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Saturday, February 28, 2015

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I've read about this before, but got very demoralised by it. I was so envious! By contrast, my (English/Scottish/French/Red Indian origin North American) family sometimes FEELS more like one of those dark Scandinavian claims in a sod hut on the plains, with people going mad from the social isolation....My forebears lived into their mid 90s, more or less like the ROseto characters, eating whatever they liked drinking, smoking, exposed to all manner of things like pesticides spraying fruit trees, etc. But they lived in tightly knit tribal communities, geographically small, in houses passed from one generation to the next, with friends, neighbors all around that one grew up and lived and died around. My mom found this oppressive and flew the coop. She ended up living in splendid isolation all over the world with my dad, in the lap of luxury, tho with health issues. She died nearly 25 years earlier than her mom. Just one data point I know, but the intrusive, nosey care of friends and loved ones actually are good for health IMHO.

I'm not exaggerating: many modern American suburbanites, of whatever ethnicity, end up living virtually isolated, far away from extended family, putting on a facade everywhere (including church) and having to live in constant fear of layoffs, etc. at work. Even the successful ones put up a false front, and never admit when there are problems. I'm sure I'll die closer to when my mom did than my grandmother, not because I wanted to live in this awful place but because we had to live near where one could get work...

Of course, it could just be where I live....

During my lifetime, the Southern Italian family culture of my parents' and grandparents' generation has all but disappeared. My Mom's family and much of my Dad's family lived in buildings and neighborhoods filled with family and extended family. My father's family is heavily intermarried even going back a couple of generations, but it's entirely Jewish-Italian intermarriage. The Jewish family members seemed to get absorbed into the Southern-Italian family culture more than the other way around, perhaps because the acceptance of the intermarriage was often a one-way street in those days.

During my childhood we saw aunts, uncles and cousins several times a week, and they were also part of the vacations of my early childhood. Today, everyone is scattered, intermarried on both sides of the family to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and living lives like much of the rest of America, though cousins keep in touch and there are still some events deliberately designed to bring family together. But it ain't what it used to be.

I think that my exploration of family history entails some measure of mourning for a very different kind of family life that I had as a child. The portrayal of the culture of Roseta in the Maggio documentary is a pretty good representation of the positive side of belonging to a huge family in which everyone matters, and everyone watches out for the others. Cousins were almost like siblings, while aunts uncles and adult cousins were often experienced as additional parents. That family culture has its upsides, but it also has its downsides, particularly when transplanted into a larger culture where it loses some of its more acutely adaptive value.

Perhaps I'll write more on this in a post.

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