Once upon a time, generations of families lived close enough to come together for Sunday dinner, help raise the little ones, look after the big ones, carry each other’s burdens and, despite their differences, try to get along. To hear.
Or it was with the family that raised me. My mother and her eight sisters loved each other very much. They sang in harmony on the porch with the voices of angels and always had their backs to each other. But sometimes they fought like badgers.
I often think of them, always with a smile, especially when I hear Paul Thorn sing “I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love”.
My parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins weren’t just my family. They were my world. And I was sure they always would be.
But as my generation grew, jobs, marriage, and life in general took us in different directions. Many of my cousins stayed in the South. But some of us have moved far, far too far to show up for Sunday dinner.
I got married and raised my kids in California of all. Money was tight. Travel was expensive. Family meetings have been replaced by phone calls once a week and in-person visits every few years.
My mother yearned to know my children the same way she knew her other grandchildren. She wanted to look them in the eye, hear their laughter and snuggle up against the sweaty neck.
The best I could do was send photos. It was not easy. I had to (1) find the camera; (2) cleaning up children; (3) have them pose; (4) take the film to the pharmacy to be developed; (5) return for fingerprints; (6) choose the least blurry photos; and (7) send them by mail.
My mother never cared about the quality of the photos I sent. It was good medicine, she said, just to see those blurry faces.
I often hear from readers and other friends who yearn to live closer to family and do their best to stay in touch.
My husband and I share five children, their partners and nine grandchildren. Her two boys and their families live a few hours from us. My daughter and youngest son and their families are only minutes away.
But my eldest and his family live near Los Angeles, five hours away. Our visits are therefore often limited to FaceTime calls. Their son Jonas is 3 years old. A year ago, when his little sister was born, I spent a month at their house pretending to help, but mostly playing with Jonah.
We have become good friends, Jonah and I. And we still are, thanks to our FaceTime chats. Recently he called me to tell me about what he calls their new “castle house”. It’s really nice, he said, and there’s a big room for me.
“Do you want to come and see us, Nana?
“Yes,” I said, “as soon as I can.”
We talked about other things, birds and monsters and such. But Jonas kept asking, “When are you coming to see us, Nana?”
Finally, I said, “I can’t come now. I have a bad cold and I don’t want to give it to you.
His face lit up, as he does when he has a bright idea.
“Come now!” he said. “We’re going to take you to a doctor!” Doctors are really good at treating people!
I tried not to laugh. “Yes,” I said, “doctors are good at fixing people. But you too. Just seeing your face is good medicine for me. Are you a doctor?”
He thought about it. Then her face lit up again. “Yes!” he said laughing, “I’m Dr. Jonah!”
We heard a deep voice in the background and Jonah yelled, “Daddy’s home!” I have to go see it! I love you, Nana! Goodbye!”
And with that, Dr. Jonah fled to treat his next patient. And I went to the kitchen where my husband was cooking dinner.
“How’s your cold?” ” He asked.
“Better,” I said smiling.
Face-to-face medicine is good for all ailments. But I hope to visit Jonas in person soon. Our FaceTime calls allow me to look him in the eye and hear his laugh. But I still want to nuzzle her neck.
Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some”. She can be reached at PO Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or www.sharonrandall.com.