The importance of one’s family connections is something that I believe we are losing in America.
With each generation there are fewer individuals who live close to their extended families, unlike the days when grandma and grandpa lived just in the next room or uncles, aunts and cousins were a short walk down the road.
Many Americans today do not really know the members of their extended family. We spend a few awkward moments together at funerals, family reunions, Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings and then off we go back to our own lives.
As families build lives miles away from their home many grasp the anonymity of their new surroundings with fervor, often dreading when a distant family member might drop in, disrupting their lives.
Despite the fact that my parents chose to move away from their homes to build a life for themselves in Atlanta, I grew up in a home where our door was open to members of both my mother’s and father’s families. It was not unusual for there to be cousins stretched out on quilted pallets sleeping on the living room floor; uncles rummaging through the refrigerator for green dill pickles as a late night snack; aunts blanching red tomatoes from the garden in the kitchen; or distant kin moving in for an extended stay while they looked for a job or planned a new start.
Because of the time I spent with these people growing up, I feel a much closer connection to them; the shared experiences make chance meetings and gatherings less of a strain today.
It was not unusual for my Mom to get up and start cooking a batch of turnip greens, cornbread and some fried chicken, while cleaning the house from end to end. When asked why she was doing it, she would say “so and so” will be here directly. Sure enough, after a while they would knock at the door. My Mom has a second sense about that. With no forewarning she knew some relative was on their way.
Sundays were a big visiting day. It was not unusual for Uncle Harvey, Aunt Lois and all their kids to load up in the car and be knocking at our door before dinner. Sometimes Grandma Allie and Grandpa Jesse would come along for the ride.
Us cousins would spend the afternoon playing as the folks caught up on all the family news. We might ride over to the airport to watch the planes land or go downtown to sight see. We would eat dinner, and then they would load up in the car and head back up to Tunnel Hill.
I remember one trip when they came down to see Joe Don Baker in “Walking Tall.” Of course, us kids were not old enough to go to the drive-in and see it so we had a sleepover instead, while most of the adults took in the hit movie.
Just like their visits there, we also visited regularly. Despite the distance it was like we were one family experiencing life together rather than living separate lives and putting up with one another for a few hours at the holidays.
God has called many of those family members for an extended stay at his house. While they are absent here, the experiences still live within me, giving me a sense of the extended family even if there are fewer of them now than there once was.
The stories they told of relatives I never knew made those people alive to me. Through those stories many of my characters come to life on the page in columns and in scripts.
As each holiday rolls by, take the time to experience more than just the ordinary. Help create an experience that will last for yourself and your children throughout the lifetime. It is the shared moments of life that will make the basis for what we know as family.
If we as a country do not work to strengthen our families individually what will the future hold for the American family as a whole? I guess we will be a country of individuals seeking a group in which to belong.