Embracing the Joys of Extended Family

My father, Alvin Edelson, with his storytelling sisters, Reva and Anita
My father, Alvin Edelson, with his storytelling sisters, Reva and Anita

The wonderful New York Times article by Silas House, “The Growing Generational Divide” so eloquently discussed what I agree is one of the elements lacking in so many young people today: their connection with older family members. He argues that young people know the intricacies of celebrities’ lives more than they understand their own family histories. Next week, I’ll be traveling to Minneapolis for the unveiling of my beloved aunt’s tombstone. The unveiling is  a Jewish ceremony that occurs within a year of a person’s death. As I read this piece, memories of casual Sundays spent with my aunt came flooding back. She and her family moved to Minneapolis when I was just 10, but any time she visited, she and my father’s other sister would take the stage. The two women were the funniest I’ve ever met, and we would spend hours listening to them weave true-life tales, amusing anecdotes that they told with great expression. There were no soccer games or music classes to rush to; everyone in my family would linger over a brunch of bagels and kugel and be truly entertained. My interest in telling peoples’ stories — albeit in writing — in many ways was rooted in my love of hearing their recollections. One of the best summers of my life was when I was 15 and traveled to Los Angeles and spent three weeks with my grandmother. Though many teens would not relish this type of experience, I loved it. We stayed up late playing the card game, War, while she gossiped about the family’s secrets. There was plenty of family history to discuss, as my grandfather was the oldest of 11, 10 boys and the youngest a girl. A great listener, my grandmother was often the confidante for many of her sister-in-laws. I was fascinated by the stories she would tell, some slightly scandalous, about the back stories of her many relatives. It was better than any television drama. My grandmother was crazy about me and I could do no wrong in her eyes. A children’s writer, she was a voracious reader — she bragged that she had read every book in the library of the town where she grew up — smart, affectionate and kind and truly one of the best companions I ever had. I still remember her cackling laugh and her homemade blintzes. And I cherish the time we had together.

When I visit my mother in the Detroit suburbs, I’m always touched to walk into a delicatessen and see throngs of grandparents with their grandchildren, catching up on the week’s events. When I sent one of my children to camp one year, there were as many grandparents as parents giving the overnight campers bear hugs and sending them off on the bus. These children have had a great gift, with extended family being so much a part of their lives.

In his article, House points out that we will have an onslaught of aging boomers in coming years. I will be one of them. I hope that, as our population ages, we’re able to maintain that connection with young people, and that they realize what a treasure it is to bond with their elderly relatives. Now that my father and his sisters are gone, I realize that more than ever.

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