Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Patriarchs Lost

Facebook is something you either just love or hate intensely. I don't know too many people who are ambivalent about it. I know a few who really don't understand it, but that's another subject entirely. Facebook has allowed me to catch up with people from high school and college that I had not heard from in years. More importantly, it's allowed me to connect with a couple of cousins with which I've never been very close.

Here recently, I received a friend request from my uncle's son. I promptly accepted his request since I do, in fact, know who the heck he is, and we began exchanging emails. We keep saying we're going to plan to get together for a beer, but that hasn't happened yet. Mostly because Ericksons are great at talking about planning to arrange a get together that never really coalesces into an actual face to face event. My grandmother, my aunt and I all had birthdays in March. For years, we talked about planning a March birthday get together celebration. Grandma passed away before we ever actually made it happen. It's sad really, but that's for another time.

Anyway, back to the reason for putting these meager thoughts in print. My cousin started our Facebook email conversation with a very insightful question. Specifically, "What the hell happened to our family?" It's a question that I've been thinking about that off and on for a long time since it's the same question that my mother has been lamenting from time to time for years.

Then, today, I read in the news that Senator Edward Kennedy died in the night due to brain cancer. Agree or disagree with Senator Kennedy's politics or personal life or character if you will. That is not my purpose here. What struck a chord with me in the news reports eulogizing the senator was the statement that Mr. Kennedy had assumed the role of family patriarch.

In response to my cousin and my mother, that is what the heck happened to our family. We've lost our patriarchs and matriarchs. The glue that held our families together dissolved, and no one can find the tube of super glue.

On my mother's side of the family, my great grandparents Pennington were the glue that held the family together. They were king and queen holding court over an extended family that spiraled and branched off along several related lines and names. After their deaths, my mother's mother became matriarch for a time; however, she never held sway over the family in the same way as her parents did. The center of the family universe had collapsed. The props and characters were still there, but they were dispersed. The oak table which was venue to many a gin/poker/scrabble/canasta games remains in the family at my mother's house. Great grandmother's artwork is scattered through out the family and parts of central Texas (thanks to a tornado). Unfortunately, no one seems to have whatever it takes to bring it all together again.

It's no different on my father's side of the family. His parents, more so his mother than his father, were the president and first lady of a smaller tribe due, in part, to the fact that the extended family is far more widely scattered. As I mentioned to my cousin, we were a dysfunctional clan before grandmother died, but she had a way of keeping us together despite our weirdness. There were other contributing factors to the falling apart of the family: my parents' divorce, the rift between my uncles, and other things.

I don't know if this sort of family disintegration is common or not since my available data is somewhat limited. Based on what I've seen in my wife's family as well as the families of close friends, I think it must be more widespread than just my little world.

The extremely bright and always insightful queen pointed out that it doesn't have to be this way if people would just make the effort to call each other or get together once in awhile (yes, Dad, this means you). Sure there are things that get in the way from time to time like taking care of a chronically ill loved one (I don't have any idea what you're talking about) or having an overly scheduled life (yes, T, this means you), but that doesn't mean that you can't let your fingers do the walking on a regular basis.

To those who mourn the loss of the way things were: don't. The people we loved as the heads of our families were unique. There was only one grandmother Erickson. There was only one Pennington king and queen. Things change. People grow, mature and do what all people since Adam and Eve have done. We can't get things back to the way they were, but we can make the effort to create new memories and enjoy the uniqueness of those still here.

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