A Family


By Erin R. Van Genderen Photo by Judy Pak

My husband and I will have been married for nine months this month. That’s enough time to grow a baby, to start a family in a real, grown-up sense of the phrase. And I get that question a lot as a stay-at-home military wife.

“When are you going to start a family?”

A few days out of the week I help out an elderly couple in town who have experienced several medical mishaps in the last few years. Mr. and Mrs. Bond are still mentally sharp and living in their own home despite their declining health, and I’m only there to make sure a meal is cooked, things are tidy, pills get taken and blood pressure gets measured, and everyone gets into bed without issue.

They are frail, with Bible-page skin and fingers like bird bones. They have matching armchairs next to one another in their sitting room. They have family photographs on every wall and covering the refrigerator.

And even though Lillie’s voice is more of a whisper now and often too faint to register through Kendall’s hearing aids, she still calls him “honey.” They clasp hands at mealtime and offer up a prayer asking for blessing over the food and claiming thankfulness for all the many gifts they have received.

As tempting as it is to consider them fragile and naïve, childlike in their near-helpless old age, I can remember that they were once like me when I see these things. When Kendall lets go of his walker long enough to lift Lillie’s legs and swivel her onto her side of the bed, then tucks her in and kisses her cheek, I see a love that comes from more than fifty-seven years of life together. When he gets down on his knees to pull her chair, with her in it, closer to the dinner table, then struggles back to his seat with both hands on the tabletop, I see years of sacrifice, for better or worse.

Their marriage, more than half a century old, retains the respect and care of a relationship that many my age have still yet to taste.

So when I am asked when my husband and I will get around to “starting a family,” I get a little ruffled. Even though it’s just the two of us, in the end it will be just the two of us — and for now, just the two of us is all of the family that we need.