I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. My parents both – somewhat unusually – worked full time. Mom worked as an X-Ray Technician at our local hospital (the only job she ever had in her entire career – how many folks can say that today?). I remember she would alternate being “on-call” with other staffers, as the department operated 8-4/M-F unless there was an emergency. Manys the evening or weekend that my dad or one of us girls would be standing on the porch signalling her to turn around and go back to the hospital because another case was coming through. My sister and I learned of several of our friends’ deaths over the years because my Mom was called in to help with the cases. Mind you, this was wayy before HIPPA and back when small communities truly cared about their members and everyone reached out to help their neighbors. Mom retired after 40+ years with the hospital, serving in that one department- finally as Assistant Director (X-Ray was combined with the Lab and the Lab Director technically ran the department)
Dad worked in a white collar capacity for General Electric’s Aircraft Engine Division, Quality Control Department. He traveled throughout New England extensively during the week – back then GE outsourced the manufacture of its engine parts and Dad’s job was to audit the vendors regularly and assure they were up to snuff. Dad was generally home by 5 on most nights. As my sister and I got older, Dad got, and remained – very involved with our social activities. As a Master FreeMason, he proudly stood by as we were initiated into Rainbow Girls International (we had to get special permission from our parish priest to join for some odd reason), Dad was the go to parent for our 4-H club and chauffeur extraordinaire for us and half the neighborhood to go to practices and basketball games. I also think he taught more than half the neighborhood kids how to drive – insisting we all learn to drive a stick shift. But, throughout my childhood and teenage years, unless Mom was on call, we had nights and weekends together as a family, ate dinner together at the kitchen table EVERY NIGHT, and we most definitely spent the holidays together.
Dad’s mother, my beloved Gramma Emma, lived with us until I was 10. Some of my fondest childhood and holiday memories involve my Gramma, who’s real name was Sarah. (She didn’t like being called Sadie so she changed it) Gramma raised my dad as a single mom during the Great Depression in the White Mountains of upstate New Hampshire, keeping house for a family who owned a large farm up there. Anyway, Gramma took great pleasure in helping my parents with holiday preparations, and certainly in keeping my sister and I well occupied while Mom and Dad attended to the business of holiday shopping and present wrapping etc. We loved “helping” Gramma with baking, and decorating the house at Christmastime.
I fully realize not all families were as fortunate as mine. And today, it is clear that the “face” of the American Family has evolved and grown. Overall, that’s a good thing. However, we appear – in our haste to be conspicuous consumers perhaps – to have lost much along the way. Businesses and retailers are remaining open on holidays and Sundays in an effort to generate more revenue. This makes for less time for families to spend together. This practice, in my opinion, has done much to contribute to the disintegration of the fabric of the American Family. We cannot rely on time to spend together and cement our bonds – so they dissolve all the easier, and we find ourselves living with strangers that we see only in passing.
Sundays used to be, pardon the pun, sacrosanct. Remember when families attended church and gathered for afternoon dinner with the relatives – several generations worth? Remember getting really excited to see cousins, aunts, uncles and others over the holidays? It didn’t require much planning to pick a date for the holiday get togethers, because at least 90% of people had Thanksgiving and Christmas off. So you could count on seeing people. You just had to decide on who was hosting, and what everyone was bringing.
Remember when you didn’t hear Christmas music on the radio until after Thanksgiving? And stores didn’t put up their Christmas displays until then either? Nowadays, Halloween’s still a week away and the Christmas stuff is already out for sale. This morning, my office mates and I were SUPREMELY annoyed by Christmas music being played on the radio already. (I actually called the station to complain – after all it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet). We’re not Grinches, far from it. But there’s a time and place for everything, and we all agreed that holiday music has no place on the airwaves prior to the final week or so in November. There’s no pause to take a breath between Holidays, or even to take a moment to appreciate the day’s merits on its own. Its always “on to the next” – before the current event is even finished.
Remember when the busiest shopping day of the year was the Saturday before Christmas? – not “Black Friday”. This year, rumor has it that stores want to open on Thanksgiving evening in order to get a “jump” on holiday sales. So when do these sales people get to spend time with their families? I wonder. I wonder perhaps, if parents having to work so doggone much is directly contributing to the ills of young society?. Common sense would tell me a resounding YES. Its not the only factor, but you can’t tell me that if Mom and Dad had to work less and were able to spend more time at home, they would be around to see that Junior was getting himself into trouble – and do something about it. Why is it that the stores have to be open on a holiday? Can’t people remember to swing by the grocery store on the way home before the day off and pick up what they need? Insert sarcasm here: However in the world did we manage before the Big Y grocery store was open for business on a Sunday?
We wonder why our kids are alienated from us and don’t seem to embrace the values we grew up with. That’s because, by and large, us grown ups are too busy working and not around to pass along those important lessons. Feel free to disagree- but in large part, children seem to be raising themselves these days, along with the schools and the “before and after” programs, while their parents slave away at 2+ full time jobs. The schools and these programs are the ones imparting social values and mores to our kids. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but its certainly not anyone’s job but the parents. And the parents, when they are home, are only interested in relaxing before they have to go back to work – not in involving themselves in their children’s lives beyond the minimum. They’re freakin exhausted. OK, perhaps I exaggerate a tad bit to make my point. But that point my friends, is indeed a valid one. And, whats the point in having these wonderful, evolved, and blended families if we don’t have the time to enjoy each others company? Is the pursuit of the almighty dollar so important that we are willing to risk the very relationships that should define and nurture us? Remember when we didn’t have to ask ourselves that question? How do we get back to that place?
At this time of year in particular, I miss my childhood, and my family that has gone on to their eternal rest. For the most part, they had the right of it, and had their priorities straight. Dad often said that no job was more important than being our father- and he walked that talk every single day of his life. I miss that simpler time. Does life today have to be so dang complicated? Possibly not. We need to redefine what’s important to us as a society. And place FAMILY (whatever form that takes) first. People need to remember, when they talk about “Family Values”, that the concept of Family has little or no value if its members do not have time to connect with one another. We need that time! Working on Thanksgiving evening is not going to help anyone forge familial bonds – only help fracture them.