On Charlie and my family

Posted by James Holland at

I first met Charlie about eight years ago. Reading his works and spending more time with him over the years one certainly comes to appreciate and value his gentle and inviting nature.  But when I first met Charlie, I was so nervous.  At that point I didn't know who Charlie was, I didn't know about his poems, and I didn't know about six decades of love his poems have sent trickling through humanity.  Knowing those things might have put me over the top.  But in the beginning it was simple: I liked a girl, and Charlie was her father.

Families are great. They are the long thread of generations before, generations after, and always: you. Working with a new line-up from one generation to the next, often the Family is a collective effort of three generations, each time impacting one another.  You are always relative.  You are the son, the father, the grandfather.  Becoming a parent and becoming a grandparent is just as significant to the family as the day you were born.

As a child, you enjoy your siblings, your parents, your aunts and uncles, your grandparents. This is your family, and for what seems like a long time, this is all your family will ever be.  Stories of your parents' younger years are hardly memories, but mere comments in passing like "The other day, I heard a stranger say..."  You might fathom that grandparents were once like your parents, but when were they ever like us? The cycle seems to escape us as children.

Then you get older, and as your own book of memories grows you begin to appreciate the volumes of Family before you and the volumes of Family that will follow.  Celebrating Christmas isn't only your story, it is the same story as your parents, and their parents, and their parents, and everyone in the Family.  Suddenly, parents' memories aren't just stories - they evolve into lives, lives like yours, lives further along, lives you begin to treasure and seek to find likeness, lives you hope one day your children will have, and that one day your children's children will have.  The details of your grandparents' stories are more beautiful now once you begin to appreciate how real they are.  I stop and dream of my grandchildren as grandparents - and then I realize, at some point, we are all that dream.

When you marry, you realize your Family is not one thread.  Instead you are a collection of threads, extending in numerous directions, more like a woven blanket, covering history and future. Suddenly, the stories of your parents feels like only half the stories.  All of your childhood memories you'll share with your children are only half their parents' memories.

My children will be framed by Charlie, and Charlie will be framed by my children... but who is this man?  I have missed an entire childhood of hearing his stories. I wasn't raised by his values, though I learned we share a number.  His wife shows me so much care, and I love her like my mother ... but who are these people?  They are so fundamental to my Family, yet we have lived as strangers until so far along.

In eight years, we are beginning to meld. I have held Charlie's hand while he says grace, we have raked the rewards of potatoes on the farm, we have walked dogs in a late summer twilight, we have shared the silence over a cup of coffee on a cold winter morning while watching the sun rise.  By the power vested in him, Charlie pronounced the marriage of his daughter and that nervous boy.

These are the first words of his new site, but in many ways the same site it always was: an homage to Charlie by the people who love him - his wife, his daughter, his son, and now me.  But those of us in the next generation also hope the site is something new, we hope it is a chance for Charlie to talk to the world and for the world to talk back.  In eight years, I have learned many great things about this Family, Charlie's poetry and impact around the globe is one such thing.  As the world reads with Charlie, around the globe, we hope everyone will celebrate Family -- of yesterday, tomorrow, and today.


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