I was talking with my great-aunt today and realized something. My family collects strays. For some families that would mean stray dogs, others it would be cats, with my family it's people.
When I was elementary school age we would visit my grandparents during the summer. (They lived in California, we were in Alaska.) Visiting them was especially wonderful because of how many people lived there.
My grandparents had a three bedroom house with a mother-in-law cottage on the property. Grandma and Grandpa had one room. Uncle Kenny, Aunt Irene, and their three boys had another room. Uncle Doug, Aunt Dana, and their two boys had the third bedroom. In the mother-in-law cottage was Uncle Victor, Aunt Carol, and their son and daughter.
During the day my Aunt Carol would babysit my Aunt Sharon's two boys. When you include my sister and I the child count was eleven. And then the neighbor kids that we were friends with would come over. Quite often the child count was over twenty, and we were all treated the same way, no matter who we belonged to.
During the day we would run in and out of the house, watching cartoons, getting a snack, going potty, whatever. And our friends would run in and out of the house with as much freedom as we did. I swear my grandparents needed a revolving door.
One day one of the kids that wasn't related to us fell down and got hurt. He was crying pretty hard so the adults thought that one of them should take him home and explain what happened to his parents. The only problem was that the little boy was crying too hard to say where he lived. The adults figured that they would find out who he was friends with and get them to point the way to his house. That's when we discovered that nobody knew him.
Apparently he had seen a large group of kids and figured it would be fun to join them. He had been hanging out at my grandparents house for a couple of weeks before it was discovered that we didn't know him.
That event almost seems normal to me. I grew up used to the idea that everybody is to be made welcome with the same warmth that you would welcome family. This includes the family members that you don't necessarily care for. That kind of attitude can lead to a collection of strays.
When I was little my parents were foster parents for a while. Now don't get me wrong, I don't consider my foster siblings to be strays, I just think that having them around got me adjusted to the idea of opening your house and your heart to strangers. I still miss and wonder about some of them, even if they were so young that they would have no memory of me.
As a teenager it was my friends who became the adopted strays. My family has always been very involved with each other and this drew my friends in. It was a novel idea to them that a family would sit down to dinner together, turn everything off, and talk about what's going on in their lives. We'd been doing this as long as I can remember and so I found their responses to be interesting.
When my sister's best friend didn't want to move to another state with her family my parents let her move in with us. (With her parents permission of course.) When some friends of mine were having problems at home they were welcome to use our house as a home away from home. I had friends who continued to come and visit my family even after I moved away.
Now as an adult I see my parents and my grandma take in whomever they find that needs a place to stay for a little while. They are careful about their own safety (strangers can't move in), but they can't keep a guest room empty for long. They collect stray people.
And there's one more reason that I feel blessed to have the family that I have.