Ok, now that I have your attention, I must confess that this piece is not about aliens, at least not the kind that NASA is looking for. Rather it is about creating traditions that may help keep members of your extended family from becoming aliens to you and your immediate family.
As we get older, even with the ubiquity of social networking, it seems that family members can become more distant, literally and figuratively. To be just a little cynical, this can be welcomed in some cases. But unwelcome family “drift” happens more often because our parents, aunts, uncles and beyond, who kept us physically uniting from time to time, are gone. Also, in our mobile society, you’re in New Jersey one year and Arizona the next.
But there is hope for keeping in touch, literally. Think outside the dull holiday dinner get-togethers. Think “Sibling Applesauce”!
My wife Joan’s mom, Irene (now in heaven), grew up at a time when folks did things like crocheting beautiful Afghans, made clothes on a sewing machine and “canned” fresh foods for future consumption. This was not a hobby or entertainment, but rather a necessary hands-on way of contributing to the family welfare. Her children, Fred, Donna, Joan and Kathy learned the art of canning as part of their chores, and eventually found that it had become something of a tradition in the family.
Here they are in their Golden Years, and the tradition lives! It brings the siblings together for several days each year in the fall to make applesauce. And I’m not talking about a couple of jars. This year’s batch totaled over 120 jars of the best darned sauce in this part of the country. Our place in Great Falls has become the sauce-center where the equipment is housed, and that’s all good.
Kathy flies in from Dallas, Fred from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, (the hometown), Donna from the Shenandoah Valley. The prep work has been going on for a couple of weeks. Fred buys 2-1/2 bushels of perfect apples in Pennsylvania. Then there’s gathering and washing jars, lids, pressure cookers, other cookers, and most importantly, the crank driven “magic machine” that removes skin, seeds and stems, and squishes the good stuff into a pot. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
They have a real assembly line approach to this endeavor. Each sibling has at least one specialty. There’s washing the apples, cutting them up, cooking them, “magic machining” them (it looks like a fancy meat grinder), filling the jars, pressure cooking the filled jars to Pastuerize and seal them, and packing the result.
But, and this is the point of this story: they are together, chatting about children, the family and its history, and life its own self, busy as bees. They’re catching up in person, doing something that has a mouth-watering end-game that lasts for months (hard to do on Facebook), and keeping alive a tradition that goes back to the 1950’s, at least.
How cool is that! Plus, other members of the extended family drop by to observe the “sibling revelry,” filling in some blanks about who’s up to what, and hoping to snag a few jars for their pantry.
However, it’s really not all about making applesauce. There is ample time for dinners and excursions. But without the magnetism of tradition and the result-oriented focus, the gatherings would be far less compelling.
I know lots of families have, and pass on, similar traditions. Joan has our daughter Ashley hooked on making strawberry jam from their handpicked berries every summer. But for those who don’t have a reason to make these family encounters happen, how about creating one?
An important component is to have a “deliverable” of some kind (food is a good start) that provides a focus that goes beyond conversations about comparative lifestyles, relationships and health issues. It also encourages hands-on, face to face human encounters that cannot be replicated on an iPhone, no matter how many apps it has.
As for those in the next generations who have grown up with their faces glued to a screen, and who boldly text each other across the room, they may be at risk in the touchy-feely side of the human relations and family glue departments. They might benefit from some old-fashioned hands-on, tangible product, collaborative effort that can be “traditionalized” to help keep them in touch and centered. Just a thought.
Richard Bliss is a lawyer who lives in Great Falls.