If you saw the movie Talladega Nights, you may recall the scene in which the two young sons of race car driver Ricky Bobby (played by Will Ferrell) learn that their parents are getting a divorce. No sniffles from these two whacky kids, whose names are Walker and Texas Ranger. Instead, they cry out with delight, “Two Christmases!”
My own parents divorced when I was an early teen. But I did not experience the same sense of glee as Walker and Texas Ranger. Raised in Miami, I found myself suddenly uprooted to rural Alabama where a divorced woman and her rather unconventional daughter did not immediately fit in.
My father maintained the Miami house, but accepted a long term employment contract in Trinidad, the southernmost island in the Caribbean. Thus, my “Two Christmases” involved an annual 2,200-mile journey from Columbus, GA, to Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad. Not to mention summers and other extended breaks throughout high school and college.
I confess that I came to love this bifurcated life. Who wouldn’t? Tropical rhythms awaited me in Trinidad–the exotic scents and steamy streets after the rains. The sound of calypso music on every corner. But I also loved the simplicity of my life in Alabama. I forged lifelong friendships with people who taught me about the beauty of my surroundings–the unique geography of the southernmost foothill of the Appalachian Mountains, amazing bluegrass music and a place in which I experienced seasonal change for the first time in my life.
Within three years of their divorce, both of my parents remarried. Did I reap the material rewards of two Christmases? Maybe. But decades later, that is not what I remember.
What I do remember is the acceptance and support of my step parents, who were – for me - gifts from a loving God. I adored my parents, of course, but I knew their faults. And now I realize that God gave me step parents who filled in the missing pieces. My step parents brought to my life the characteristics lacking in my biological parents. And those were amazing gifts at a time in which I was most in need.
My mother met and married a zillionth generation Alabamian who had the warmest and kindest heart of anyone I’ve ever known. He and I enjoyed annual rituals, like picking cotton bolls from the edge of his fields, which my mother and I would then use to create rustic arrangements for the house. We also loved to spotlight deer. On autumn nights, we would drive his truck to the far end of a field, and then shine the headlights into the woods. The deer’s eyes would sparkle brightly, fluorescently. The crisp autumn air smelled of rich soil, tall pines and the chimney smoke of neighboring farms. Don’t worry, we had no intention of hunting the deer. We simply enjoyed our nocturnal encounter with them. This was the gentle nature of my stepfather.
Further south, my father married an amazing woman from Trinidad, who immediately introduced me to a larger world. She showed me the very best of life in the Caribbean and took me to England for Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee Celebration. We snorkeled together across the coral reefs of Tobago and drank to-die-for rum punches in the afternoons. She taught me how to cook the most amazing island dishes, including callaloo soup, roti and Christmas pastelles.
My mother, father and step father have all passed on. But I enjoy a warm friendship these days with my step mother, who lives in Miami in the house in which I was raised. The house once broken by my parents’ divorce was made a home again through her love and care.
My parents–all four of them–pervade my thoughts during this holiday season. I suppose the seasonal scents and songs and sentimentality cause me to reflect on the people who most influenced me over the years. Particularly during this time of year, I remember that I was given the gift of loving step parents and the opportunity to learn that family means more than mere biological ties.
Many of us experience non-traditional families. Almost 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce. Close to 30 percent of all children in the U.S. are being raised by a single parent. Over 65 percent of remarriages involve children from previous marriages, resulting in blended families. Indeed, 2,100 blended families are created each day. I found these statistics through The Bonded Family website, and then verified them through U.S. Census and other data.
Non-traditional families are not, in and of themselves, a bad thing. Dysfunctional families are the problem. And dysfunction can and does occur in families, regardless of configuration. Trust me, I know this from experience. When my parents divorced, I felt almost a sense of relief. The dysfunction was finally ending. A brighter future was now possible for us all.
During this holiday season, we celebrate faith and family. Our faiths, as well as our families, may differ. But that is just fine. Because we all strive for the same things in the end: to belong, to be loved and to have hope for a brighter future.
About this column: Mother, wife and careerist, Dee Locklin offers stories, advice and a forum for women to share their similar experiences as well. This column originally ran the Wookstock-TownLake Patch.
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