Some family is created through relation, some through love.

Some through illusion.

"Did you know that Leif Garrett is Sarah Garrecht's brother? It's true."

The gathering of my fellow sixth-graders took note. Leif was a big deal in many preteen circles, what with flowing locks, his guest appearances on "CHiPs," his catchy disco songs and his photos in teen magazines.

This was a serious announcement. My friend had their attention.

"He is?"

"Yes. Really."

Living in a house without a television, I had no real clue who Leif Garrett was, but I knew enough to know that despite different spellings, our last names were pronounced the same.

"For real?"

"They both have blond hair."

Irrefutable proof, that's what that is. It was the '70s. Hair possessed more credibility than it probably should have.

No one had ever seen him with me, a point that was briefly raised but easily waved off: Leif was busy being famous.

Fortunately, no one asked me, the alleged relative of a heartthrob, if all this were true. It wasn't, of course, but I was relieved not to have to explain why my friend made it up, or reveal that I didn't really understand what she was talking about anyway. My preteen circle was enamored with science projects, wearing matching turtlenecks and reading Judy Blume.

Leif notwithstanding, the Garrecht concept of family has always been fluid. There are your relatives, people who, in our case, lived far away and whom we didn't see often. I had the full expectation that you grow up, graduate from high school, leave for college and decide in what far away city you will live.

This is what my mom and dad had done. Not out of malice or dislike of one's family, it's just how it worked out. You grew up, and you struck out on your own.

Looking back, I see the gaps that can leave in a life. Absences not created by death or disharmony, but simple geography.

We saw my mom's parents more often than my dad's. Gram and Grandpa had a habit of deciding to pay us surprise visits. They'd load up the Oldsmobile with coolers of beef - do all Nebraskans travel with meat? - and head south to St. Louis.

Gram would call when they were about an hour away, alerting us to their arrival. Those calls always sent the Garrecht household into a frenzy of straightening up, muttering and dusting.

We'd see my dad's parents much less often, after the ritual summer drive to Connecticut. Otherwise, they lived on the other end of the kitchen wall phone that rang on Sunday at 5 p.m. The conversation always began with Grandpa asking "So how's your weather out there?"

Our family also included friends, neighbors, dogs, birds, gerbils, Oscar the box turtle, mice, guinea pigs and the occasional guest turtle found in the road and rescued from imminent doom.

Our familial net was cast wide. It still is.

Family in this sense is a broad definition, nested in the strength of bonds and experiences that prompt us to call each other brother or sister, knowing that no matter what, that person is now and will be there with you, and you with them.

It's easy to understand how people united in a purpose, like firefighters or teachers, can so quickly become a family.

So, lest anyone still be under the mistaken impression that Leif Garrett is my brother, let me state for posterity that he is not - at least not biologically.

But who knows, we've never met. Maybe he could be.

In a family like this, there's always room for one more.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her column appears on Thursdays. Email her at