Last Saturday night I ate Mexican food in San Marcos, Calif., with my nephews Dan and Eric, their dad (my brother, Tim), their mom (Nika), my favorite only sister Peggy and my cousin Jan.
Eric, a corpsman in the Navy, ate chimichingas and I had a chicken tamale and a fish taco. There’s nothing like California Mexican food to make me feel I’ve truly come home.
I had flown home for my niece Kacie’s wedding on Friday.
My mom and dad had come up from Mexico where they’ve lived for the past 20 or so years. They left to go back early Saturday morning, taking my Aunt Gladys with them for a visit.
Gladys lives in Alameda, outside Oakland and San Francisco. She’s our family’s matriarch and my last remaining aunt. She never married, so she got to dote on all of her nieces and nephews, all 12 of us.
On Friday morning before the wedding, Gladys and I hung out at our hotel. She’s 88 and doesn’t know how to surf the Internet, so because we had some time to kill, I introduced her to Facebook, eBay and Google and the joys of online shopping. She now knows where to find her Karen Scott clothing and Toby Weston purses.
The wedding was outdoors in a garden. My niece looked beautiful. When I first saw her in her dress and veil, for a minute she looked like my daughter, Laura. There’s definitely a family resemblance.
The wedding party all wore sunglasses, which I gather is a trend. My brother had “Daddy O” inscribed on his, the O being for our family name, O’Brand.
At dinner on Saturday, Cousin Jan, whose mom was my dad’s older sister, filled us in on O’Brand stuff we never knew.
Our grandmother, Ada, owned the Royal Bakery on LaCienega Boulevard in Los Angeles for decades. Everyone on Dad’s side of the family were bakers except Dad, who worked as a tool and die maker.
Jan now owns her own bakery in the Valley — we’re Valley Girls — and uses the same recipes that our grandmother used. Our heritage, if not our religion, is Jewish, so everything from the bakery is kosher. Next Passover Jan’s going to ship me some macaroons, which I remember are so good they make grown men weep.
Jan told us that her mom never spelled her maiden name the way we do. She spelled it Obrand — no apostrophe or capital B. Originally, when our ancestors came from Russia to Toronto, we think the name had more letters on the end of it and was hacked off after the first six.
At dinner we speculated that because Dad hung out with Mom’s family ever since he was 7 or so (they’re O’Rourkes), maybe he adopted the Irish way of writing it and no one told him differently.
If you knew my dad’s history that wouldn’t seem as far-fetched as it sounds. He spent some time in orphanages as a child.
Our grandfather, Moe, was a federal criminal; that we knew. He had five brothers and sisters, which we didn’t know until Jan told us. We knew of Uncle Dave, because he had a really cool salvage yard that we used to visit.
Jan reminded us that when we were little we grew up together and hung out at her house a lot and at the Royal Bakery. That’s where we watched our grandmother frost chocolate cupcakes with her bare hands with all her multiple diamond rings.
Nana Ada died three weeks before my Laura was born. I remember my dad holding baby Laura and saying, “One dies; another is born.” That still brings tears to my eyes.
These days my family is scattered and fractured and about as dysfunctional as yours, I suppose. Also just like yours we’ve got our share of heartaches.
That gives me something to pray about.
That’s mostly what I did Saturday night in between bites of my chicken tamale and fish taco. I prayed for all of these people whom God has and continues to put together into an ever-expanding family.
We started out as just the O’Brands, but now we’re the O’Brand-Kennedy-Watson-Smith-Fiamengo-Astorgas, with some Campos and Bremsers thrown in the mix.
As the family grows, so does my prayer list.
By faith, I pray God’s kingdom will also grow — and that there will be tamales in heaven.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.