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It’s quite a word.

I don’t know where to start.

I suppose the beginning works.

The short version is: I’m the only child of a couple who moved the three of us and a few cats and dogs from Kansas to Maine, a place neither had ever seen. Regular readers and listeners of mine know most of the story already, but I’ve never really written much about what that word means to me.

Family.

Honestly? Given the context of that big move to Maine? It has always seemed like an alien world. A world of my parents’ stories and flashes of my own earliest memories. Disembodied voices arriving a few times a year from across the globe through the rotary dial phone that hung on the kitchen wall. Christmas cards with school photos of cousins tucked inside. There was a small handful of in-person visits from my Grannie and cousin Sam; my Grandpa Bill and Uncle Aeryk (the latter whom I’ve been closest since elementary school); brief convergences of other family members upon the deaths of my both my parents. Otherwise, family to me always meant: me and Mom and Dad.

When I was 18 and curious, I made a pilgrimage to Kansas to meet some Piersons. In the years since, there have been more phone calls and emails, more interactions on social media, more attempts to bridge the gaps left by time and distance.

And then one afternoon this past week, I knocked on a door in Houston that opened onto a home that had, just last year, been left a little emptier by the death of my Uncle Chuck, one of Dad’s five brothers. I hadn’t seen my Aunt Mary, nor my cousins Kyle and Chuck Jr., since I was too young to remember any of it.

And here they were. In the flesh. No longer stories or curiosities from my past.

At first (in the privacy of my own mind) I kinda freaked out. What am I doing here? I thought. I’m imposing. I’m a stranger to them. We had conversation. We had dinner. I played with the dog. I imagine we were all feeling a bit awkward and curious.

After a fitful night of sleep in their home, and some meaningful conversation over coffee the next morning, Shawn and I shoved off for errands and for our show in Galveston.

On Saturday night, Shawn and I performed in Houston, and there were some Piersons in the audience. My cousin Andrea, whom I’d also not seen since childhood, laughed, ‘All these Piersons in one room! And not for a funeral!’

And for the first time in ages, I sang lyrics that were about my folks – my family – and there were people in the audience who know the characters in the story, who know what it’s like to share a last name with folks who are scattered across the earth.

Shawn and I spent two nights in the quiet comfort of my Uncle Aeryk’s house, reconnecting and sharing laughter and curiosity and sorrow.

In the hours and days since, I’ve been recalling something my friend Alfred once said to me: ‘There is the family you are born into, and then there is the family that you choose. Sometimes there’s overlap.’

And then I’ve also been thinking, Aren’t we all family? All 7 billion of us?

May we all find ourselves in the nourishing company of those we can call family.

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