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Bumpy Road Ahead

By Joy Swartley Sawatzky

Bumpy Road Ahead: Two eminent social critics put our culture on red alert. This headline caught my eye as I was fast forwarding through a month’s worth of news magazines the other week. I was trying to catch up on world news in a snapshot, as if that is even possible.

The Bumpy Road headline was a review on two books predicting the future of the American culture. What caught my eye was the premise that part of the downfall of our culture, much as the Roman Empire experienced, will be due to the decline in community and family.

Being the week of the fourth of July, my thoughts turned to my own family and how the gatherings and celebrations have changed. Memories of our annual gathering on the 4th suddenly became clear. Several families had developed a yearly ritual - aunts, uncles, cousins, and second cousins, gathered for the yearly picnic – always on the farm of the more distant cousins. It was somehow the unspoken host location.

There was always more food then we could eat with laughter as the main course. Several of the relatives were not known for their quiet natures, and squeals (when one goosed another or told a bad joke) and peels of delight were regular fare.

I always remember eating too much. The cooks were the best. While most years the gathering was routine fun for the adults and play for the children, we ALL remember the time that we were just too full to even think of eating watermelon and other desserts, so someone got the bright idea that if we all ran to the end of the farm lane and back maybe it would make more space to eat.

The entire group – adults and children alike, decided to run, not walk, out to the road and back. This laughing, waving, cheering, motley group of people running towards the road must have made quite a site to those driving by on their way to or from their own 4th of July celebrations.

The other incident that we all remember as clear as if it was yesterday was the year that my father somehow got control of our going to see the local fireworks. He repeatedly called for those in the group that wanted to go to raise their right hand. The number or speed of the response was never quite enough, so he would ask again and again. The collective groans were just what he needed to feed his idea of fun.

When he finally decided that we had had enough, we all piled into cars and headed for the long looked forward to fireworks. While definitely not at the time, it was eventually amusing that we arrived at the fireworks just as the finale was going off – all because we had spent so much time raising our hands to confirm our desire to go.

I am trying to remember when we stopped having those 4th of July picnics. I know I went yet as a teenager. I specifically remember a date dropping me off one year – in my turquoise bell bottoms. Maybe it was when the children started going to college and marrying that we stopped getting together.

I wouldn’t really know, as I moved away from the area where I grew up and stayed away for 23 years. Somewhere along the way the 4th of July gatherings slipped off of the social calendar, along with the Christmas gatherings of the larger extended family, and the summer reunions in the firehouse with the incredible baked beans and the candy scrambles.

These family members that I saw so often as I was growing up - I just saw one cousin for the first time in more than 30 years, at his father’s funeral. Another second cousin, I have not seen since the days of those picnics. Some of us are starting to see each other and enjoy each others company more often again. Unfortunately it is at the funerals of our parents and aunts and uncles.

My sons have no sense of connection to larger family like I had. They have made their own family along the way, at each place we lived around the country. They have their own 4th of July celebrations to remember, with hours of fireworks in a friend’s back yard every year.

But somehow I can’t shake this nagging feeling in the back of my soul that this is part of, though a small part, of what the one author was trying to point out. Lack of connection to family; a family that can provide unconditional support and love as a buffer against the stress and mess of daily living.

There is no way that things are going to return to the way they were, yet there is a stubbornness in me that believes in the very things that are disappearing – family and community. Rather than accept the author’s dire predictions, I suppose I will just have to chart my own course. It won’t save the culture, but it will certainly sooth my soul.


Remembering Your Story

Have your residents talk about summer picnics they remember. Was it for a particular holiday? Who was there? Where did they have them? Did they play games as well as eat together? What kinds of foods were always part of the gathering? Any silly things happen at one of the picnics?

Explore the story while doing a hands-on project

Copyright July 19, 2004 by Joy Swartley Sawatzky. All Rights Reserved.

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