Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sticking Together as Community, as Family

I spent the day yesterday traveling to attend the funeral of the father of a long-time friend. A trip like this usually becomes a time for thoughts to percolate—and some of those thoughts bubble and splash in a wildly disconnected fashion. The day generated some pretty unexpected recollections.

Something in all that my friend’s family spoke of during the funeral seemed to come back to one observation: how closely connected these people were to each other. All grown—by the time this father celebrated his last holiday gathering with the extended family, it included ten great-grandchildren—these now-adult children still saw their best times as the times when they could gather together.

Recalling that observation on the drive home, my mind jumped to a time from a long-past work experience of my own. At that time—years ago, now—I had some work requirements that, put succinctly in the title of one of the volumes on my bookshelves, involved Influence Without Authority. I had been tasked with an assignment for which I was delegated no authority to beg, borrow, or steal—er, appropriate—the resources I needed. If I weren’t able to cajole my way into success by mobilizing scores of community resources and newly-minted facility volunteers, the project would never get done.

Somehow, the power of networking saved the day—all the way from the TV-news-anchorman husband of a friend who provided local advance reporting of the event-in-the-making to the school-district-champion who called for some favors owing from his friends and mobilized legions of students to complete the multi-generational media-ready heartwarming story.

When that story was unfolding, I called it the power of Community Cohesiveness. Little did I know that “cohesiveness” was a term favored by some sociologists and showcased in their academic studies. All I knew was that it worked.

The key was tapping into a group that knew how to stick together. People who are comfortable with sticking together know about the teamwork that’s necessary to take on big projects. Cohesiveness can be a valuable commodity.

Ever since my apprenticeship-era experience, I’ve thought lots about Community Cohesiveness. I’ve learned to eyeball projects and envision which groups would be vested in the “Get ’er Done” willpower that a specific task would require.

But I’ve never thought about cohesiveness in terms of families. Even though we so often talk about “bonding” when we look at families, I somehow missed that clue. Even though we use the term “nuclear family” to symbolize certain aspects of the modern family, I somehow missed the enormous power inherent in the connection itself between the nucleus and particles making up a real atom.

And yet, some families—if we really step back and observe them—have an unmistakable stickability. I think of that often, for instance, when I observe the invisible glue that has held together the family of Agnes Tully Stevens’ son that I’ve written about so much, my husband’s Uncle Ed. Call it love, call it kitchen table magnetism—call it what you will—there was something that drew those family members together, and kept them together. For better. For worse. Forever.

So now, I guess I have a new way to term that phenomenon. Like the Community Cohesiveness I saw in operation so many years ago, I’m seeing a quality I can now call Family Cohesiveness. Just like I could watch that Community Cohesiveness unfold in various projects I coordinated at work, I can now observe it as I sift through the history of family stories collected in the process of pursuing this genealogy research.

While I can find wisps and nuances of family traits in some branches of all these family lines, there are some lines that feature this Family Cohesiveness as a hallmark of their existence. It is that strong tradition that helps me pick up the trail of family history and follow its track back through time. I certainly benefit from those who knew how to strengthen that Family Cohesiveness—especially those who were able to foster that gift in the face of daunting circumstances. It reminds me, also, to learn from these lessons in my family history, and resolve to apply the best of them to my own circumstances.

While a drive to a funeral is never something to face with anticipation, a pensive drive home afterwards can yield some profitable reflection. While I certainly can’t be glad for the trial this family faced this week in the loss of a loved one, it provided me a valuable reminder to emulate that Family Cohesiveness I saw modeled today, even in the face of hard times like that.

The paintings of Swiss artist Albert Anker: above left,"Die Andacht des Grossvaters" (The Devotion of His Grandfather); below, "Der Grossvater erzählt eine Geschichte" (The Grandfather Tells a Story); courtesy Wikipedia; both works in the public domain.


  1. As the Pennsylvania Dutch (who are actually German "Deutch") say, "Blut ist dicker als Wasser." (Blood is thicker than water)

    I'm sorry to hear of your loss - an atomic, functional, family was torn - and I hope it heals in a healthy way.

    1. Iggy, thank you so much for those wishes...I'm sure my friend's family will heal over that loss as best anyone can, given the circumstances. Families that tend to stick closely together often provide each other just what is needed to get through these inevitable crises.

  2. Thanks for the comments you left. I have the two blogs Letters from Lee and From Grandpa's Filing Cabinet. (I have one at as well.) Isn't it amazing what we find when we start going through things?? I love it so much. Your blog looks great by the way, I look forward to looking through it more thoroughly

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Eowyn! As you can tell, I'm especially partial to saving these family letters by transcribing and posting them online. That's why I so wanted to leave a comment on your blog for Letters From Lee. We are definitely on the same wavelength and I'd love to continue the dialog on this mutual interest.

  3. Jacqi I love this post. I've thought often about the differences in families and how some seem to possess this to a greater degree than others and have often wondered why. I can certainly see in some of my families that I research a different strength and determination to "stick together" and then I have other families that appear to have gone to great lengths to strike out on their own and isolate themselves from other family members. It really makes me wonder what happened or didn't happen to create those differences.

    1. Thank you so much! This is a thought that keeps me wondering, like you, about what it is that makes the difference. I don't know if a formula could be found, but you are right: some people exhibit that strength, and others seem to have missed it entirely. As far as that strength goes, I certainly would want to be one of those who could pass it down to the next generation. What a valuable quality!

  4. Some families "get it" and some just flounder in dysfunction. It is good to hear about the ones that "get it". Funerals are always a time of reflection for me also. A family that is really close will feel a deep sympathy:(


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