Mrs. Quackenbush's Kumquats
by Lori Heine

My neighbor across the street, Mrs. Quackenbush, has lived in her house almost as long as we have lived in ours. She’s lived there so long her name isn’t Mrs. Quackenbush anymore; her first husband passed away and she got married again. But we love her former last name so much we simply can’t let go of it. She will always be Mrs. Quackenbush to us.

I moved out on my own after college, lived elsewhere for twenty-some years and moved back into my childhood home to help care for my father when he had a heart attack. Mrs. Quackenbush was still there, with her new name. The gigantic ash tree under which we used to play Robin Hood and pioneers still stood in her front yard.

The big ash tree has since fallen, a victim of old age. Beside the space where it used to be, Mrs. Quackenbush planted a tiny, baby kumquat tree. She tends lovingly to the youngster, feeding it plenty of fertilizer and covering it on cold nights to keep it from the frost. In a very real sense, when my little neighbor friends and I were growing up, she tended to us. Though only three of us were her kids, we all found a haven at her house, and an extra pair of vigilant eyes to help watch us grow up.

The saying is true. It does take a village to raise a child. Or at least a neighborhood. No youngsters live on our street anymore, so all Mrs. Quackenbush has to take care of now are her kumquats. But we, the alumni of the block, were her kumquats first.

Some self-appointed guardians of the family claim that only biological parents can properly care for children, and that only biological relatives (or those bound by heterosexual marriage) really count as family. Of course biological family matters; it’s usually the vehicle by which we get here in the first place. But intentional family has always been important, too. Villages and extended clans were raising kids for thousands of years before the modern, mom-and-pop nuclear family now touted as “traditional” first began trying to go it alone. Often with disastrous results, for which gay people are frequently and quite unfairly scapegoated.

Love and commitment are the real glue that holds strong families together. Gay people know this. In fact, in the families we form, we remind the world of it. And this is a crucial contribution.

Far from harming the family, in making this contribution, we actually help it grow stronger. Instead of destroying it, we may very well be the ones who help to save it. The next time people disparage you by calling you a “fruit,” just remember that. You can proudly reply, “I’m not just any old fruit. I’m somebody’s kumquat!”

 

© 2013 Lori Heine


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