Our Family Tree

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

All over this wonderful country of ours, as we gather around tables large and small, in homes warm and aromatic with a dozen or more carefully prepared traditional dishes, or even if we choose to visit a festive restaurant for our special Thanksgiving Dinner, the conversation will, of course, include the all-important question, “What are you most thankful for?”
The answers are invariably the same. “My Family,” is usually our first response. “My Home. My Church. My Friends, My Country,” and “Our Health” are often recited as well.
This year, I would like to add “My Ancestors” to the blessings we offer at this special time. My mom and dad and all but one of the 14 aunts and uncles I loved and enjoyed during my lifetime are all gone now. But, oh, the legacy they bestowed upon me is without a doubt the most precious gift I have ever been given.
Our cousins were also a huge part of our lives growing up, and even today Bill keeps in touch with six or seven of his closest First Cousins. Facebook allows us to keep an eye on the antics of our great nieces and nephews and the very precious great, great nieces and nephews who are sprouting up like little mushrooms in North Mississippi.
Sadly, my own children are like most of those born to the Boomer generation, the X generation, and now the Millennials who followed, have a much whittled down version of the family trees of those who came before them. Rarely does a child today have more than one sibling, only two or three aunts or uncles, and the dozens or so cousins Bill and I can count are a thing of the past.
Because of the move from away from an agrarian society, and the fear of a population explosion, our generation was convinced that it was our duty to maintain a growth ratio of two (2) ; simply replacing ourselves on planet Earth. Birth control (the Pill) made this possible, then economics seemed to demand that both parents must work outside the home in order to have more “things” than children, and the Day Care industry became an overnight phenomenon.
“That’s a crying shame,” my momma would have said. My granddaughter used to look wistfully at me and remind us both, “I don’t have any cousins, do I, Grandmother?” It breaks my heart to think that most young people today will never have the life-long friendships, the relationships that are ours because we grew up together with a brood of first cousins; we are kin, blood relatives. We may not see one another today as often as we did when we played together as kids: making mud pies, building forts, learning to embroidery, playing dress-up, howling around the yard like Cowboys and Indians, or creeping through a field of weeds pretending to be Big Game hunters. I have never known my grandchildren to be put to bed with three or four cousins giggling under old quilts, snuggled deep into a feather mattress.
No, we may not see one another except at family gatherings, weddings, reunions, and sadly at funerals, but we will always share the same histories, the same tall tales, funny stories, the same sad losses, and through those shared times together, even across many years, we have a bond that is unbreakable. We share the same Family Tree. That can never change, and I am so very thankful for those who came before me, who are my “lineage.”
This year as I add “Ancestors” to my recital of “Thank You’s” and Blessings, my mother’s presence is still very much with us although she died over seven years ago. Every day I find myself using something that she held, or wore or loved. A bowl, a tablecloth, a recipe. The antique desk where she sat to do her bills. I often wear a special piece of her jewelry, like the rhinestone pin I wore to church Sunday. My dad, forever a Soldier, died suddenly over forty years ago, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about the legacy he gave me of those early years when we traveled all over the world with the Army. I am thankful for the 14 aunts and uncles my parents shared with me, their stories, the laughter, the pranks, even the tragedies that are a part of our family’s history, for without those people, I would not have so many cherished memories; I would not feel that I had been so loved.
The true tragedy of this modern generation’s lives is the fact that “social media” has replaced family and friends by capturing them in photographs and in cryptic shorthand, reducing their conversations to “messages,” “texts,” Instagram and YouTube postings. Even when our family is together, I watch the younger ones sit together and show one another pictures on their phones. Is there a blessing in the number of “Likes” on a Facebook post? Are they thankful for the number of “Friends” they have listed in their “Contacts?”
I doubt the memories stored in a “Cloud” somewhere will ever be the same as, nor will they ever replace the sights, sounds, and smells associated with a big FAMILY.
May God’s blessings be yours at this special and wonderful season of the year.

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