ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

NEEDING A NEALA

Do you have a Neala in your family?  You should.  Every family needs a Neala.

Neala is everyone’s favorite aunt.  She has a smile that warms you to your very soul.  When she sees you she hugs you with a hug that you actually feel – not one of those touch-cheeks-pat-backs hugs you usually get.  And when she talks to you she makes you feel like she is absolutely fascinated by your every word even though – let’s face it – very little of what any of us has to say is actually interesting.

But it’s her laugh that sets Neala apart.  Neala doesn’t giggle.  She doesn’t chuckle.  She doesn’t even chortle.  Her laugh comes from somewhere deep inside of her, and it resonates through the decibel chart to a place of unique amplitude.  Part screech, part bellow and part banshee war cry, her laughter has been known to turn heads in the next county.  I once sat near her at a two-act comedy, and folks sitting around her asked if she was being paid by the play’s producer to pump up the laughter.

She wasn’t being paid, she was just being Neala: bold, brassy and full of feeling. The Ethel Merman of laughers.

So it wasn’t a surprise when we heard high intensity laughter reverberating through the church cultural hall during a family wedding luncheon last weekend.  It was joyful.  It was exuberant.  It was spirited. It was . . .

Neala!” I smiled as I sought her out in the crowd, sure that she would be surrounded by her customary gaggle of devoted family and friends (Neala and her laugh just have a way of bringing people together – you know?).

But I couldn’t see her.  At least, not in the direction from which the laughter was coming.  Then another peal of glee echoed in the room just as my eyes settled on Neala’s face.  She was smiling, clearly in the midst of sharing another entertaining story.  But she wasn’t laughing – not yet – so the laughter had to be coming from someone else. 

I followed the sound of laughter to a jolly woman sitting on the bride’s side of the church hall. She was surrounded by family members who clearly adored her and hung on her every word – just like Neala.  She told her story with big gestures and dramatic vocal inflection, which commanded attention – just like Neala. And when she laughed it was as if she was an artist, and laughter was her medium, and the story she was telling was her canvas.

And she created a masterpiece.  Just like Neala.

That’s when it occurred to me that every family probably has a Neala.  And that’s a good thing, because every family needs a Neala – someone who brings everyone together and binds them with laughter and love.

Of course, every family needs a Wanda Lynne, too.  Wanda Lynne is my sister, and she is the organizer of the family.  If it were up to me our family reunion this summer would still be a theory.  But because of her we have arranged for big plastic toys for the kids to play on, planned activities for everyone to enjoy, food assignments organized and a communications plan in place (if only the family’s so-called “communications expert” – uh, that would be me – would execute the plan we’d be in good shape). We’re going to have a great reunion this summer largely because of Wanda Lynne.  That’s why every family needs a Wanda Lynne.

And every family needs a Tony (that funny, slightly wacky uncle who always talks tough but has the world’s kindest heart beating in his chest), a Helen (the aunt who knows every name, every face and every birthday, and who can recite the family genealogy backward and forward), a David (that sweet cousin who struggles sometimes but tries awfully hard and is willing to help with anything) and a Clare (that really cool, really hip, really fun aunt who gets along with everyone even though she’s only been part of the family for a few years).

We need all of them.  Every type, every shape, every size, every decibel level. That’s what makes a family . . . well . . . a family, with all of these interesting types and characters coming together to create one exciting, dynamic whole.  Whether you’re married or single, old or young, outgoing or shy, in-law or outlaw, you’re part of a family.  And you’re needed.

And that’s nothing to laugh at.  Not even for Neala.

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— © Joseph Walker

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E-mail Joseph at: valuespeak@msn.com 

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Look What Love Has Done: Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World."