November 30, 2015

Giving Thanks for My Five F's: Number One – My Families

On Thanksgiving Day, I went through the usual drill of thinking about the major things I'm thankful for. Then I began comparing each of these things as they are now with how they were in my earlier years. This exercise made me even more grateful for where I am today.

I'm sure my kids and close friends shuddered when they saw the reference to "My Five F's" in the title and thought "Jeez, what crazy thing is he going to say this time?" But it just so happens that the major factors that contribute to the quality of my life can be labeled with an F word:
  1. My families.
  2. My friends.
  3. My fun.
  4. My finances.
  5. My final days.
So let's start with my families and compare today with my early days.

My Family of Origin
Last year I posted  a family history  that was much too long. Now, I'll just make some some brief comments about family photos. Every picture of my mother shows the same blank, unsmiling look you see her. And I'm doing what I learned to do then -- and continued doing with most of my problems until age 50 -- looking away and pretending to be happy.

Here I am with my sister Carol and my brother Rog. Carol and I shared the same inner turmoil. She was an alcoholic and a lesbian. I was an alcoholic and a gay man. We were both deep into denial. Carol took her own life in 1971 at age 36.

Rog was -- and remains -- an incredibly normal, happy man surrounded by good friends who love him.

My dad, like Rog, was a kind and decent man. But unlike Roger, he was a lonely man without close friends. Rog was married to the wonderful, funny, feisty Gail. Dad was married to the elephant in the room.


The five of us lived together as five separate silos. Like too many families, we could talk only about "news, weather and sports." We never shared feelings. The elephant in the room was never discussed.

The Ever-Expanding Schappi Clan Today
Last April, I hosted a family reunion, bringing together my family and Rog's. Here's the whole gang:

Now, some individual shots. First, son Todd and daughter Ann. Todd is holding his daughter Jessie's son Camden, i.e. my great-grandson. Todd and his partner Jill have a house in the forested hills a few miles south of  Thurmont. Maryland, about an hour's drive from DC. Jill, whom I dearly love, doesn't appear in these pictures because she was taking most of them.

Here are Camden with his mother (my granddaughter) Jessie, his father Dan Dreisonstok and his sisters Kenzie (age 4) and Kaylee. The Dreisonstoks live outside Frederick, Maryland, not too far from Todd's house.

Here's my other granddaughter Emily with her husband Jerrod Fuller and their daughter Emarie, who just had her first birthday.

I often comment on how lucky I am to have all of my family living in the Washington/Baltimore area. But now, at least for the next six months or so, that's not true. My grandson Colin and his lovely girlfriend Michelle are in China teaching English. Here are Colin and Michelle on the back porch with Kaylee and Kenzie:

My Brother Rog's Family
Here are Rog's two sons, Jeff and Dan. Dan is not a midget; Jeff is standing on a higher porch step.

Dan's wife Suzanne is shown, top right, in the next photo. On the bottom step are Dan and Suzanne's children, Jamie and Ashley. The family lives in Trumansburg, New York, a "suburb" of Ithaca.

The two young men sitting side by side are the sons of Jeff and his wife Tammy. As you can see from this picture of Christopher and Matthew, not all twins look alike.

Here are the the twins with their parents. They live in Annandale, Virginia, a Washington, DC suburb.

Here are Rog with the brother he initially knew as "Jackie," and was later told to call "Jack." Now I'm "John." That's a lawn chair I'm sitting in, not a wheelchair.

My Nepali Families

I first visited Nepal In March, 2001. I immediately fell in love with Nepal and its people. I've made at least a dozen trips to Nepal since then.

My Pokhara Family
I ended up "adopting" a Nepali couple who lived in Pokhara, the beautiful lakefront town that is the jumping-off point for treks in the Annapurna mountains.

I worked on getting a green card for the husband which finally came through in 2009. I also helped them build a house in Pokhara where I stayed for weeks at a time and became part of the family.

Here I am with the family on a visit to the Bahari Temple, located on a tiny island in Pokhara's Lake Fewa. The family consists of the parents, Laxmi and Ramesh Pariyar, and their son Rahil.

They now live in one of Washington's suburbs, and we get together often. When I saw them this past weekend, Rahil was almost as tall as me. He's catching up with me for two reasons -- he's getting taller and I'm shrinking.

My Kathmandu Family
Each of my trips to Nepal involved stays in Kathmandu, Nepal's capital. Virtually every day I was in Kathmandu, I'd go to a bookstore in the tourist section for my copy of the International Herald Tribune. I became friends with the family that ran the bookstore.

When their son Nimesh came to the U.S. to attend Truman College in Missouri, he would often pass through Washington, DC on his school holiday travels and would stay at my house. He became a regular resident while getting his master's degree at American University, near my house.

I expected this cohabitation to end in 2012 when Nimesh returned from his Kathmandu marriage to Bhawana Khadka. I was sure the newlyweds would prefer a place of their own. But we quickly found that the three of us were very comfortable living together as a family. This sense of family has only grown stronger over the past three years.

I again expected we would part when I learned  Bhawana was expecting their first child. Wrong again. The three of us have decided to continue living together. We've just finished turning the house's built-in garage into a bedroom in preparation for "our" daughter's arrival in March.

This photo was taken a year ago when we celebrated the Nepali Tihar Festival at home while Bhawana's parents were visiting. That's Nimesh, Bhawana, and Bhawana's mother.

As you can see, I have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to family. Next Thanksgiving, 'I hope to have three more reasons. Jessie is getting ready to deliver her fourth child this week. Emily is expecting her second in late March or early April, about the same time Bhawana is expecting.

Indications are that all the new arrivals will be girls. Looks like Camden is going to be my only great grandson.

If I host another family reunion, I'll have to build a bigger porch, or at least widen the porch steps.

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