The Real Meaning of Family

September 4, 2013 by Trina Bartlett
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I spent my childhood living thousands of miles from my grandparents.

In those days before the internet or cell phones, I wrote letters by hand, carefully addressed envelopes, licked stamps, stuck envelopes in a metal mailbox and knew that in four days, my grandparents might finally read my words.

Phone calls were rare and only occurred after 5:00 PM, on weekends and on holidays when the long-distance rates went down. Since answering machines and voicemail hadn’t been invented yet, we never even know if we missed a phone call.

In other words, I never had the opportunity to develop particularly close relationships with my parents’ parents. But that doesn’t mean I was deprived.

I had three women, all old enough to be my grandmother, who stepped into my life and shaped it.

In fact, they are still shaping it.

Carolyn: Even at a young age, I never  completely understood my mother’s relationship with Carolyn, which can be summed up by Mom’s statement “I can’t Carolynbelieve she wore a bikini top and cut-off shorts in the airport on her way back from Hawaii. She’s the same age as my mother!”

But Carolyn, like my mother, was a journalist, and the two shared a love of meeting new people and pursuing the next story.  She was one of Mom’s best friends, and I’m forever grateful.

Carolyn changed my life by having the guts to say things no one else did.

When I made the junior high basketball team, she said “I am so glad you are more than just smart. You can’t just be smart. You have to be more than that.”

I tried to tell her I’d only made the team because my mom was on the board of education, but she shut me down. “What you say is what you believe. And what you believe is what you become.”

When I came home from camp with a handmade autograph book, Carolyn was one of the first people to sign it. Even though she and my grandmother were both born in 1909, her handwriting looked nothing like my grandmother’s small, careful script. Instead, she wrote with a loopy flourish more typical of my peers. In my autograph book, she wrote,  “The most important thing you’ll ever wear is your expression.”

From then on, that was my favorite quote.

IvyIvy: Like me mother, Ivy had once been an extension agent and, also like my mother, Ivy was a no-nonsense women. Maybe that’s why I sometimes forgot she wasn’t actually my grandmother.

Ivy’s passion was birds, and her backyard was like an oasis. She always expected my brother and me to treat the natural world with respect, and we learned to heed her advice.

When Ivy first came into my life, she was always a part of a team: Ivy and Joe. But after decades of marriage, Joe surprised all of us by leaving her. Ivy was probably devastated, but, from my perspective, she never let it show.

She held her head high, stayed involved and active and always had an open door, a welcoming smile and stories to tell.

Ivy didn’t teach through her words; she taught through her actions. And her actions said life isn’t defined by our circumstances but by how we react to them.

Ruby: Ruby was probably the most loving person I have ever known.Ruby

As a child, I thought love was a finite resource, and each person only had so much to give.

Ruby forever changed that.

Ruby had several daughters, including Carrie, who was my favorite babysitter. Yet, Ruby always treated me as though I were incredibly special and important to her. I couldn’t understand why she cared so much about me when she had so many other girls to love,  but I also absolutely adored her for it.

Because of her, I learned that love may be a precious resource, but it actually grows the more you share it.

I will never believe that a cosmic scorecard exists to balance the fair and unfair elements of our lives, but I do believe that God puts certain people in our lives to help teach us what we need to know and how to reach our true potential.

Carolyn, Ivy and Ruby didn’t share my DNA, but they did share pieces of themselves with me.  As a mom, I’m trying to pass those pieces on to my own children.

And that, more than blood lines or marriage, will always make them part of my family.

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8 Responses to “The Real Meaning of Family”

  1. Claudia AllgoodNo Gravatar says:

    I am one of Ruby’s daughters and Carrie’s older sister. Mom was blessed with six girls, but Mom had many other children that she considered her children or grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. She always had the newest reports on how each and every one of us were doing at any given moment. I had the privilege of having my Mother at my home and was her care-giver when she died and her thoughts were then about the all the loved ones she was leaving behind and all the loved ones she going to share her love with in her new home. After I went back to work one of our teachers told me not to worry she was in Gods arms and I told her not yet, first she was in Dad’s arms, God was just going to have to wait. I miss having my talks with Mom around the table at 2:00 A.M. I am so glad you were blessed to have her in your life. Claudia Allgood

    • Trina BartlettNo Gravatar says:


      I have a purple, glass dish that Ruby sent as a wedding present. Every day when I come home from work, I put the jewelry that I wear every day (engagement ring and watch) in it. Every morning when I am getting dressed, I retrieve those items. And at both of those moments, on a daily basis, I think of your mom. She is in my heart forever.


  2. Amber WhiteNo Gravatar says:

    Ruby was my Grandmother and Carrie is my mother. I miss my Grandmother very much. Thank you for writing this, it brought tears to my eyes. It is very true that she was one of the special ones. She always had a kind word for everyone she met.

  3. Betty RussellNo Gravatar says:

    Love all you said in this special blog. Many of us have those special folks in our lives who offered us just what we needed when we were growing up. How special and how wonderful those folks spread their hugs and love to so many!!!!

  4. Christine PalankNo Gravatar says:

    Wow!! Thanks for sharing…I hope my kids received some of the gifts I received from my “extended” family! Well put!!

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