My Great Aunt Vesta died on Friday. I suppose for most people, their “great” relatives, other than perhaps a Great-Grandmother, but I have had the good fortune to have “great” relatives in abundance in my life. Vesta was the last of my given name line. I still have a Great Uncle in Pennsylvania on my Grandmother’s side, and two Great Aunts on my mother’s side. But for me, Aunt Vesta’s death means a great deal more than just the loss of a loved one. In some ways its the loss of an ideal for me.
Great Grandmother Sevilla died in the early 1930′s (I haven’t been able to find actual death year for her.) The story is that she died of Scarlet Fever, but again, I haven’t been able to confirm that either. Great Grandpa Edward, at that point in time, couldn’t take care of the 4 children, and so they were spread out into foster homes throughout the area. Vesta, Joe, and Edith all ended up in Virginia, and my Grandfather and his sister Francis were sent to Frederick. Pap was under the care of Mom Houff, who I would consider my Great Grandmother for many years, until I learned the story. After he returned from World War 2, Pap ended up tracking down his brothers and sisters, and they remained close. They would each come to visit each other regularly, and I can remember a trip down to visit Uncle Joe and Aunt June in Charlottesville, Aunt Vesta and Uncle George in Timberville, and Edith in West Virginia. Mom Houff and her son Sonny would come visit the house regularly- and I can remember hanging out in Sonny’s van because it had a sink and shag carpeting in it. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Vesta, George, Joe and June would be up to my grandparents house several times throughout the summer. Aunt June taught me how to tie shoelaces. Aunt Vesta called me “Pepper pot” and “Motor mouth.” Uncle Joe could always make me laugh, and sadly, I can’t quite remember how. But this was family. We sat around tables and had meals together, we sat on the porch and relaxed, we had butcherings, and random Saturdays of just being with each other and that was amazing.
After my Grandmother died, that all ceased, really. Other relatives were getting sick and couldn’t make the trip anymore, Mom Houff went into a nursing home; we stopped the annual butcherings, and things changed. Family stopped being family. We had the “obligatory” Christmas visits with my Uncle David (in a hospital for invalids- which is another story entirely.), Pap was still close, but the rest of the family we didn’t really see. There was the annual Christmas Party on my mom’s side, but even that faded into a glimmer of what it once was. Family then became just my neighbors. The people who lived around my parents. I can tell you as a fact I know less about my Aunts and Uncles than I do about my new neighbors where I live now. And that’s a damn shame.
And so we move on, and we make our own families. We choose people in our lives who fill that role of family. And I do love my chosen family, but as life goes on, we grow more distant in miles, even if we dont’ grow distant in heart. Life moves everyone in different directions, and soon we’re all keeping up with each other by holiday cards and facebook postings. How do you build connections from those? How do you have a sense of how someone’s doing, or feeling, or how their life really is if you aren’t talking to them regularly, or visiting with them?
I suppose that’s really the question I’m wondering- how in the digital age are we supposed to truly connect with people? I can empathize, and I can smile and laugh along or cry along to words on the page, but that doesn’t allow me to physically hug the person. I don’t hear the pain in their voice, or the happiness. We are connected, but there’s no connection. How do we connect?
I see friends having big get togethers with their families for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I admit to being a little jealous. I miss the times when the kitchen table was overflowing with foods, seats, laughter, and love. I want that. I want my house to be full of those things. I want my house to be where people come to spend the weekend and enjoy the company, or go antiquing, or just sit on the patio and relax. I want that family again. I want the connections. Now I suppose its time to figure out how to have that again.