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 might live in the next room and 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 we go back to our own lives.
Families now build lives away from their home and many grasp the anonymity of their new surroundings with fervor, often dreading when a distant family member might drop in disrupting their lives.
My parents chose to move away from their hometown to build a life for themselves in Atlanta. But I grew up in a home where our door was open to members of both my mother and father’s family. It was not unusual to see cousins stretched out on quilted pallets 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.
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 start cooking a batch of turnip greens, cornbread and some fried chicken while cleaning the house from end to end. When asked why she would say “so and so” will be here directly. 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 be knocking at our door before dinner. Sometimes Grandma Allie and Grandpa Jesse would come along for the ride.
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. We would eat dinner and then they would load up the car and head back home.
Just like they visited, 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 the experiences still live within me. It gives me a sense of the extended family even if there are fewer of them now. 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 in columns and in scripts.
As this holiday season rolls by, take the time to experience more the lights on the tree or the elaborate meal. It is the shared moments of life that will make the basis for what we know as family.
(Randall Franks is an award-winning musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as “Officer Randy Goode” on TV’s “In the Heat of the Night” now on WGN America. His latest CD release, “Mississippi Moon,” is by Crimson Records. He is a member of the Independent Country Music Hall of Fame. His latest book is “Encouragers I: Finding the Light.” He is a syndicated columnist for http://randallfranks.com/ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)