We were expected to attend Sunday dinner at my grandparents' farm, pretty much every Sunday. Although we didn't attend every Sunday, we did go quite a lot. The current Little League field on the eastern side of Ludlow on Pleasant Street Extension was my grandparents' pasture. Most of the land east of the farmhouse, now occupied by quite a few homes, was once part of the farm. On Sunday's there were enough cousins in attendance to field two baseball teams, and there was still enough open land to conduct the game without going down into the pasture adjacent to the Black River, which at the time was occupied by a couple of cows. Baseball wasn't the only activity.
Many a game of hide and seek and kick the can were played on Pleasant Street Extension. Neighborhood kids like the Weber's, the McCullough's, Balch's, and the Murphy's were included. Occasionally kids who had family on the street but lived elsewhere in town would show up like the Stryhas and Lawson kids. Somehow all of these children managed to organize activities, no one lost an eye or a limb, and disagreements were usually worked out by the older kids. One of the worst things that ever happened was the loss of our game ball, borrowed by one of my cousins from his dad. It was the one with Mickey Mantle's autograph that my uncle got at Yankees spring training in Florida. Oops.
In 1966, we moved from Chester to South Royalton, and our attendance at Sunday dinner in Ludlow dropped rather precipitously. However, if you ask a dozen people who grew up in Vermont in the 1950s and 60s, there will always be a few who can point out similar family traditions. I still know of a couple of families who carry on this tradition, but they are the minority. Our world has changed with families scattered around the country and even the world. The mindset about family gatherings seems to have changed for a lot of folks, as well. Personality clash or falling out? Attendance drops. The grandparents pass, and attendance comes to a halt. Because so many kept the tradition going for the older generation, they no longer felt any obligation after they were gone. For some this is freeing while others find it sad.
Because so many of us work these days, and our lives are filled with other interests and activities, family gatherings tend to be reserved for big events like funerals, rather than "just because." The world continues to evolve, and with social media we communicate instantly, sharing events in our lives as they happen. In many ways, that is a big positive. The weekly phone call or visit gets replaced by posting a photo of your latest project or accomplishment. Distance means a little less, so we accept this as good enough. The very definition of family is evolving just like the ways that we stay in touch. Is this healthy? For some it certainly is. I suppose it is determined by the level of dysfunction in any given family. There is also the question of authenticity. Are you genuinely happy to get together with family? Do you find it difficult or downright impossible? Well, there's nothing saying that you have to get together with anyone. These days you have the freedom to write your definition of what is family.
In the new millennium, the whole family question can be a slippery slope. Individuals have the right to choose. If you have the most contentious, unhappy family, you certainly do not have to accept it. What about the toxic cousin who is an alcohol abuser, or the verbally abusive aunt? You don't have to put up with it. Additionally, you don't have to get all angry and cut people off either. You simply remove yourself from the equation. I recall having conversations with people, and they ask "are you close to your family?" Distance had nothing to do with the query because it seems that estrangement is more the norm than the exception these days. I'm still somewhat torn between seeing this as good or bad. I suppose it depends on the situation, but here we are, in the holidays, when families get together, and you are faced with engaging or disengaging. I have one of the most convoluted, complex and confusing family situations you could imagine, and I just roll with it. We have members who attempt to dominate the holidays and others who could care less, but we do not have a mandatory "you will show up every Sunday in Ludlow, Vermont" edict, holiday or no. By taking it as it comes and not making any demands on anyone I manage to get through just fine. What are you doing for the holidays?