I may have had a whole lot of issues growing up, but overall I had a good childhood. I believe that was because I had something I think is lacking in today's culture--close family. I love my family. My mom was from a small town where her family was a prominent one. My father was from the town next door, and his family was very well-known there for many years. I had so many relatives that I had to look two towns away to find a husband! LOL! My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even great aunts and uncles all lived within 15 minutes of us. Attending family events was not optional, and RSVP meant you called to ask what you could bring--not to say whether you were coming or not. Every birthday and holiday was a family affair. I grew up calling people aunt, uncle and cousin, even if they were not blood relatives as a sign of respect and a show of love. My Aunt Millie lived in the corner house on the street I grew up on. She was the matriarch of the family, and everyone in town knew her. You could stop by anytime and there would be cake, coffee, homemade iced tea and probably some kind of fresh pasta available--yes I am Italian! Aunt Irene and Uncle Tony lived across the street and again, the door was always open and food on hand.
My grandparents were a huge part of my life. I spent so much time with them and love them all so much. My Pop pop on my mom's side was my hero growing up. He served in WWll. He was a tough guy with a heart of gold. I was his princess, and he spoiled me whenever he could. I was a little head-strong as a child, and my grand mom on my mom's side and I did not get along sometimes because we both wanted our own way. I remember so clearly hearing my Pop say, "Sue, leave the girl alone and let her do what she wants." Now and then he would pull me aside and say, "Jenny, just go along with her so she stops yelling." He was taken home to the Lord much too soon, but I had 24 years with him. I even got to dance with him at my wedding. I stayed at my paternal grandma's house almost every weekend. We went to gospel concerts together. She was my spiritual advisor and took me to church. She was my best friend for many years, and still holds a top spot in my life.
In today's world, the kind of close extended family I had is virtually non-existent. Families are so spread out. Some only connect through Skype, Facebook, and Instagram. It is okay to skip a wedding, baptism, or other family function because you have "other things to do." While I utilize social media to connect with my family living farther away, I miss the days when we were all together. My husband did not have a super close family growing up. He would pack up tomorrow and leave New Jersey, but he knows I could not even imagine living away from my parents, grandmas, brother, and niece and nephew. I hear friends and and acquaintances say they haven't seen their family in years, and though it may bother them a little, they just seem resigned to the fact. Believe me, I understand the need to relocate away from family for jobs and other reasons, but I wonder if along with family connections we are losing some of the qualities that make us human.
We have become a society of the individual instead of the community. It used to be that when parents grew too old to live alone, their children took them in. When someone was sick, family cared for them without question. Now, the elderly are shunted off to rehabs and nursing homes. I understand the need for specialized care for mental disorders and medical attention, but I think too often we reject the responsibility of caring for our elderly, before it is medically necessary, if it interferes with living our own lives. We drop them off and stop by for holidays and that is it. My Mother taught me that this behavior is unacceptable. My great grand mom on my paternal side had a stroke and was in a nursing home for years, unable to communicate with us. I remember watching my mom sit and read to her and sing to her on a weekly basis. I even volunteered there so I could remain close to her and lead activities for the other residents. The time there was wonderful but it did make me sad to see those residents who had family but never saw them. I saw the sadness in their eyes and even at a young age, I wondered how people could just forget about their parents and grandparents.
One year when my Grandma P. was in-between homes and needed a place to stay, she stayed with us. People thought I was nuts and commented on how giving and unselfish I was. I did not not see myself doing anything amazing. My grandmas were there for me growing up, and I felt it was my job to be there for them now that I was an adult. Grandma P. would share stories about her life as a child and teenager. She told me all about how she and my pop met and fell in love, and what it was like for her having kids. I got to hear whole stories from her that I had only heard in pieces before. I learned that she loved to dance as a young woman, and that is something that we have in common.
When my other grand mom had an infection in her knee and needed to have surgery, there wasn't even the need for a discussion; she came to live with us and I took care of her until she could go back home. I spent lots of time with her when I was a child, so I had heard many stories from her over the years. What I gained from her while she stayed with us was strength. You see, at the time there was a chance that she would lose her leg below her infected knee. She came to me barely able to walk. She persevered even though I know it was hard for her to rely on someone else to take care of her. She showed me what it was to be humble and to ask for help. She modeled strength through weakness and keeping the faith even when you want to give up.
During those times my boys got to spend with their great-grand moms they grew close, and they are close even now. We all gained so much as a family from having that time together. I guess the point is that I think we need to fight our tendency toward isolation and make the effort to stay connected when it comes to family--and not just the family that lives in your house. Our children can learn much from the older generations. Teaching children to respect their elders and not take them for granted will help them be productive citizens as adults. Relationships with siblings are some of the earliest ones we have, and they can help us learn what it is to be there for another person.
I could go on, but you get the picture. It may seem old fashioned, but I believe the phrase, "It takes a village" is true. It's just that we need to see the village as consisting of our extended family instead of our government and social media. Isolating ourselves from each other robs us of so many valuable learning experiences. In light of just celebrating both Father's Day and Mother's Day, I think it's a perfect time to focus on reconnecting our families. We can grow and achieve so much more together than we can alone.