T he woman asking me shidduch information is unusually candid.

“I like the sound of Ruchie, I really do. But something’s stopping me. It’s that…”

I supply the answer. “She’s from a broken home.”

“Right.” The word is released in a whoosh of gratitude.

I pause a minute to corral my thoughts. Right. Ruchie’s parents are divorced. Her family consists of stepbrothers and half-sisters. She jokes how her family resembles the patriarchs: four mothers (almost) and three fathers.

Messy.

The woman reaches out through the phone line. “I heard you know all of them.”

Yes, the whole sprawling tree.

“Yes, we do. We recently made sheva brachos for her brother.”

I think back to the evening: the dramatic orange of birds-of-paradise against black tablecloths. But that wasn’t the only preparation. The chassan came to our home to talk to us about the guest list. His mother and stepfather, of course. His father and his new wife. He dipped his head from side to side, as if analyzing a sugya. “Let’s invite my stepmother’s sister, too. She should have someone to talk to.”

We ordered small, round tables, to give everyone their space. I prayed. But I underestimated the wholeness of this broken family. Grammen sung, food served, divrei Torah delivered, it was time to bentsh. And I noticed Ruchie’s younger sister, all of eight years old, slipping into a seat next to her learning-disabled stepsister — her father’s new stepdaughter — and pointing to each word in the bentsher so the little girl could follow along.

I hesitate; will the person on the other end of the line understand. “It’s a broken family, true. But there’s so much wholeness there.”

Happy Families, that old card game with the gardener and builder and artist, each with his wife and two children, always has a winner and loser. But when the cards are shuffled, and the family is a sprawling mess of children, single and married, relatives new and old, different houses with different norms, there can be different rules.

Later that day, as every Thursday evening, Ruchie chops vegetables in my kitchen. We chat. I ask about her new job, her summer plans. She isn’t going away, she tells me.

I am surprised; she’d been planning a road trip with a bunch of friends. I’d printed out the maps for them, downloaded the information about national parks, we’d even started working together on a food plan.

She hauls a sack of potatoes from the vegetable bin and pulls open the drawer to get a peeler. It slides open with a slight jangle. Eventually she speaks. “No money.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 549)