I bought this print at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Vermont before I had my children. It has hung on the walls of my successive homes ever since. When I was a little girl, my extended family was very large and very close. We spent holidays together and cousins grew up as best friends. But all that ended with the death of my grandparents while I was still very young. So when I met my husband’s large extended Italian family, they reminded me of something that I once had, but had lost. I loved spending holidays at his grandparents’ houses. Since his mother and father had grown-up as next-door neighbors, his mother’s parents still lived next-door to his father’s mother. Beyond that, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in the same houses or just around the corner. Their holidays were full of family and traditional Italian foods and desserts that all made me feel at home.
When I bought this print, we were newlyweds. I imagined that, someday, I would be the old woman in this image. That I would have, gathered around me in my old age, my husband and our children and grandchildren, my husband’s and my brothers and sisters, our nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and grand-nephews. All together, enjoying the old traditions and making room for new ones too. One big happy family. I’ve kept it on my wall all of these years because it reminds me of what I once had and what, for me, would be the most wonderful future I could imagine.
But “life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.” I am sure that for our grandparents, many of whom moved across an ocean away from their own families, that building new families and continuing the old traditions, was how they coped with their losses, sacrifices, and struggles. For that next generation, families stayed close. But today, families are on the move once again. That leaves many of us separated at holiday times. The likelihood that I will ever enjoy the realization of all that this print represents, in my lifetime, is very small. Even now, my daughter will not be with us this Thanksgiving. Someday, both of our children will probably be away from us during various holidays. Brothers and sisters who started lives in different states are now watching as their own families grow. Their individual homes have become the hub of their own extended families. Life moves us away from each other. Generations fold into new generations and time goes on. What is “family” to us at one time in our lives changes to a new meaning of “family” during another time in our lives. Our children’s sense of “family” is different from ours, and their children’s sense of “family” will be different from theirs. It changes almost imperceptibly. We no sooner think, “this is what family is and this is how we spend our holidays,” and then changes happen, and without knowing it, it is our last time we spend our holiday that way.
Whatever your holiday and sense of family is at this point in your life, I wish you happiness. Embrace what is now, because it will not be forever. Take a moment this Thanksgiving to remember what once was. Tell your children the old stories. Look around the table and whether if you say it or not, be thankful that these people are present and in your life at this moment. Shrug off the stresses and imperfections, they are not what you will want to remember. I love you all! Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving, even if you are eating dinner with your family over Skype!
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy