Recalling the comfort of having family right next door

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, 8:59 p.m.

I was going to meander in another direction this week, and then my daughter Shana surprised me with a birthday greeting in this newspaper and it sent me flowing in another direction. (I was touched, some water actual did flow.)

So it is with meandering. The direction easily changes.

Shana's words touched me deeply. One thing that jumped out at me was her claim that sometimes my columns acquaint her with family members who were not around after she was born.

I wonder if she knows that her maternal great-grandfather's funeral was held in the living room of the house in which I grew up. Of course, that event was before my arrival, but my sister and mother told about it.

Shana took me back to that “different time,” the way we lived when I was a boy and how things have changed. Perhaps, dear reader, it will strike some chords with you as you think about our family life.

Most of us seem to agree that our lifestyles – and mainly our workaday lives – have broken up the nutshell of the family apart. (And yes, there are sometimes some nuts in that shell.)

In my boyhood home, Mom, Dad and I lived with my Mom's mother on the first floor with our bedrooms on the third (redone from an attic) my sister had married and moved when I was still in short pants (does that analogy date me?)

Uncle Bob, Aunt Betty and daughter Barbara lived on the second floor.

Next door on one side lived Aunt Gracie and Uncle Ray; on the other side lived Aunt Florence and Uncle Fred and sons Fred and Gary, and across a dead-end side street was yet another house with Aunt Jane, Uncle Jim and sons Jim and Bobby.

We were “close.” Every morning, either both Jane and Flo would join Grandma (Nana to me) and Mom in our breakfast room, drink coffee and talk. It was just words to me, but the tones were soothing to a kid.

The cousins stood as examples to me and the aunts were additional mothers. Jane taught me to tie my shoes, and sometimes spoke up in my behalf if Mom was disciplining me for some reason or another.

“Oh, Mary. he is just a boy,” I can hear her saying.

I could hardly go outside without at some point seeing one of my relatives, but there were also “near-relatives” like Kitty and Coleman who lived in a second-floor apartment next door. Kitty was like another aunt and her husband Coleman like an uncle and I miss them today as if they had been.

That is the way neighborhoods used to be. If you were a neighbor then you were family. I am grateful for the neighbors I have today because of that upbringing.

Our son, two daughters, son-in-law and four granddaughters now all live in Bellevue just outside Pittsburgh in the Ohio River Valley. They live just blocks away from one another, not exactly next door but I take comfort in the fact that there is that connection.

Really, it is that ability to quickly connect that is important. I am not much of an adept when it comes to social media, but I appreciate its value in keeping such connections alive when we are unable to see on another.

Yet I shall always miss the face-to-face that proximity provides to families.

As a young reporter covering the relocations of families in the East Street Valley of Pittsburgh in preparation for the building of what is now called the Parkway North I felt the pain of those families forced to move away from the neighborhood, sometimes breaking up family units such as mine had been.

I envision a time when, as everything old becomes new again, that Americans will find ways to bring families and neighbors together for lives shared as much with a glance and a fond embrace as with a Tweet.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with news editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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