Nobody’s home. From my vantage point, that’s too bad!
In a Wall Street Journal article (He says Maine, She says Florida) from March 21, 2011, author Kathleen Hughes explored the topic of retiree relocation, noting that retirees move elsewhere for the following reasons: cost of living (81%); access to preferred health-care programs (66%); cultural/recreational amenities (61%); more favorable climate (60%); community/networking opportunities (54%); being close to children (46%); being close to grandchildren (38%); and being close to parents/in-laws (30%).
If numbers serve as barometers of happiness, these make me sad.
As a child, some of my best memories were spent with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Growing up, they were truly a part of my life. In days gone by, weekends, but always Sundays, were reserved for family time. And the times? Well, they were fun. I especially remember spending Friday nights with my grandparents, where my grandmother would always prepare a special “treat” rarely found at home. Better yet was the occasional bus ride to downtown Detroit in order to view J.L. Hudson’s vast toy selection. Or perhaps, it was just a short walk down the street to the corner Dimestore where a book or stick of candy would serve as a just “reward” for good behavior. Yes, during the 1950s and 60s, neighborhoods were truly neighborhoods; places where one could walk and congregate with others. And smack dab in the middle of them stood parish churches that served as bulwark foundations upon which strong and enduring spiritual and family values could be built.
In those days, entire families lived nearby; so close, in fact, that one neighborhood enclave in Northeast Detroit was not only home to my grandparents, but also to great aunts and uncles, not to mention a smattering of first cousins. On Sundays, we would make the short walks to their homes, along tree-filled streets and boulevards; where excellent food was prepared and served. In the tiny kitchens of those post World War II bungalows, the family would congregate for small talk or birthday celebrations; but really, no special occasion was necessary. And on warm and sunny summer days, those perfectly-manicured backyards served as the backdrop for a special togetherness, where yet more stories, laughs, and food would be shared.
But with the passage of time, some members of the family began to move away from that which was formerly cherished and perhaps under-appreciated; instead seeking the enticement of larger homes in new and growing suburbs. And as they did so, the short walks around the corner grew into multi-mile marathons. Weekly Sunday family gatherings began to give way to monthly, and in some cases, annual visits. Over time, family bonds that at one time seemed unbreakable began to not only weaken, but to unravel altogether. No longer could one count upon the regular presence of a grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, or cousin.
And in my waxing over the past, I suppose you’re thinking. “But deacon, the times have changed. The economy has gone global. People have more options regarding where they call home. Move and get with the times.”
But still, I mourn the passing of such family and relational love; and in particular, the reality that so many of today’s young children will never experience it. And equally sad is that there are many among us who fondly remember those days and wish for their return; perhaps lamenting the very day they made the decision to move away- from the family.
Today, with families scattered to the wind, it is true that we have more vacation options. But in the end, it is equally true that they are not home. On a recent drive down memory lane, I traversed my grandparent’s old neighborhood and drove past those family homes which meant so much during my childhood years. And as I made my way from house to house, it became obvious that although the structures remained, something was different. Nonetheless, the memories flowed and I could still hear the voices and laughter, smell the great food, and feel the love from those blessed family years.
As evening began to set upon the neighborhood, I reminded myself that it was not only time to go, but also time to put aside the memories and return to reality. But before doing so, I felt the urge to knock upon one of those familiar doors with the hope that on the other side family would be waiting with open arms, although fully expecting that reality’s voice would gently remind me that my grandparents and the others who had created those magnificent memories had either passed away or moved on. And then, suddenly, I heard a soft voice say…
Nobody’s home- they no longer live here.