I have gone back to SC four times now since about 1994 and each time I am grateful for the welcome I receive from my relatives. My first trip back was amazing. I was exhausted the whole time but woke each morning with positive expectations. Going back was important somehow deep down to see the place and the people I had known when I was a boy. And when I did finally, after some driving around in Georgia, get to my see my relatives I was enveloped in a sense of acceptance and warmth.
Why should they have paid such kind attention? After all I had been in no real contact with them for about 40 years. I didn’t really ask myself that then. But now I would answer by saying, well, we were and are family. I was WB’s son and that was enough for them to go out of their way the way they did. And perhaps they were curious a bit about me as I was one of those children of the prodigal son, WB, who had gone off to California while they had all stayed at home, many still living within forty minutes of each other by car in upper Carolina and now a bit in North Carolina.
When WB left in 1955 he lost immediate contact with all that family, and so did I. We were in California very much the “nuclear” family, mom, dad, kids and dog, with no extended family anywhere about. Back there though there’s lots of extended family, living in what politicians might call family values territory. And family is valued, though I don’t think the family thinks about it that way. Family is just there.
I don’t know how frequently the many members of the family get together or actually see each other. But I do think they are always aware of each other and have a pretty good general idea of what might be happening in one portion or another of the family, who is having a baby, or who is getting married, or who has come down with something, and who has moved, and who got a new car. And while it would not do at all to pretend things are all hunky-dory between individuals in the family or that they all like each other or something like that, I do think in times of trouble the individuals would try their best to overcome their personal feelings and help out if they at all could.
As I was told frequently while growing up, blood is thicker than water. In a growing and changing world, where it becomes increasingly hard to be recognized by anybody, family recognizes family. And being recognized is tremendously important, and additionally in places like SC where the government provides very little for the people; people must provide for themselves and family can take up the slack. Psychological recognition and, more in the past than today, economic need held family together.
I can see better the importance and the function of the extended family partly because I was not raised back there with all that extended family about. At the same time, with all that family about, one could easily spend one’s every waking moment thinking about family, gathering news of family, doing for family, and visiting family, with the result as one relative suggested, it becomes easy to forget that there is anything beyond family, that there is a bigger or other sort of world out there of people who do not think, or feel, or believe as family thinks, feels, and believes.
In places like California.
On the way back from the services for Joan, a number of us stopped to take a look inside Grandma’s old house, built in the early thirties.