A Modern American Family – Online

By Catherine Durkin Robinson

My great-grandparents arrived from Ireland in the late 1800s and settled near Scranton, Pennsylvania. For the first few decades, these new Americans lived within the same ten-mile radius and lived out their dreams – together. They worked blue-collar jobs and rarely made ends meet, but they were happy and considered themselves blessed.

Their children married children of Irish Catholic immigrants and raised a ton of offspring who married grandchildren of Irish Catholic immigrants. Along the way, education and salaries rose, but the extended family stayed rooted together in the same part of the country. My mother still tells stories about her close knit clan of cousins.

They went to the same schools, spent weekends and vacations together, and grew up the best of friends. My mother’s generation went off to war or on to college, but most of them returned home to raise us like their parents had raised them.

But somewhere along the way, things changed.

Our parents’ jobs, divorces or wanderlust scattered my cousins and I throughout the country. We grew up, traveled the world, earned advanced degrees and kept on going.

Most of us got married, but not necessarily to people who shared our ethnic or religious backgrounds. I converted to Judaism and married a great-grandchild of Russian immigrants. And I wasn’t the only one. My family is now filled with Persian, Muslim, Central European, Italian, Polish, Protestant and blended faces with backgrounds that expand our worldview and make us a more sensitive, aware and accepting bunch. A few cousins live openly with their same-sex partners, and I don’t know anyone in my generation who has more than a couple of kids.

We are different in ways our ancestors never could have imagined.

After we spread our wings and took off, the void was felt back home. Those left behind truly felt left behind as family reunions were sparsely attended and eventually stopped altogether. Stressful and demanding jobs made it difficult to return for every birthday or holiday. Children or the high price of fuel were excuses to explain away our absences from typical life-cycle events that bring a family closer together. As my grandparent’s generation died off, the funerals felt weird where many of us wondered what we all had in common. It wasn’t long before wedding invitations stopped including family members who had long since become strangers.

Our friends became our chosen family as distant cousins disappeared. And that was that.

Then one of us discovered Facebook.

One or two cousins reached out and then others followed suit. Soon, thirty of us were logging in and connecting. Through daily, sometimes hourly, status updates, I have learned about their jobs and children. We read each other’s walls and post old family stories and memories from our youth. I laugh at silly videos where Sonia dances like her mother did in the 1970s. Or I get to know Jeffrey all over again, just a grown-up version of that nice little boy who played with me in my aunt’s backyard. Alice is working on her second degree, Patrick is now a State Trooper, and Jimmy recently returned from the Middle East where he helped to stabilize Iraq. My sister trades tips with Debbie because they are both raising children with wicked Irish tempers, and I post pictures from twenty years ago.

We laugh and reminisce for hours.

Turns out, my cousins and I have a lot in common. We are funny, loving, loud and passionate. We are an opinionated group, eager to share our views on politics and social issues. We don’t always agree, so sometimes our instant messages become good-humored arguments that would make our ancestors proud.

We’re no longer strangers. For the last two years, we’ve started reunions again and are more excited than ever about our shared hobbies, experiences and bloodlines.

So many people have been quick to dismiss social networking sites as impersonal. They say that relationships forged online are devoid of anything real or lasting. I couldn’t disagree more. Whether the internet has reunited long-lost friends or encouraged a group of classmates to reconnect, there are many success stories that credit the World Wide Web as a way to stay in touch with people who’ve mattered most in our lives.

Whenever I mention our family as stronger and wiser because of our similarities and differences, my mother sometimes gets offended. She continues to remember a tight-knit clan who shared smiles and stories every Sunday night and wonders if the family will ever feel as close again.

I tell her not to worry.

We may not be together in person, but we are online every night sharing in each other’s triumphs and offering support in times of need. We know each other again. My cousins were once only a part of my past, but now are a part of my future, too.

Somewhere, I hope our great-grandparents are gathering together and smiling.

About this writer

  • Catherine Durkin Robinson Catherine Durkin Robinson is an award-winning humorist and nationally syndicated writer. You can find her online at www.outinleftfield.com. Catherine lives in Florida with her husband and twin sons. In her spare time, she investigates missing socks.

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