Thursday, June 9, 2011

on family, my name and getting it...kinda...

It has been a really long time since I have attended a Morgan Family gathering, the extended Morgan Family that is…so long, I am sad to report I don’t think I can even recall the last time more than 2 or 3 of us were together. 

I know Uncle Greg stopped just a few months ago when he saw me in the parking lot at work, and  his son Wes is friends with the brothers of one of my youth groupers.  I might cross paths with Wes or Matthew 5 or 10 times a week in our small South Tampa community.  For all I know Wes and I could be standing at the same bar ordering drinks every now and then…

I remember a visit from Uncle Sundance to St. Louis, maybe, when I was in high school?  That was at least 12 or 13 years ago now.

I think the last time I saw Jim, we were living in Miami and we had Thanksgiving on Key Biscane…we beat Kunkle butt playing street football and Mary made Stouffers mac and cheese for Ben…because he was still an incredibly picky eater those days…not much has changed.

I honestly though don’t remember the last time I saw most of The Morgan Family. 

I remember when I was in preschool or early elementary school my dad teaching me the names of all of his siblings and memorizing them in age order…I guess the way he ran through them in his head as well.

Jimmy, Lynn, Wes, Greg, Dan, Rob

I had to include my dad in that list to remember everyone.

But…then I had to learn that Jimmy was really Sundance and Lynn was really Mary Lynn and Wes and Greg, though a year apart graduated together, and Dan took pictures and Rob would always be the youngest, no matter how old they all got.  AND THEN look at the baby and childhood pictures—they all looked the same with those HUGE coke bottle glasses!

I can give you the names…

Sundance and Iris have no kids (he was married once before her I think and Iris is a twin, something I always thought was kinda cool!)
Lynn has two sons Jimmy and Philip (both older than me)  Jimmy is now married with a beautiful daughter.  My dad, it seems, has always been close to Jimmy.
Wes, my dad is still married to my mom and my brother and I continue to plug along in our own little bubbles.  My little brother is engaged to be married sometime soon-ish…
Greg was married to Donda and had two sons, Wesley (named after my dad ) and Matthew (born on my dad’s birthday) but he is now remarried to Ellen and has 2 step-kids too…
Dan has now married his second wife Annette (no kids)
Rob has been married to Joy for almost as long as my parents have been married and they have 3 kids.  Megan, Tara and Kevin…I don’t know if I have ever met any of them.

You know what, come to think of it…I don’t think I have ever been in a situation where I was in the same place as my dad and his 5 siblings.  If I was, I certainly don’t remember it.  I only have fuzzy memories of my one visit to that stately home on Lake Eerie where my dad grew up.  I only know that place in pictures.  I remember playing with a red and blue electronic toy in a room upstairs.  I think the toy looked like a nutcracker.  I only vaguely remember visiting the house on Key Biscane with my family and Greg’s.  I remember spending more time swimming that visit than anything else.  I think most of those memories are from pictures though.

I don’t have lots of memories of The Morgan Family from growing up.  I remember a lot of everything…so I remember the stories my dad has told me…but it seems almost trivial now.

My dad saw all of his siblings last week.  I don’t know if he remembers the last time that happened.  When I saw the picture, ironically posted on facebook, I was honestly taken aback to see all 6 siblings standing there smiling with their father just in front.

Kevin, the youngest cousin on our dad’s side graduated from high school last week…but that is not what brought the masses together.

My dad’s mom died last week and it hurts a lot that it doesn’t really hurt.  I mean, that sounds wrong…and really is wrong…it hurts, but not the way I think it should.  I don’t feel like I lost something in my life.  Mary Francis Lawton Morgan did not play a big role in my life, but regardless of that—she was a huge part of my life. 

My heart hurt and my stomach churned 15 months ago when I found out two women I had grown up with, friends of my grandmother, parents of my mom’s friends passed away those cold February days…just hours apart.

When I woke to an email obituary from my dad announcing his 89 year old mother had passed away I surmised that was the cause for 3 early-morning missed calls on my cell from my mom.  I called her casually.  She confirmed her reason for calling.  I was not upset…not until I thought about the prospect of not being there for my dad.

This was in fact his mother…his one and only mother…and despite or maybe more accurately in spite of our non-existent relationship, it is because of her my dad is the man he is, why I am inherently the person I have become.

I have learned more about Mary Morgan in her death than I think I knew of her in life.

My dad is a great, succinct writer.  I am not.  I write where my head goes.  I use ellipses, unnecessary commas and strange punctuation.  Sometimes when I start writing I have no idea where I am going to end up.  Sometimes I start with one intention in mind and end up elsewhere entirely.  Most of the time I write with meaning, I don’t know why I feel the need to write.  I just do.

I don’t feel like I should be writing any great epic story of why family is important or how I can love my dad’s mom in spite of her seeming lack of care for me (or my brother—but my feelings are mine and not to be displaced on to him) my life, my successes, my growth, my achievements…I can’t say any of that because it is not true.  I didn’t know the woman to love her.

What I CAN share is what has been ruminating in my head and my heart since I read that email just over one week ago.

MANY years ago I sat in a session with one of my favorite teachers (MAF) and was walked through a process that left us discussing THE VALUE OF OUR NAMES.  In Judaism traditionally you name your children after someone that has passed away as an honor to their memory.  You hope that child will possess the qualities and characteristics so many loved about the person or people that have passed away.   I always got uncomfortable talking about my name.  Lindsey Lawton Morgan…well Lindsey is after my great grandfather Lou, but also a combination of Lynn and Wesley, my parents…Lawton was always a challenge for me though.  First off…when I was younger we lived in the northeast and all of my friends had middle names like Sarah and Rachel and Marissa and Beth…Nobody had “weird” maiden name middle names. “ Lawton is the maiden name of my dad’s mother,” I would always say.  “Your grandmother, you mean…” people would reply.  This would invite a conversation about how yes Mary was my grandmother…but I never really did those grandmotherly things with her…I don’t think I ever thought about calling Mary grandma vs. granny vs. grandmother…I mean, Jim and Mary were always just Jim and Mary.

I didn’t think about any of this really until I thought about this all through the lens of my dad.  No matter how I felt about her or our relationship…this woman was still my dad’s one and only mom.

She worked hard to raise 6 kids.
She earned a masters degree after 40.
She was active in the community.
She loved theater.
She encouraged my dad and his siblings to try new things.
            They played sports like hockey and football
                        Even though my dad was the runt!
            They explored different art expressions
                        Like painting
                        Like writing
                        Like photography.
                        Like music.
            They all ventured to different places in search of continuing education
                        My dad to Miami, Sundance to the military and “real world”
She made religious education a priority.
            Even if the nuns made my dad pee his pants…

I, for the first time see the things I love most about my dad and the relationship I have with him as a direct reflection of her.

I grew up listening to Broadway Showtunes...not on the family piano…but on the record player.
I begged for technique of the week all day Saturday and Sunday.
I thank God ALL the time for the cute little Irish nose and the genes that made it so.
My parents met because my dad went to Miami.
I know my parents love each other…through thick and thin…they WERE tested from the beginning…

I don’t know…I am who I am because he is who he is…and he is that way because she was who she was…

So I think now for the first time I can appreciate it….

I think more now than ever before I am proud to carry on the name…

Maybe I didn’t know her in life, but maybe this was meant to open our eyes and encourage us to take advantage of the time we do have…spend more time together….embrace the now…don’t sweat the small stuff…all those cliché’s.

It is what it is.


  1. Lindsey,
    I enjoyed your post and occasionally checking up on your life with Wes, or your facebook page. I remember stomping around Manhattan with you and your dad and my sister Lynn. Those were good memories. My parents largely removed themselves from all our lives when they left Cleveland, our home town. The Amish have one main reason they do not embrace technology, it is to keep family closer together. All 6 kids in our family eventually took off from Cleveland, for whatever reason. I like to think we are all better people because my parents encouraged us to spread our wings. Unfortunately, some very important details fell between the cracks. I have tried not to take my parents choices later in life personally, and I really believe that the real important years are the early ones. Those years taught us independence and the work ethic in my family, Skills I will always credit them for. They are what make me, well, me.