned some drawing tricks from him—I always saw him as rather reserved. Considering how I now, at his age then, fail to deal well with youngsters of the age I was then, I can relate to that.
Once, when I was a pre-teen, I was sitting alone in the living room, I think, playing on a harmonica, and he came out with his violin and offered to play along. I choked up and wouldn't do it, though he urged me to try. I've been sorry about that ever since.
When I was five we moved to San Carlos, Arizona—an Apache reservation east of Phoenix. We drove there in our Fords, one of them Grandpa's Model A, called Danny (the other I knew only as Our Car). Hale drove Danny, and I frequently rode with him; sometimes he let me sit on his lap and pretend to drive. Grandma, Grandpa and Elinor came a little later, I suppose by train.
This was wartime, and at some point while we were there Hale was drafted into the Army. We had the star on our front door. I don't know where he was based, but it wasn't too far away; he got home on furlough at least a couple of times, so I got to see him in uniform. But he never got shipped out, overseas; he developed scarlet fever and got a medical discharge. Other than my sister and grandparents' delay in coming to Arizona, this was the first experience in my young life of being separated for any kind of extended time from another member of my family than my father.
Mother taught for a while at the Indian school. I've written before about the two schools, and how I began school in the one-room, five-grade white school there.
Shortly before my seventh birthday, we moved again to College Station, Texas, home of the Texas Aggies. We stayed there until after Dad took (or was forced into) an early retirement for health reasons. That was about nine years, some of my most formative in many respects.
In Brevard, and later in Texas, Aunt Elisabeth, Mother's youngest sister, came to visit occasionally, sometimes with a friend that she was seeing (before Bill), but always bringing interesting things, like toys (there was a doll called Scary Ann, whose hair would stand on end when one pulled on her feet) and books (my introduction to Mary Poppins) that, unfortunately, I felt, she'd take back with her when she left. She took more after her father than either of her sisters; tall and slender; a pianist and violinist, she and Grandpa would frequently play duets. She lived in Ohio—or at least somewhere in the Midwest, up until she married Bill Phelps; after that they settled in Athens, Ohio, where he was or became an assistant professor of geology at Ohio University. As long as I knew her she always had a strong Midwestern accent.
Aunt Bonnie, on the other hand, lived in the Boston area, and had the flat a's of that region (paak the caa in the Haavaad yaad). She came to visit us less frequently; she was the middle sister in age, and very sweet and lovable, though also more conservative in outlook. She came alone, though; I don't remember that I got to meet Dorothy until many years later. She and my mother took after their mother, who was shorter and inclined to be plump, though neither of the sisters were really overweight. Grandmother hadn't been either until her arthritis rendered her wheel-chair bound and, later, bedridden.
As best I can recollect, Aunt Esther never traveled, so I also didn't get to meet her until I came North. She was a very domestic soul, plump, bustling, rather the image of her Danish mother in some ways. She lived on Long Island (Floral Park), and sure enough, she had an accent peculiar to that area as well (the main thing I remember was her use of the glottal stop in place of the double t, as in bah'ul for bottle; I don't actually remember her pronouncing the g in long, as in Lawn Gyland, but she may well have). To be fair, Dad was born in Brooklyn and I rather assume she must have been, too, so it wasn't quite as much of a stretch for her as it was for Mother's two sisters, who had been primarily raised in Vermont. Neither Mom nor Dad had especially regional accents that one would notice—their constant traveling probably whittled any distinctive regionalities from their enunciation.
Something I inherited; I was once told by someone who prided themselves on judging a person's origins from their accent that they thought I might be a naturalized citizen! That was many years ago; I know I've since acquired or retained some regionalisms, such as "y'all"—but that one, at least, has been fairly deliberate. I like the word and its usage...
Not that I'm immune to the influence of my environment, of course. While we were in North Carolina, on one of her rare visits, Aunt Bonnie felt it necessary to correct my pronunciation of the word "I" at one point. It's "eye," she explained, not "ah." So it goes.
After the war, when we were in Texas, and well after his discharge, Hale got a job overseas with an oil company on Bahrein Island, a place I never heard much of afterward until the Gulf War. Elinor went to Houston to get nurses' training. With Dad often away, I shared a much smaller family unit with Mother and Grandma and Grandpa. My grandmother was by this time wheelchair bound with severe arthritis, and Mother had to deal with her parents and with her church and community work much of the time. I'm afraid I became something more of a handful than I might otherwise have been. That's a topic I may or may not deal with some other time... I'm being revelatory aplenty this time around, but that's a question of going confessional.
Besides, I'm talking about my family here.
While he was away on one of his trips, Dad had a cerebral hemorrhage. He was younger than I am now by a few years. It affected his mind to some extent. Elinor says it changed his personality a lot, but I have to admit that I never really saw it that much. This could in some degree (read: probably) be due to my own hangups and young-teen self-absorption at the time. But that he was deteriorating did eventually penetrate my dense cerebrum. Initially, at least, he still laughed readily, and talked about his philosophies, but even to me it finally became clear that his insight and depth were no longer contributing to it. Frustrated with not working, and receiving a none-too-substantial government pension (there was some bitterness about that as you can imagine) he cast widely but unsuccessfully for new jobs, looking up and writing to old friends, none of whom could offer much help. I remember at one time his being quite excited about the possibility of going to Nigeria to do work related to his field. It never panned out. I'm rather grateful for that... Selfish of me, I suppose.
I don't know the actual causes, but Grandmother died somewhere around 1950. She had reached the point of being wholly bedridden and dependent on Mother and Grandpa. This was my first experience with a death in the family. I don't remember that I felt much in the way of grief; it was just another experience, somber, yes, but not really heartwrenching. This may have contributed to a developing guilt complex that plagued me for a while, and I guess still sits at the back of my soul, but again, that's another topic that may be postponed indefinitely.
As a result of that, however, Grandpa, losing his own health, wanted to move back to Vermont, or at least New England, the part of the country where he had grown up. In 1952, we did just that. Hale by this time (after returning from Bahrein, he'd traveled allover the country and held a number of jobs, including one at a shoe factory in St. Louis, and had in fact stayed with us in College Station a few times) had settled back in Brevard, which I guess held much the same significance to him as College Station did for me—it was the town where he had the most ties. Elinor had settled in as an RN in Houston, where she'd taken her training. In late spring or early summer, Dad and Grandpa went ahead to stay with old friends in New Hampshire, right across the river from the area in Vermont (Newbury) where they used to live. (That's where my parents met, after all.) When school let out, Mother and I took the car (a Buick, with a sun shield that jutted out front above the windshield) and started out for North Carolina, where we would visit Hale. I would then be left in a YMCA summer camp near by (Camp Greenville, near Greenville, SC) while she continued to New England.
Outstanding elements of the trip in my memory: On the way from Texas, we drove by Lake Pontchartrain, skirting New Orleans, to my disappointment. We spent one of the most miserable nights of our lives (well, I thought so) at a motel in Mobile, Alabama—summer humidity and no air conditioning. And somewhere along in there we ate at a cafeteria, where I chose what I thought was a breaded chicken drumstick and it turned out to be fish—a terrible disappointment! But the real treat on this trip for me was spending lots of exclusive time with my mother... What can I tell you? It had been a very rare occasion to have any length of time alone with her. I treasured it.
Now I had another First—experiencing the truth behind Thomas Wolfe's novel title, "You Can't Go Home Again." (That author lived only a few miles away in Asheville, NC.) It was ten years since we'd left Brevard, not all that long from my perspective now, but two thirds of my life to that point. A family was living in the house we'd last lived in there, on the side of a hill by the edge of the Pisgah National Forest. When we stopped in to visit, it didn't even look familiar. The house was there, the outbuildings (not outhouses, mind you—despite the fact that this place was well out of town, I still had that experience to look forward to), the forest and hills—but it could have been any house similarly situated. Disappointing.
I was at camp (another tale for another time; a short one, I think) for a month, I guess, and then stayed with my brother for a little while. Hale was still single, then, living in a small apartment in town, taking care of an empty house for someone who was away for the summer. We had shared a room from time to time in Texas, so it wasn't a matter of getting reacquainted, quite— Still, here he was, a young adult, with a gawky teenager on his hands. But we shared (and share) a love for books and imagination (if not always of the same kinds; he's deeper than I by several fathoms) and my recollection is that we got along famously.
Then we got me onto a bus for New England. Another first—long distance bus travel. At that time some buses had a shotgun seat at the front right window, with the door behind it; I lucked into one of those and if I remember right had it pretty much to myself as far as New York. Scruffy kid in a grey sweatshirt with Camp Greenville emblazoned on the front— in retrospect I'm not surprised. I'm not sure I'd gotten thoroughly bathed before the trip, either, which might have aided...
The reunion in White River Junction, NH, was the beginning of a bewildering period for me. I was the only teenager in company of adults; so far, so good—I had never learned to be social with other kids my age that I didn't already know well. But they didn't have much time for me, and when they did take me on visits to old friends and interesting areas of the region, I couldn't share in their reminiscences, just observe, and smile a lot.
I was enrolled in a private school, with, if I remember correctly, an initially terrifying name, Kents Hill Academy, in Kents Hill, Maine. It turned out not to be military, and it was coeducational, so much of the fear subsided. We moved there in time for me to start at the beginning of the school year; I was a day student, walking right across the street to my classes. That was cool...
Here, by the way, was where I learned how to deal with the classic outhouse. And we got water from a pump. But once again I digress.
Grandpa failed in health and mind over that winter and spring. He became bedridden and lost both legs, one at a time, due to circulatory problems. This was a man who all his life had loved to walk, hiking over the hills of Vermont; in Arizona I remember climbing with him to the top of a nearby mesa. After the operations he was so drugged up with morphine that he was to all intentions gone before he actually died. Here again I could hardly feel grief once he passed away; it was truly a blessing both to him and to Mother, and the rest of us.
We moved again, this time to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, to stay for a little time at an intentional community called Gould Farm. This was at the recommendation of one of my teachers, who was familiar with the place. It was kind of a halfway house where people who had experienced mental problems or great difficulties (other than physical) could work it out (literally as well as spiritually and mentally) with others and recover their lives. It was founded on a religious basis, but it was non-sectarian in nature. Mother needed to work out her grief and her troubles with Dad, who was still on the decline—and, as I realized later, her troubles with me.
The community comprised staff and guests, the number varying according to the time of year, roughly between fifty and a hundred. Initially, we were only to be there a couple of weeks or so on a trial basis, but we were accepted as members of the community and the stay stretched to quite a few years. Mother had always been a good cook—not chef, level, though had she put her mind to that, I dare say she could have been. But she was assigned to the kitchen, and was rather a success with everyone as long as she did that. Until school started, I found myself assigned to help out at the pasteurizing plant, and there were periods when I was regularly assigned at the other end of the kitchen from my mother, doing dishes. Dad initially drove guests into town and back on their outings, but after a year or two he developed a compulsive eating habit, and when this became a concern, they had to find other things else for him to do around the Farm. He developed diabetes somewhere along in there, as well.
Another First for me came with the start of school: taking a school bus. There were a couple of other young people at the Farm who were to go as well—Patricia Feeley and Kathy Fabian. We had about a mile to walk from the Farm's Main House to the highway where the bus would pick us up, and of course had to walk back when it let us off. Kathy had no problem with this, and under normal circumstanced I wouldn't have either, but...
This is supposed to be about my family, so I'll keep this part short— Pat was an epileptic, and normally wouldn't have been staying at the Farm since they really didn't have the level of medical help that would have been required; I'm not sure what persuaded them to let her stay. She was subject to the occasional petit mal, in which she'd just blank out for a minute or so, but she also, less frequently, would have the rather devastating grand mal—the fall, the shaking, the need for a tongue depressor or something to prevent her from biting her tongue, and a period of foggy recovery following the seizure.
Pat constituted another First for me; my first real, reciprocated love. Not really a good choice, folks, for an already somewhat troubled youth of 16 and an 18-year-old girl with severe physical problems, but volition plays all too little a part in such cases. My life centered around Pat for at least the next year. I lost weight, dropping from my then normal 170-180 range to about 140 (sitting for any length of time on a hard chair became painful, due to lack of padding!). And something strange occurred: we developed an almost psychic bond. I frequently knew when Pat would have a grand mal seizure, or had had one when I wasn't around. Of course I learned what to do, at least on a kind of first aid basis, should she have one while I was alone with her, but perhaps fortunately for all concerned that never happened.
If my folks were concerned about me before, this added to it. Much as they loved Pat—she was a sweet girl, and she could sing like an angel—they had a perspective on our relationship that I was unable to perceive (not without the proverbial rose-colored glasses, at any rate). She was also a staunch Irish Catholic, and when I took to going regularly with her to the church downtown, in Great Barrington, nine miles away, I'm sure they had mixed feelings. Dad much later told me that he had been concerned she might "force" me to marry her; things never quite reached that point—but could've, especially as the school year's end approached, when she would be leaving the Farm, going home. She had some things to tell her priest in confessional from time to time... Mild by today's standards, I guess, but for the early 1950s —well...
We did get "engaged to be engaged" before it was all over, though. So it sort of qualifies this topic for my family reminiscences.
I didn't do well with the school in Great Barrington. The differences in atmosphere there were great from what I'd experienced before, there were no teachers who provided any sort of inspiration, and worst of all, from my point of view, I couldn't sit with Pat in the lunchroom—girls sat with girls, boys sat with boys, and that was it. I'd never run up against that before.
That summer, Pat went home to Brooklyn, N.Y., and I began seeing a psychiatrist. This would have been a lot cooler if Dr.Spenser had not been of an age or disposition that he felt it necessary to talk to me as though I were much younger than my worldly (yeah, well...) 17, despite tests that showed me reading at college level. Nevertheless, he did steer me in a direction that I'll always be grateful to him for: he recommended me for a small private school up in Williamstown, Mass., called Buxton School.
I will keep this part to a minimum. (Someday I'll put this and others of these reminiscences together and do a real autobiography, so be warned). The school was, in the long run, good for me; it pulled me at least part way out of a very thick shell, got me interested in creative writing, theater and other creative endeavors. The relationship with Pat petered out with distance and, to be honest, the proximity of other young ladies...
One day, while Mother was at school for a visit, she slipped on some ice and fell. It did not seem serious at the time, but over the following years she developed severe arthritis in her hip; it was pretty clear that it had stemmed from that fall.
I completed two years at Buxton, then began schooling in Boston, at the now-defunct Leland Powers School of Radio, Theater and Television, and dropped out after only half a year (still regretted), thinking that I would Be An Artist. After living on dwindling resources from my family for a few months, my longest period of indolence and free-falling, with some art work and poetry written but nothing that would really have formed the nucleus of a living, I got my first real job there in Boston (stock clerk in a wholesale silver firm). When I lost that job, some months later, I tried it in New York for a while. When that didn't work, I went down to stay with Hale and his new family for a summer (she already had three children when they were married, and now had a fourth). I came back to Gould Farm, lived there for a bit over a year while taking a Speedwriting course in Pittsfield, Mass., about 20 miles away, and then, in 1960, newly armed with a marketable skill of sorts, returned to New York with intentions of getting a job and going to the Art Students League to learn some real skills in an area I felt I had some promise in.
Never managed that part, but I did get a job with Bookazine Co., a book wholesaler, where I met Mike MacInerney and through him, fandom.... That job lasted about ten years. (I actually did use my Speedwriting now and then, at least earlier in that stint.) Then I tried driving cab for a little bit, but, as I always tell people whenever the topic comes up, I couldn't hack it. Then Arnie Katz got me a job on the magazine he was working with, under Sam (Moskowitz) Martin, and I stayed with Quick Frozen Foods for another 15 years or so (and in the journalism field until just a couple of years ago. )
Hale got divorced and came to New York and we shared apartments for a while, while I was still working at Bookazine. Then he got a girl friend, and I moved out and got one of my own for a while.
One what, you ask? Apartment or girl friend? One of each, I reply, but kept the apartment longer than that girl friend. And when she left, another one came along, and in a way I kept that one and just changed apartments over and over again, right on up to the present. Hale kept his girl friend right on through, finally making it legal just a year or so ago... So now there's a Gail Chamberlain (Mrs. Hale C.) and a Joy-Lynd Chamberlain (Mrs. me) to add to the family roster.
But of course, the roster saw attrition over those years as well. Aunt Bonnie was among the first of the extended family to go, though now that I think of it, she was preceded by my cousin Audrey, though I'd only met her a couple of times. Dorothy lived on for a number of years and we kept in touch to some extent, but she passed away eventually. I don't remember just when Aunt Esther died; though I think it was not too long after her husband did. Aunt Elisabeth and Uncle Bill came to my wedding in 1982; but she, too, had been struck by terrible arthritis and lived only a few years after that occasion. Uncle Bill died just a couple of years ago and left us—Elinor, Hale and I, his only remaining living relatives, if only by marriage—a very nice bequest, which I've discussed elsewhere.
But back to the '70s... Mom and Dad left the Farm for a while, trying the retirement thing in Gulfport, Fla. I got down there a couple of times. But, gradually, Dad pretty much lost track of what was going on. Not, perhaps unfortunately in some ways, a real Alzheimers thing, because all too often he did realize he was on a downward track, which was pretty disheartening for him. But when he really began to lose it, they returned to the Farm for a little bit. I watched most of this from a distance, my visits home occurring maybe three or four times a year.
I'm a little hazy on the timing of things along here. Elinor was now living and working in the Hartford, Ct., area, after having done some traveling overseas (she lived in Bad Bruckenau, West Germany, for a while) and in this country (she had also called Seattle home for some time). She and her apartment-mate Marge Jensen, also a nurse at Hartford Hospital, took Dad in and cared for him when they couldn't have him at the Farm any more, due to the medical resources he now required. Mother remained at the Farm for a period, visiting him when she could, but she was losing her health now, too. For some time she had had to use a walker, and her cooking days for the Farm had reached an end. Mostly she was helping take care of a couple of the elderly ladies who had been with the Farm from its inception. The last time I saw Dad, he'd lost much weight and looked and acted frail; though he could still walk, it was almost a totter. The first time I saw this, I stifled a chuckle even as it hit home that he wasn't putting it on, and thereafter found it difficult to deal with—symbolic, as it were, of what was happening to him.
I remember Mother's telephone call to tell me of the end. She urged me not to come up; he would be cremated, and his ashes strewn—I don't remember where, now—and they would have a little memorial service for him at the Farm, and that would be it.
A few years later, Elinor called to tell me much the same for Mother's passing. Mom at least had not had the kind of mental deterioration Dad had; save for some momentary memory lapses, she'd continued to enjoy reading, and games like Scrabble and Perquacky and other word games, practically to the end.
In both cases, it took a little while for their losses to hit me. Once again, these had been somber moments; in each case, their passing had been presaged for some time by such poor health that it was almost more of a relief when the word came. But, at least in the case of my mother's death, the hit did, finally strike, when Joy-Lynd showed me a picture she'd taken of her, sitting in a chair at Elinor and Marge's apartment, her face turned toward the camera while light from a window behind her haloed her hair, and she had the sweet smile that will always be what I remember best of her. That was when I cried.
But I dream of them often. Only once or twice have I consciously thought, at the time, that it was remarkable that I was talking to him or her, because hadn't he (or she)...?
So, anyway, I didn't come up to Hartford, then, when Elinor called. She and I expected that they would have a memorial service at Gould Farm, after all of Mother's years of service with them, and I knew she had been almost as beloved by the people there as she had been to us. Or so I thought. But I never got the word of such a memorial service; if they ever did one, it was in passing, a mention at one of their regular Sunday morning or Wednesday evening community services.
As a result, I lost much of my positive attitude toward the place that I'd called home (in the sense that home is where the heart is) for, by then, over twenty years. Most of that bitterness is now gone; I've had it explained what happened and why, though I don't retain the details, but I definitely lost that sense of a home away from home that I used to have for it. Just as well, there may be a few people living there now who would even remember me, but the reality is that I don't ever expect to see it again, barring some really bizarre combination of circumstances.
Thomas Wolfe had it right.
(I'd still like to go back to College Station some time, just to see what it looks like now. But there would be no one to visit any more. Everyone I knew there has moved somewhere else. And some of them may have passed on, too, I fear.)
Hale and Gail are living in Ft. Bragg, California, currently, but they've been considering either moving to Vancouver Island or possibly back East to North Carolina. Elinor lives in Prescott, Arizona; she was thinking of doing some traveling again, but a recent cancer scare and operation has put that on hold until she gets her strength back.
Hale's son, Knight (Thomas Knight Chamberlain, named after his grandfather, my Dad), now in his 40s, has been working for newspapers in North Carolina. He just missed getting the editorship of one, recently but has good prospects for another one, last I heard. He's also a local stringer for The New York Times, and has actually had some stories go national. Like his father, he married into a family with three children and helped contribute another, but it looks like the whole group is sticking together and doing well. He writes (very occasionally) glowing accounts of their kids' scholastic and artistic accomplishments.
And Cousin Richard and his wife Polly have retired and live in Vero Beach, Fla., while their son goes to college in Boston, of all places...
Philosophical musings on the topic of family? The dictionary calls the family a unit of society; I'd say rather that families are the ganglions of society (individually, we are the neurons). Together, as nation or community, they form the nerves of the Greater Being that is humanity, or Mankind by name. How Man fares depends a lot on the health of these nerves and ganglions and synapses and other elements of the minds and active systems that make Man a viable entity...
At the beginning of this item, I thought it might need some re-construction, but even though it does, as noted, cover much of the territory already written about here, I think it stands up pretty well...
A NUMBER OF YEARS HAVE PASSED since the above was written—and so have some of the people I've written about. My brother Hale and his wife Gail, my sister Elinor, and Joy-Lynd's companion Chris, all went ahead to their own rewards in seemingly quick succession between 2010 and 2012, preempting other plans. Luckily for them, their passings were neither prolonged nor, save for Elinor's, anticipated at length. In her case, she welcomed it, not only as a surcease from pain but as a new adventure. Her faith was unconventional, but real.
My nephew Knight's beloved wife Sandy preceded theirs by several years, succumbing to cancer after a too long series of welcome gains and heartbreaking setbacks. Eventually, Knight found someone who had suffered a similar loss to share his life with. Rose also had a small family, so they both now have people to look after and even grandchildren to be proud of.
And there have been some friends and acquaintances, in and out of Science Fiction Fandom—for whom I initially wrote the piece above—who have passed on to the Enchanted Convention. I know, that's a reference which, like so many in this overall piece, must be explained, if needed, another time.
My cousin and his wife now live in Orlando; their son also, not too far away.
As to going home again... Well, I've got the option of Google's Street View, now. Hey, it beats braving the airports! So...
I keep in touch with almost everyone I know, now, on the Internet, including my extended family of fandom, on listserves and Facebook, in keeping with the modern idiom.
Welcome! Welcome to my family!