All in The Family

By now you know that family is one of my highest priorities, and when I say family, I am not only speaking of blood relations. My identity, my values, and my worldview are steeped in the love of a multi-generational heritage. I don’t know any other way. From my childhood I have always had three to four generations uniquely tied to my life – my grandparents, great grandparents, the elderly lady down the street, the old gentleman from the church, the children in my daycare center, my high school students, my children’s friends. People of all ages have been and are a part of my proverbial village. I find this to be a great advantage and a blessing because every generation has made my life richer with their unique perspective.

I’ll have to admit my family is a lot like a fruit cocktail tree. (That’s a specialty tree grafted to bear a variety of different fruits such as plums, nectarines, apricots, and peaches at the same time.) You will find a wide variety of opinions, beliefs, moods, outlooks, and attitudes among us. You might even question whether one of us truly belongs to the family, but in time you will see the inseparably connections. The foundations of our fore parents keep us well-grounded and attached to each other. Faith and love keep us thriving and growing.

While it may be true that people are living longer today than in times past, it’s also true that quality of life and human connection contributes to long life. We can’t give medicines all the credit. Our lives are richer and fuller when we invest time (work and pleasure) into the lives of others. That goes for the very young as well as the very old. You haven’t enjoyed the wonders of nature and the world until you’ve seen it through the eyes of a child. You can’t learn to appreciate you stand next to a master gardening in whose hands have tilled and sown the soil. Our souls are enriched when we receive the expressions of all ages.

Sadly, we are losing these interpersonal intergenerational connections. In our mobile and transient society many of us may not live near our relatives or childhood neighbors. Some of us multi-taskers may have difficulty finding the time to socialize with our extended family and community. I won’t even mention those of us who think a text, tag, or tweet is sufficient. I guess the real question is about value. How much to we value people? How much do we value relationships? Are our interpersonal connections worth the time and travel?

The other day I had a conversation with my sixteen-year-old granddaughter. She is such a joy to talk to. She’s a deep thinker, very creative, and kind of an old soul. My grandmother would say she’s been here before. At any rate, she paid me such a wonderful complement by saying she liked talking to me because I “got her” and she always knew what she would get when she shared something with me, meaning honesty. I worked hard to establish this bond with her when she was very young. I had no idea that she would one day live so far away. I was used to seeing her every day. Yet the distance between California and Georgia has not broken our bond. We Facetime often and I plan to visit her this summer. Our relationship is genuine. I am interested in the things that concern and interest her. Sometimes we respectfully agree to disagree. I’d like to think I’m helping to shape her worldview just as my ancestors helped to shape mine. I am certain she’s reshaping my view of the world by sharing the perspective of a progressive young woman of this era.

The last time my mom (soon to be 91), my oldest son (44), my other granddaughter (soon to be 21), and myself (no I’m not telling you my age😀) sat in the family room talking we had so much fun laughing at and with each other. We ran through a variety of subjects: high fashion in our various school days, dating (or courting depending on one’s age group), cooking successes and failures, and ghost stories. It was so reminiscent of a conversation I had years ago with my grandmother, my aunt, and my cousins. We were sharing the human experience from one generation to another. We were sharing our love, adventures, dreams and goals, but more importantly this fellowship was all in the family.

I believe family connections and multi-generational relationships are needed to give us balance and a sense of belonging. We all need stories of perseverance and persistence to encourage us. We need stories of success and survival in the face of failure to inspire us. We can benefit from stories of witty invention and following dreams to motivate us. Stories of defeat and disappointment have value as well. These interpersonal connections can build strong foundations for the young and give value and purpose to our elders. All of this is in the family, the family of our birth and the family of our beloved community. All we have to do is seek out these relationships.

Be intentional. Reach out to that great aunt or uncle. Invite your elderly neighbor to brunch. Ask the eldest member of your family to share something from their childhood. Give a young child an opportunity to talk about their favorite things. Have a multi-generational talent show. Use photos albums (even the ones on your phone) as springboards to conversations. Plan a family reunion. Take a multi-generational vacation. Make an effort to be in the physical presence of someone outside of your age range. Seek to understand persons outside of your range of experiences. You may be surprised at the vicarious wealth and resources available to you. You may even be surprised that you really enjoy the contact.

“A good life depends on the strength of our relationships with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and strangers.” David Lammy

Connect, relate, enjoy, and appreciate every generation! Afterall, it’s all in the family.

The Ark Experience in Kentucky
Spring Break 2023
A Multi-generational vacation.

Building Generational Bridges

I have been so blessed to have experienced the lives of my great grandparents and grandparents. So many people have not had the opportunity to share their lives with multiple generations. Recently, I realized that my grandchildren are enjoying the multi-generational experiences that I had, but they are also bridging all of our experiences together. They have me (their paternal grandmother), my mom (their great grandmother), and they also have grandparents and great grandparents on their mother’s side of the family. Up until 2007, they also had their great great grandmother, my mother’s mother. Each one of these generations have contributed a wealth of knowledge, perspective, and vantage points for this group of Gen Z’s.

To be honest I hate all the labels. Gen Z, Gen Y, Baby Boomers, Traditionalists, etc., but apparently we need them to distinguish and define the population. Sometimes these labels keep us from building the bridges that are needed to develop hope and character in the next generation. Where do we learn survival? Where do we learn perseverance? What do we we learn tenacity? Where do we learn identity? (Certainly, we can pick up a host of negative things too, but I choose to focus on the positive.) We can learn all these things from the generations that went before us.

The good news is, it’s not limited to relatives. In addition to all my ancestral family, their friends also invested in my growth. I fondly remember all the little old ladies from my great grandmother’s community and my grandmother’s church giving me some coins to spend on candy and a few lessons in modesty. I still have a beautiful handkerchief collection to remember many of them by along with their perspective on being a lady. (A perspective a born tom-boy needed, I suppose.)

When I lived in California, I was involved in a program called “Adopt a Grandparent.” The program was for first time juvenile offenders. The idea was to get them involved in community service that focused on something other than themselves and the issues that led to their legal troubles. The young people were assigned to spend several hours per week at a nursing home playing games with the elders such as checkers, chess, bridge, and bingo. Interestingly, most of the teens didn’t know how to play these games and had to be taught by the elders.

We learned so much as program leaders. One, our elders had no filters. They asked questions and made statements about the teens legal affairs that none of us expected. “What you in trouble for?” “Well, that wasn’t too smart, was it?” They also shared some of their own illegal dealings and close calls with the teens. The elders were one hundred percent committed to communicating with the young people they were assigned; not because they were in trouble, but because they were somebody’s children or could have been their child.

The young people (the majority, not all) became interested in the elders because of their stories about the bootleg era, number runners, big band music, and conk hairstyles. (If you don’t know what some of these things are, you need to spend some time with some elders.) Some of the teens actually showed up on days when they were not assigned to attend. Many brought presents to their elder counterpart. The relationships became intimate and long lasting in some cases. A generational bridge had been formed especially for those youth who never had grandparents around.

My grandchildren have enjoyed old-fashioned tea parties with real tea and crumpets. They have worn wide men’s ties with three piece suits. They have picked and ate blueberries right off the bush. They have danced to the boogie-woogie music of two generations. They have eaten tomato sandwiches while looking at pictures that date back to the first cameras. History has been stories told to them by relatives who lived it, rather than simple book information. Imagine what my grandchildren believe they can do because of their heritage. Imagine how their worldview has evolved because of their experiences and conversations with multi-generations. This is a bridge that continues to extend into the future.

Last week was a very difficult week for my mom. She lost three very dear friends, each from a different part of her life before the pandemic. They had made every effort to stay in touch over the phone and virtual platforms. Stricken with grief, my mom wanted to reminisce, sharing the memories of each one of her friends with me. Thankfully, I am active in my mother’s life so I knew them to some extent. Sharing those memories added to the bridge between us. It gave me new and different perspectives of my mother’s life, the things she enjoyed, and some of her post-pandemic dreams. Memories keep our friends and family alive for the next generation.

Our multi-generational family has made a consistent effort to build bridges with the elders in our community during the pandemic. The ties have not been just to offer some comfort or a social outlet to our neighbors and friends. It has been to continue building the bridges. Bridges that bind the beloved community together for all time. Bridges that will invest courage, stamina, and wisdom into the next generation. Bridges that will carry the living history forward even when the elders are gone and the next group of elders move into place.

You don’t have to be related to build some bridges. You just have to realize how important the connections are between one generation and the next.

This book is designed to restore the integrity of African-American history and is based on extensive research and documentation related to the African-American experience from the era of slavery until modern times. In this landmark book,

Stay safe! Stay sane! Build bridges!

In this magnificent testament to a nation and her people, Tom Brokaw brings to life the extraordinary stories of a generation that gave new meaning to courage, sacrifice, and honor.

Imagine Your Story

Imagine Your Story is the title of the summer reading program sponsored by the collaborative library system. Its goal is to improve language and reading skills for our children and to immerse teens and adults into reading for enjoyment and information. I registered for the program, but I also wondered about the rational behind the theme. I searched the internet to no avail. Yet, the theme intrigues me.

We all have a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end even though we may not know what that end is. I would also venture to say, we have another story as well; the story we wish for, hope for, imagine, the story we planned. By the time I graduated from high school, I had my entire life planned. I was going to live on a farm with horses and large sheep dogs. It was going to be huge and fenced in with a white picket fence. I was going to be a successful author living off the novels I produced, and eventually I would have ten children (six boys and four girls, yes my imagination was that vivid.) Needless to say, that is not my reality. Very little of my imagined story has come to past.

Yet, I have to ask myself, would any part of my future have come true if I had not been able to imagine beyond where I was? Would I have accomplished any of my dreams without being able to imagine something different from what I had or what I had seen? Books played a factor in those dreams. Books opened up worlds to me that reached far beyond the ghettos of Cleveland and the farmlands of Tennessee. Books allowed me to “imagine my story” beyond the boundaries of my existence. Reaching for those dreams moved me from one point of emotional and intellectual geography to another.

Books, and those who were instrumental in my receiving the education from and through books, afforded me the opportunity to pursue a future that no one else in my family had achieved. I became the first woman in my family to attend and graduate from college. I became the first women to attain a Master’s degree. I became the first to have a wedding of huge proportions followed by an actual honeymoon. I moved across the country and actually traveled outside of the country. I learned another language (French) and actual had opportunities to use it. I adopted two children, the sons of my heart, and I actually had some poetry published along the way. These and so much more were things of books that became a part of my actual story as a young woman.

So I ask myself now, am I still imagining my story. Have I stopped dreaming? Are all my accomplishments over, or will I continue to “imagine my story?” What about you? Is there still adventure and mystery in your future?

I am not only imagining my story, but I am imagining the story of my children and grandchildren. I am imagining the story of my mother and my friends. It can’t be helped, because they are all a part of my dreams for the future. We need reform, we need national change in policies concerning law enforcement, we need to find a way to end systemic racism. There is no doubt we must become a more humane society valuing all people and all cultures. I imagine this happening in my lifetime as part of my story.

Perhaps, we have too many people who no longer imagine their stories. Perhaps they can not see the plot developing into something good. Perhaps they can’t see themselves becoming the first to experience or accomplish something in their generation for their children and their families. You see, those things I talked about as my life experiences did not only come out of my imagination and my dreams; it came out of my mother’s and my grandparent’s dreams for me. They imagined my story being better than theirs. They imagined my story making a difference for generations to come. They provided a window through books, through education, through faith, and through their own stories to launch me forward into a new and different life.

When we imagine our stories, we must imagine a bright future for everyone, and contribute to it’s existence by every positive means necessary. We can start by reading multi-cultural books to our children and grandchildren. We can promote reading in our young people from every genre. We can continue to “imagine our story” by writing and sharing our stories in our communities and our schools. Yesterday, I spoke to a friend whose parents are in their 90’s and still self-sufficient. Can you imagine the stories they have to tell!

I leave you with these words from a former teacher: “Wake Up! Its time to Dream!”

There’s hope for childhood. Despite a perfect storm of hostile forces that are robbing children of a healthy childhood, courageous parents and teachers who know what’s best for children are turning the tide.
I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World, Special 75th Anniversary Edition (Martin Luther King, Jr., born January 15, 1929)
“His life informed us. His dream sustained us” -from the Citation of the posthumous award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom