It’s July 1974.
The economy sucks, the Presidency is a cesspool, and old reliables like gasoline and hamburger meat seem to cost twice what they used to just a few years ago.
And in one little microcosm of America — an aging, none-too-large home in southern Connecticut — 19 people are gathered to celebrate one thing that national trends and tribulations cannot weaken:
It’s easy for an amateur historian to overplay people’s awareness of national affairs.
Even though the problems of mid-Seventies America loom large in retrospect, Americans didn’t spend all their time thinking about fuel embargos, or the cost of living, or the sorry state of the Presidency.
They did their jobs and came home and had fun and raised kids and drank beer and went bowling, without using the woes of the republic as a dramatic backdrop for all their activities.
That said, I still like to frame this week’s calendar entry in that greater context.
I find it comforting to think of people turning to family as a worthwhile source of support at a time when they were getting screwed, betrayed, or at least mildly disappointed by many of their social institutions.
I like the post-Independence Day timing of the family reunion, too. The fireworks are over, as is the obligatory hype over the Great American Experiment. What’s left? Blood kin, sharing food and companionship, catching up in person and marveling at how big the kids are getting.
(Oh, yeah: A belated note to my grandpa. “Family & Relative Yard Party” is redundant. Family is relatives. In some faraway place, my grandpa is surely regretting lending his bloodline to a professional editor. What the hell; we couldn’t all be engineers.)
So what became of those 19 people gathered at Hope Street?
– Five of them — both sets of my grandparents, and my great-grandma — are gone now. (“Tom and Eve” were my maternal grandparents.) Remarkably, my Great-Aunt Eleanor is still chugging; she’ll be 102 this week.
– Both of my western Massachusetts cousins, Ron and Bob, are long since divorced from the wives they brought to the party. They’re still around, though, as are Ron’s three kids.
– “El and Joe” are my Aunt Elaine and Uncle Steve, who have appeared in this space any number of times. While my grandpa’s writing style makes it look like Eric and Kurt are their kids, that’s incorrect: They welcomed their first child two years to the day after this yard party.
– Speaking of children, young Kurt (son of Rod and Lynn; brother of Eric) celebrated his first birthday the day before the big yard party. He doesn’t remember much about it now. He’s since gone on to become a blogger of no particular repute, and sort of a general waste of space; but he does his thing.
Hopefully, at least a few of you out there have a family reunion lined up over the Fourth of July break — or if not this week, then sometime this summer.
I hope you enjoy it.
Savor the companionship. Ask to hear plenty of family stories. Have another hamburger. And don’t let the perilous state of the republic get you down.