Monday, April 27, 2015

Six generations of connection: Kissin’ cousins and families of choice

As summed up on Wikipedia, "Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of 'a friend of a friend' statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. It was originally set out by Frigyes Karinthy in 1929 and popularized by a 1990 play written by John Guare." As my NYC cousin-in-law noted in a spontaneous email exchange that included me and other Dallas relations, there were only two degrees of separation among the eclectic group copied – through a 1959 movie production of all things! Information and communication technologies (ICT) sure have changed the way we live, work, play – and, hopefully, still think independently.
Terrell Family Reunion 2015
That asynchronous conversation happened just a few days before six generations met up for an equally spontaneous family reunion that took place in a 1957 barn (updated) in the little Texas town where my Mom and her first cousins 'grew up' essentially. There are many ties to Terrell still, just as most of my grandfather's side of the family has called the Dallas area 'home' for over four generations now. My who-knows-how-many-times-removed cousin (who had retired to a less humid climate) decided to attend a class reunion in Texas so we piggy-backed on that trip to uphold the time-honored tradition of our family reunions. Even with cousins jet-setting down/up/over for the day, time continues to accelerate the 'gaps' between these casual 'at-home' events in this ICT-enabled world. The last such gathering I could recall my parents' hosting was in June 1989 – almost 26 years ago! This 2015 reunion was a first for a couple of generations of cousins who met for the first time as the sun set on a perfect spring day in central east Texas.
Terrell Family Reunion 1989
As 21st century Internet pioneers, of course, we're always 'connected' via social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In fact, using a smartphone, one of the top-level matriarchs pulled together the email addresses used to send out the evite last month! 
Shootin' the breeze before BBQ
I watched their family cabin being built in Colorado using a smartphone at my cabin in Colorado a few summers ago...  and yet – just a few days ago – there was something even more magical about shootin' the breeze there in the breezeway of their barn that evening as the cattle enjoyed the fresh annual greens all around. It's taken me nearly 15 years to figure out how to leverage the advantages of teaching online to balance out the extra toll that a distance role demands. I am happy to let technology do what it can do so that I can do the things that I want to do – like unplugging with friends and family. (Granted it was great that my other cousin piped those iTunes on her smartphone through her daughter's wireless speaker after the sun had gone down!)

A perfect spring evening in Texas
I do wish I'd paid more attention to the stories told at those earlier reunions, but I was just a city kid back then: ecstatically happy to be free in 'the country' and totally overwhelmed with the reality of our instantly expanded clan. Now I find myself helping to identify folks in family photos from all sorts of events... it's a blast from the past no doubt and somehow slows the rapid passage of time as I reflect on those equally good times. Admittedly, it was a startling trauma when I learned that most of the folks I'd grown up calling 'aunt' or 'uncle' were not really related in any way – other than being within six degrees of my parents. Those were the days when kids called their mothers 'Mom' and their fathers 'Dad' – and, out of respect, all other close adults were addressed as 'Aunt so-and-so' or 'Uncle so-and-so' appropriately. They'll always be 'kissing cousins' (a 1964 movie and defined by Webster as "a person and especially a relative who you know well enough to kiss in a formal way when you meet") to us!

I don't even try to figure out cousins... I will continue the tradition of calling them all 'kissing cousins' since I can't sort it out even with my Dad's extensive and well-organized genealogical research at hand. The nice thing about that is that various 'clans' can be easily extended with new members of our own 'families of choice'. Given the ubiquity of ICT and relative ease of travel, I've developed personal 'shared interest' groups – often extensions of familial links – that are enriched with the views of my close friends who are just as eager to merge their histories and traditions with mine. These connections transcend time and space – and in some way offer 'a sense of community' via virtual reunions as project activities progress. Working online affords me the luxury of coordinating my calendar around local events so that the face-to-face bonds continue to strengthen individual relationships. As John Muir said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." I like that notion, especially regarding kindred spirits!
Terrell Family Reunion 1920s
As the taglines of the 'family' photos evolve – as a result of good living – I am eager to capture and preserve some of the more memorable views of our shared past, the visual legacy recorded by box cameras, Polaroids, manual SLRs, and yes, even smartphones! The Colorado cabin to which I aspire to retire has more windows than wall space so those miles of photos are being uploaded to the cloud! Since other 'executors' may be in the same state, I’m hoping to use shared albums on Picassa to 'crowdsource' the tagging and descriptions; these can also be stored locally(The originals are going into archival sleeves in notebooks for reference and I'll use the frames for my sampler projects.) The really happy ending of this story is that I and my 'cousins' can enjoy on-demand 'home movies' of the collections – anytime, anywhere – a very good use of today’s new technology I think.


  1. I just need a good scanner and time. LOTS of time... ;)

    1. I hear you - loud and clear! Same here... got the scanner... working on the time!