Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Fractured Families - a history lesson

Empty nest blues
I’m guessing it’s something most October folks can relate to……a product of our times. A recent conversation reminded me it is that way today. And it was that way back in early 2015, when I first addressed the phenomena I labeled Fractured Families.
It can be a trying time, watching as one by one our precious offspring go off on their own. Of course we miss them. That is only natural. And we look forward to the times we can gather them together again. We know of course that it has been like that forever……sons and daughters grow up, spread their wings, and leave the nest to seek a life of their own. 
By the time we reach our October years we know all about that. Often as not their leaving is a bittersweet moment……when we weigh the excitement of their hopeful beginnings against our own sense of loss.
I suppose that ambivalence is to be expected. After all, we raise our children with the implied understanding that one day they will strike out on their own. If we are so inclined we can cite biblical injunctions to justify their departure. It is that reality, that parting, which makes preparing our offspring for life on their own one of our most important parental tasks.

Sad, but excited partings
It has happened in our family, and perhaps yours too……those times when we watched our children take the next step in their own lives, leaving not just our home, but for some far-off destination, Though we had mixed feelings about their going……we realized that moment had been waiting there for a very long time. Those long-distance partings happen often in today's mobile society, where families are apt to be spread all over the country, and beyond.
In those moments the ‘leavers’ depart in good spirits, buoyed by the prospect of hopeful possibilities, a new life chapter about to be lived out……with new chances to create their own future and continue their ‘becoming.’ In that light how can we, the ones left behind, begrudge their willingness to accept a new challenge? Still, though we must not stand in the way of their emerging life, there is bound to be a part of us that resists their leaving---at least a little bit.
In a very real sense they are a part of whom we are. In ways we sometimes fail to appreciate we have depended on their presence to make our own life complete. Though we have no right or inclination to hold them back, we can't help but wish they would stay, or at least not move so far away. Those are the urges that separation produces……feelings I suppose are as old as mankind.

Help is at hand
Of course, in our world of interstate highways and on-time airlines the sort of parting I describe need not be a permanent thing. There will be  opportunities for periodic reunions. Additionally, with today's connecting technology the sting of enforced separation has been softened. The internet and wireless communication, in all their many forms, have made staying in touch with separated family members easier and more immediate than ever.

Reliving another time of parting
But now I ask you to pause for a moment to shift gears, to gather those thoughts of family partings and come with me to a another time, when leaving the family nest was apt to mean something very different.
My thoughts on that ‘different meaning’ first emerged in the fall of 2014, when Roma and I spent several days tracking her OregonTrail ancestors over flat, straight Nebraska highways and dusty Wyoming backroads …… from the broad Platte River plain to the Continental Divide. 
In the course of our travels we visited impressive interpretive centers and hiked along riverside trails……seeing first hand the rugged countryside and trying to imagine the challenges those pioneers travelers endured.
Though it was a satisfying and eventful journey, following the Oregon Trail to its Oregon terminus, at some point along the way I found myself dwelling on a wave of melancholy thoughts……October questions I had never seen anyone address before. Those questions, and their sad answers, were a fact of pioneer life that guidebooks and documentary videos seem to ignore.

A different level of separation
Think of it this way. For just about every Oregon Trail pioneer family who sold off most of what they owned to raise the hundreds of dollars their ‘Oregon dream’ would cost, there were family and friends, dozens of them, who remained behind……who gathered to say their good-byes as the hopeful travelers started off on their adventure. 
There were times, of course, when the departing travelers left no one behind, when there was no extended family, or the family remained intact. One of Roma's ancestors joined a wagon train made up entirely of more than 300 members of their Baptist church. The congregation emigrated en masse. And surely there were times when parents and even grandparents, perhaps too old to be undertaking such a venture, joined the overland company simply to avoid being left behind. 
Still, more often than not, families were destined to be separated ……some leaving, some staying behind. When that happened, in those days of wagon-train travel, the separated parties could expect to live the rest of their lives on opposite sides of the Continental Divide.
For some of those left behind that migration-based separation would not be an entirely new experience. Chance were, only a few generations before they or their parents or grandparents had made a similar break……a shorter journey over the Appalachians to the OhioValley and beyond. That too had been a time of separation, of leaving home for good.
For the Oregon Trail pioneers that parting, leaving for the ‘Promised Land,’ was framed by the all-too-likely reality that they and the family members who remained at home would never see each other again. The odds of parents, who stayed behind to tend a farmstead in mid-America, ever seeing the son, daughter, or siblings who had moved half a continent away to the far-off reaches of a mysterious place called Oregon, were slim indeed. 

How would that work for you?
Think about that for a moment. How would you deal with that sort of parting……watching a son or daughter, a brother or sister, ride off to a new life that in all likelihood would never again include you? From the moment they turned their back on you for the last time, your only contact would be in the form of long letters from far away. Your relationship would be sustained by fond memories and words on paper.
Consider for a moment that harsh and very permanent kind of parting. Take a moment to imagine that your son or daughter standing in the doorway, suitcase in hand, preparing to leave……forever. How does one get his or her mind around that?

Heroes all
Yet, in the name of creating a more promising life, they were leaving their family and past behind. It was the only way. And for those who were left behind? The more I think about them, the more I realize that there were two very different sets of heroes taking part in that migration drama. 
Of course those wagon-train pioneers, the ones who made the long trek, endured a hard and dangerous journey. Theirs was the stuff of legends……the story of brave men and women, many of whom did not live to see the promised land. Because of their efforts our country now stretches from sea to sea. In a very real sense it was their willingness to leave their families, friends, and the life they knew that made it possible. 
Still, in a way I had not expected to find, I realize that those wagon-train pioneers were not the only ones to pay the price of separation. In ways that make present-day family separation tame by comparison, our October predecessors paid a price few of us would be willing to pay. 

Willie’s Wise Words

I guarantee you have never before seen Shakespeare quoted on these pages. Yet what says it better than “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”? Parting is often a sad time. We can’t deny that. Yet when the parting soul is family, there is also an affectionate ‘sweetness’ at work. Thankfully we live in a time when a phone call, an email, or text can take the edge off what would otherwise be truly sorrowful.

Sunday, September 2, 2018


You have probably noticed how good ideas can pop up in the most unexpected ways, at the most unexpected times. Take for instance a few days ago when, in the course of my online rambles, I came across a video of Susan Boyle performing It’s a Wonderful World. I played it once, then again. 
Before I was done I had spent half an hour glued to my computer, listening to and watching a dozen or more of her videos. Needless to say, I liked what I heard. Finally I had an idea, what seemed to me a good one. I downloaded three of my Susan Boyle favorites to share with my email friends and sent them off.
With that I set Susan aside and moved on to other things. But then, to my surprise, over the next few days I received several replies commenting on how much they enjoyed the lady’s videos. 
I suppose it was about then the seeds of today’s post were sown. I realize that for many of you what follows may be old hat……ideas you have been exploring for years. For those folks I will be preaching to the choir. However, I’m guessing that some of you, who are computer-literate enough to be reading emails and October Years blogs, have yet to learn about the magic of YouTube. If that describes you, I hope you will read on.
Let me begin by admitting up front there is much about YouTube that I don’t know or understand. They say the vast majority of the site’s users are several generations younger than old geezers like me. Those young folks watch videos and follow stories that are not necessarily intended for an elder audience. Yet, at the same time you can find YouTube material to suit the tastes of just about any niche audience……even tech-illiterate October and November types who are dipping their toes in YouTube water for the first time.
Like lots of folks I first turned to YouTube looking for music, especially the ‘ancient’ sounds I knew in the 50s and 60s. Those are there in force......modern videos and vintage television footage. Just follow your personal taste, whether it be Ella, Don McLean, Bee Gees, the Beatles, Johnny Cash, or any other performer. Your favorites are probably there on video or as part of hour-long audio recordings of old-time favorites. On the other hand, if you prefer opera or symphony music you will find those there too. There is literally something for everyone.
Better yet, YouTube has so much more than simply music, even for we late-lifers. We know, of course, that spending all our hours living in the past is not a healthy thing. We need to be part in today’s world too. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take time now and then to revisit what entertained or amused us in the ‘old days.’ In an era when modern entertainment does not always entertain my generation, and comedy often strikes us as seriously ‘unfunny,’ why not let YouTube provide an occasional antidote?
For instance, I remember liking George Carlin back then. It was fun to see that his YouTube videos are as clever as ever. Johnny Carson, and Dean Martin too, are at their best there. I know that not everyone finds Foster Brooks in good taste, but I enjoy his humor. And how about Tim Conway playing dentist with Harvey Korman? Going way back, you will find complete TV programs of Jack Benny and Milton Berle doing their thing. 
In a more current vein Bill Mahr and John Oliver add their irreverent spin on modern politics. If you are a travel junkie like me, Rick Steves will take you to most any country in Europe in half-hour segments. And Jeanne Robertson, a name you may not know, offers a woman’s take on life in the ‘October’ lane. Just fill in her name on the search line to see what I mean.
Finally, you may not be surprised to learn that some of us old timers have really never grown up. I know for sure this eighty-one year old simply doesn’t care who sees the youthful streak he has never outgrown.
You see, there are also movies on……lots of movies, including ones we aging youngsters remember from days past. For instance, early in our relationship I was a bit disappointed to learn that Roma’s favorite cowboy hero had been Hopalong Cassidy. Can you believe that? To make matters worse, she found it hard to accept my youthful allegiance to The Durango Kid. What was it that had us taking sides? You can see for yourself in the dozens of YouTube feature films starring Hoppy and the Kid. (Do I dare show the grandkids what Gramps used to watch?)
When it comes to 1950 & 60 films, the ones that really mattered to us back then, Youtube has us covered. Those were the days when everyone knew that George Reeves was Superman, and The Lone Ranger was bound to get the bad guys. There are dozens of full-length films to prove that. On a lighter note Shirley Temple and the Little Rascals are there in force, along with the multi-episode serials that every movie house played, hoping to draw us back for the next installment. Believe it or not, we can literally relive a complete 1950 Saturday matinee nearly seventy years later.
I know, of course, that perhaps I have been talking right over the heads of our younger readers. But that’s okay. Whether we’re talking about Hoppy, The Durango Kid, The Lone Ranger, or America’s Sweetheart, YouTube videos have the power to return some of us to another, we like to think, better time. We can’t live there, of course. But a brief visit from time to time feels rather therapeutic. And if your classic movie taste is more sophisticated than matinee westerns? (Could that be?) Well, you will probably find your own favorites there too.

Bottom line……if you’re not already on speaking terms with may I suggest you check it out. Once there use the ‘Search Line’ to call up whatever strikes your fancy. Let your imagination be your guide, taking you down the path that appeals to you. I believe you will have a good time.