To get to the farm where we once lived, you pass rolling pastures and cornfields with thickets of forests in between. A good school bus ride away from Carbondale, Illinois, off Boskydell Road, the old homestead lay at the end of a gravel side-road, which, in the 1960s, was still covered in ‘clinkers,’ the slag from coal stoves, a residue of the technology that once thrived in this area.
That was then, when the famous freelance photographer Declan Haun came to photograph our family for the Saturday Evening Post’s special “Love in America” issue, Dec. 1966/January 1967. He pictured our mother taking us for horsie rides in the paddock, feeding us eggs n’ ham breakfasts on the porch, and hoisting us up trees. We lived in a big Victorian farmhouse with a barn, horses, sheep and dogs. With its wrap-around porch, and its fields and forests, it couldn’t have been a more idyllic playground for the six of us kids, toddlers to teenagers, in our big happy family.
This is now, more than forty years later, and we’re a much bigger family, having tripled to 18, not counting our parents, in-laws, or dozens of cousins. We’ve sprawled far from the winding road, past shadowed woods and sunlit fields, where we once cantered our horses and learned to ride in fox hunts.
Like many American families, we’re scattered across the country– in our case, from Illinois to Washington State, to Florida, to Georgia, to Massachusetts, to Louisiana. The face of our families, and the love we express, has itself also spun off in many directions from the tight-knit nuclear family, and the Roman Catholic traditions in which we were raised. Instead of raising many children, as our parents did, and as their brothers and sisters did (six, mushrooming to a blended family of 10 on one side; three on the other), our families are much smaller. Two of us are raising families with one child. Our extended clan of siblings now includes one same-sex union with a marriage certificate from British Columbia, two bicultural families with Catholic and Jewish traditions, and one family with a biracial adopted child. For two of us siblings, the “children” in the family have fur and whiskers.
Reunions do happen, and have happened often more than once a year for significant birthdays, but they are so hard to make happen sometimes, they almost have to occur like spontaneous combustion in response to an emergency, like when our mother fell and broke her hip and it required all hands on deck. We’re so spread out across America that it’s difficult to even schedule toll-free conference calls between all the time zones, soccer practices, and basketball games of various kids, and timetables of busy parents and their aunts and uncles on various coasts.
Forty years later, despite the many obstacles of time and geographic space, we somehow find a way to get together, still united by our love for each other and by common artistic and creative pursuits threaded through our lives.
As a family, we’re still in constant touch. We try to share our talents, whether it’s suggesting fundraising proposals, story ideas, leads on public arts commissions or new client and marketing possibilities. Among us, we represent many different professions and walks of life, but we continue to carry on our parents’ love of art, music and literature.
Venture through the gate to our old farm, down the dirt driveway to the big white Victorian farmhouse where we once lived, and you’ll find ghosts of Christmas past, and old memories. But where the path once ended is where the journey begins anew, where the six kids are now raising a new generation, of children, students, readers, writers, and artists, and 21st century “love families.”