A while back, commonmass wrote a diary about our upcoming wedding and talked a little about his family’s background and views on marriage. (It is worth noting that commonmass proposed to me right here on the Daily Kos a few months ago.) I thought it would be important to level the playing field, and write about my experience. Where I come from, and the forces that have shaped me, as we prepare to join our two families together, and share about what the concept of marriage means to me.
Follow me over the fold for some stories and insight…
Let me begin on an intimate note stating at first to my loving identical twin brother Tommy, that without you I would have neither vision, nor a voice. In this moment of reflection upon heart and soul, I admit that I will never be able to contain the emotional embrace of our embryonic journey together through this kaleidoscopic maze of which we call life.
It is important to begin with the fact that always having had a twin by my side throughout my life has given me a leg up on sharing, caring, and nurturing relationships. This is in fact the hallmark of my existence. My ultimate dream has always been to encompass the same level of compatibility with another individual, most assuredly a man. Together, Tommy and I had always collectively shared the same hopes and dreams. Tommy was fortunate enough to fall in love with his high school sweetheart, they have four beautiful, bright, loving and successful boys. Together they have endured the tumults of life, and have always overcome them with the love and respect they share for one another. Tommy wanted me to have an equally immense love in my life.
I wandered throughout the years, searching, yet never finding a love that I could feel the same simpatico. I learned that you cannot seek love because if you do you will be projecting upon another all the qualities you want, and find over a period of time that those individuals were nothing but infatuation. I must admit that I never gave up on my dreams, but the reality of my life was such that I was losing steam, and beginning to settle with the notion that I would perhaps live without just such a love. That meant that I might never find another true best friend and soul mate.
That all changed in the electrifying moment when I first met commonmass. I was not looking, projecting or placing myself in a precarious notion that he might be the one, but was I in for the shock of my life. The immediate connection was palpable for the both of us. We learned very quickly that while there were vast differences between us the over-arching fact was that we were extraordinarily similar. Much like the relationship that I had with my twin brother identical, yet manifest polar opposites. Together in the microscopic moments of our beginnings, our awareness of each other, we had indeed discovered a symbiosis that neither of us would, nor could take for granted.
One of the striking differences between commonmass and me was the fact that our childhood experiences were vastly different. Let me convey the circumstances of my heritage, and how those experiences molded me. My family has been in the Bennington, Vermont area as far as I can know since the 1830’s. My great grandfather, Tracy Kenyon (1896-1974) was pretty much the first dealer of industrial, or heavy trucks and automobiles throughout Northern New England. Basically, he introduced these kinds of vehicles into region. He made a substantial living for his family, allowing them to become one of the well to do families in the area. As a family man, however, he was distant and detached—when he was not being violent. I would not be exaggerating relating that he literally beat his four boys as a means to discipline them, and a shovel was not beyond the pale. Another facet of his disturbing behavior when he crossed generational boundaries, and would line up his many granddaughters in his automotive show room to display their fine dresses showing them off. Often during these displays, he would pinch them severely ostensibly to correct their posture. While he may have been an excellent provider, he was not a very nice man to put it mildly.
His wife, Frances Josephine Gordon Kenyon (1894-1987), my great grandmother, was born in Franklin County Vermont, we called her “Lil’ Gram” because she was approximately 4 feet 10 inches tall. Diminutive in stature only, she was able to overcome the limitations of living with an abusive and unavailable man (not atypical in those times) to become not only a rock for the family but a grandmother to the entire community. She was a real role model for the entire family, and exceptionally for me.
When Lil’ Gram was a young girl, her father worked as a switcher on the railroad and he lost a limb in a terrible accident. He had lost Lil’ Gram’s mother and was dating a woman. One day he found his girlfriend in a barn with another man and he shot them and himself—a story which could have come out of this morning’s newscast. It was Lil’ Gram who found them dead, just another example of the extreme violence and dysfunction she had to overcome in her life.
However, in spite of her challenging marriage and the tragic, violent events of her life she responded by becoming a conduit of love and healing for her family and community. She was a spirit rising like a phoenix from the ashes of tragedy and abuse. One great example of her commitment to people in the rural communities, visiting shut-ins throughout the southern Vermont area including , the Berkshires, and New York state. The Kenyon’s always had a car even back when most people did not. On Sundays after attending our local Baptist Church, Lil’ Gram would climb into her always big, and shiny new car—hardly able to see over the big steering wheel—and would drive around the region to visit the lonely, unfortunate, and the needy bringing food, companionship and hope to the people who needed it the most. From her I learned to have a passion for compassion; love as a lifestyle, as a WAY of living. I forged at an early age a relationship that allowed me to learn much about our family through asking her the kinds of questions no one else would think to ask and she was always open and honest in her responses. We would play Scrabble for hours, and it was at the game table that I was able to ask her all these questions about genealogy and family history, and she would tell me the stories. The greatest gift she gave to me, and I am sure to countless others, was love and an example of true humility and human kindness.
Tracy and Frances’ eldest son Gordon was my grandfather. He married my “Big Gram,” Marge Barnard, whose grandmother was full-blooded Mohawk. They had thirteen children, of which my mother Ann was born second child of a brood that encompassed 11 girls and 2 boys, affectionately known as Gordy’s baker’s dozen. He was an entrepreneur, always having had substantial business acumen with a working person’s ways. He was the apple that didn’t fall far from the tree, however, and he brought added violence to our family as well. From my “Big Gram” Marge, too, I learned a great deal about my family particularly regarding my Native American heritage, that again no one else in the family seemed as intrigued. She taught me the core value of being industrious, to always work hard, but most importantly to remember to take care of myself so that I would have the capacity to take care of other people—something I have done my whole life long.
In learning about my Mohawk heritage (to which I feel deeply connected), I learned that the Mohawks are matriarchal in construct culturally. They women towered above shamans, they were the core of the community and the decision makers, guiding Chiefs and warriors alike. Such as it was in my family, going back generations. It is hardly an accident that the women in my family held so much moral and spiritual power as well as being the ultimate arbiters of justice and benevolence. I have always held strong views of this cultural phenomenon. Proud that the strength in me did not come from the camaraderie amongst men, but rather from the wisdom and guidance of the mothers. More than a little skewed, I've always held strong views that the reality of our culture as a patriarchal is one of shame and disappointment.
You might think that I would simply disavow my grandparents’ and great grandparents’ marriages as wholly dysfunctional since obvious abuse, violence, and tragedies permeated them, yet I have developed a far more enlightened view of the institution of marriage. Due to the wisdom gained from “Lil Gram” and “Big Gram,” as well as the extraordinary experience of being an identical twin, I have evolved an articulate perception of marriage. To me it means much more than just two people existing in common spaces. Marriage must embody honesty, integrity and possess openness. To comprehend the value of willingness to recognize and acknowledge the other as an individual; to honor one another, to accept one another, and to nurture the each other’s hopes and dreams, and most especially remain supportive and provide encouragement when the other is discouraged.
In approaching marriage with commonmass, two very different histories and forces of human nature collide, yet the same heart, spirit, and soul exist between us, that remain identical.