Sunday, May 17, 2009


JC's family is a vine -- that's what I said to myself, the day I met them.

(I was nervous, wanting them to like me, wanting to like them, and have like become love. But I was divorced, and from an agnostic Jewish family, who didn't bring me up with any religion. That's a story to tell when you know me better, when you're used to the way I think-talk-write.)

I felt his family was a vine many times. Like yesterday. His niece called when JC was at the theater performing. She told me what she was planning to tell "Uncle Johnny." The way she says his name ... lovingly, reverently ... She sings it, knowing he's there for her, even if she's called when she couldn't reach him.

The vine, the Uncle Johnny part of it, rambles this way and that way, weaves around the other cousins, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, spouses. Attaches itself to other families, who by marriage have annexed themselves and grown into another twist, another curving tendril climbing, winding, intertwining with other vines in the state of Tennessee, the Carolinas, creeping along, sending offshoots to the Virginas, and the deep south.

My dictionary says -- "vine: inert vegetation whose stem requires support, which climbs by tendril or twining, or creeps along the ground." The image stays with me as the vine, over the years, has gotten denser, tangled, sprawling, surrounding JC. Not me. Just JC. Not JD. It's a pang, remembering JD as a teenager, trying to become part of the family, realizing he couldn't, discovering he couldn't be himself if he let himself be overgrown by them.

I've heard young members in the family talking about seeing the world, and becoming a different person in a different place. Seen them not go. Just settle into the whorl, their place on the vine. Yes. I've seen new leaves, new tendrils dormant, unable to escape or separate or move away from the roots. And yes, JC did escape, and separate. He's the only one in the family that I know of who has. (JC says there are few others who have , but I never met them.)

It's a powerful moralistic ideal JC has in him, bred into him. He's a part of the family that has never been dormant, quiescent or caught by the twirls and whirls of this ever larger green growing vine.

Why does make me glad to be a tree on separate ground, with roots twining off in other directions ? Despite the cousins and their offspring who can't get away, the vine is still a marvelous thing, especially because something so green and strong and powerful as JC is a part of it. Maybe that's all the vine needs, a JC growing toward the sun.

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