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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Meeting at the Old Homestead

Working on the family tree made me think about extended family closeness.

My dad was one of eight kids. When I was growing up, we made multiple trips to Chicago every year for family events. We stayed with my Aunt Jo and my great Aunt Vic. They lived in the house where my dad grew up in.

When we arrived, nearly the entire family would come over that evening--aunts, uncles, cousins--and we'd fill the downstairs of the house. Often there was pizza, but there was also a lot of talking, catching up with each other, and much fun. Even when we got older and even after my great aunt died, this was still the drill whenever my family drove down from Minneapolis.

And then my dad's generation began to start dying. His sister who still lived in the family homestead needed to go into a nursing home. The old house was cleaned out, put on the market, and sold.

Things weren't the same after that. My dad had another older sister who let us stay with her, but very few--if anyone--showed up when we visited. For a while, one of two of the cousins tried to have holidays at their house and keep the family gatherings going, but that stopped, too. The only people left now from that generation are my dad and one of his sister-in-laws.

Looking back now, I really appreciate all the family parties. They were big and loud and boisterous and I knew all my cousins. I got to talk to my aunts and uncles and get to know them, too. Well, as much as a kid gets to know any adult.

And I feel really bad for my cousins' children. They've totally missed out on this bonding and camaraderie. We lost something irreplaceable. I don't know if it was losing the central gathering place (AKA the family homestead) or if it was my dad's generation passing away, but either way, it seems like something precious has been lost.

This would be a good note to close on, but I am compelled to make a confession at this point. I'm as guilty as everyone else at letting the togetherness die. Once I sold my first book, I hardly took the time to travel to Chicago. I was using all my vacation time to write or attend conferences. Of course, by the time I sold my first book, things were already fading away. The old home was already sold and get togethers were usually light on people.