When the Cartilage is Gone
by Donna L. Scrafano
Cartilage is firm yet soft, a flexible and strong connective tissue. It is a major structural component of our bodies, keeping our bones and muscles functioning properly and working together. Lately I have begun to view the idea of cartilage as a metaphor for family connectedness. Currently, my elderly father seems to be the “cartilage” in my family, the last such bit of tissue my family has.
My father, who was born on September 27, 1928, lost his mother when he was only three months old. He and his eighteen-month-old brother were abandoned by their father soon afterward. The boys were then graciously taken in by their paternal grandparents, Sebastiano and Grazia, who, the story went, had come to the US from Sicily for their honeymoon and never returned. At the time, the couple still had eight of their nine children living with them in their small house, so the addition of my father and uncle meant that a total of ten children and two adults now had to share minimal living quarters.
I recall stories of how all the boys slept in one bedroom and the girls in another. The girls took care of all of the domestic tasks and helped to raise my father and his brother. The older boys worked, and several later went into the armed services. Food was abundant, and church and school were important. Although the children of my dad’s grandparents were his aunts and uncles, they established relationships with him and my uncle much like siblings. They played sports or other games together and looked out for one another, especially for my father, as he was the youngest.
As time passed and my father’s aunts and uncles each married in turn and started families of their own, they would frequently bring their children—my father’s cousins—and even a half brother to stay at the tiny house, which made a situation that was still tight feel like it was bursting at the seams. But this didn’t seem to matter to anyone. There were no complaints handed down about the lack of space. Instead, my generation heard stories of the strong connections and unspoken love among all who gathered in that house. My father always spoke fondly of his grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Although Sebastiano and Grazia could not speak English, they provided food, clothing, and a loving home for all. Another story I remember is that my great grandfather would walk approximately five miles, with a wagon, to work in his garden and bring fresh vegetables back to the family house. Meat was readily available, as they raised their own chickens. And of course pasta was an everyday stable.
Like the meaning of “cartilage”—a firm, flexible structural connection—my father’s understanding of family was the same: firm, flexible, and always strongly connected. And he passed this same value onto his children. Some got it. Some, sadly, did not.
As my father is in his last days on this earth, it’s evident that the cartilage of my family is weakening. There’s one sibling who has not visited in three years. Another takes my father once a week, but, there’s little to no relationship with me. The sibling who did get the meaning of the family cartilage is deceased. Go figure.
I have some ideas of how there is a break-down of family connective relationships—difference of opinions, difference in life styles, different political views, etc., etc.—but most of all I believe that individual ego is the most damaging to the connective tissue of the family.
Although the connections between myself and my remaining siblings may disintegrate altogether after my father dies, I feel that the baton of family cartilage has been successfully passed on to me. Thanks to my mother, father, great grandfather, great grandmother, great aunts, great uncles, and some cousins, I have nurtured this sense of connection with my own children and grandchildren. My hope and prayers are that my children and grandchildren continue the legacy of family traditions, family values, family connectedness and treasure the meaning of family “cartilage” following my departure as well.
Original artwork by: deviantart: “Family” by Juanfox94 (Juan Tomas from Argentina) and “Family” by GeoRamzes (Ramaz from Tbilisi, Georgia)
Donna began her journey in Human Services in 1983. During the next 35 years she held various positions and formally retired in 2018. She writes on an array of social issues. Donna's relaxation time includes walking her Lab, Roxy, having fun with her seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, writing for Silver Sage, spending time with friends and family. Her last full-time position was providing care to her father. Since that has ended, Donna is taking the time to invest in her own self care and interests.