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Feature of the Month: Deeply Rooted by CoCo Mathis


CoCo Mathis

As the holidays quickly approach we often began to reflect on past memories and prepare for upcoming gatherings with family and friends. Over the years I personally have become more aware of the importance of moments spent with family that often went taken for granted. The experience of losing loved ones over the years has brought to light the significant role that certain family members actually play in binding the entire family unit together.I initially began to see a noticeable demise in the strength of my own family bond following the passing of my grandmother. Sundays, birthdays, holidays and card parties were often hosted at her home which was always filled with the southern aromas of fried chicken, collard greens and neck bones. These weren’t just family gatherings attended only by immediate family but distant cousins as well as new friends and old who for all intents and purposes had become family throughout the years would gather at her home for no other reason than to spend time together and celebrate life as a family.

The walls echoed the familiar noises of kids playing, music blaring, sports fans cheering and debating over that day’s game, stories being shared, reminiscing about years gone by and the sweet bellowing outbursts of laughter from voices which were undoubtedly recognizable. However, immediately following my grandmother’s death those gatherings noticeably ceased. Family members went their separate ways and for a while days that I thought would always exist turned into rather rare and sometimes tense occurrences. I soon realized that I was not the only one who noticed. After losing my grandmother, my father, who always enjoyed a gathering eventually took on the role of host extraordinaire and family chef. He often would open the doors of his home to everyone he knew to come break bread, celebrate just about any occasion and fellowship. Although the gatherings were a bit different than those of past years still it was an opportunity to gather with family.

In the wake of his death a few years ago those gatherings once again ceased. What once seemed like all too often weekly gatherings quickly turned into holiday gatherings which then became random gatherings. If you came, great, and if you didn’t show up, so what. No one seemed to really care. Simple phone calls began to turn into distant text messages. Sundays and holidays no longer felt the same – it was as if they had been silenced by our loss. Clearly, the silence was heard not only by me but also by my younger sister. Like myself my sister (Allison) also recognized the void and how the bond had been broken in our family due to our losses.

After she graduated from college a few years ago and returned home we determined that we were lacking much needed family time. We initially started out hosting an occasional family game night. Where we’d gather on a Friday or Saturday night at a family member’s home and play board games, eat junk food, and spend time laughing and catching up on the latest happenings in everyone’s lives. Those events were a blast but I think for both of us they still lacked the intimacy and the traditions we both desired. Soon she suggested that we revive the “Sunday Dinner” in our family. Although everyone’s lives seem to be more mobile these days, regardless of being scattered across globe, busy work schedules, school, and travel whenever we are in the same general area, we now put forth a conscious effort to make family a priority. If conflicts arise and even if it means celebrating a holiday early just so we can be together we make it happen. Sunday Dinner for us consists of a bit of a pot luck gathering at a chosen home with everyone preparing a dish to accompany our typically traditional southern recipe infused comfort meal menu of the week. These meals not only provide us with an abundance of unneeded (but oh sooooo tasty) calories, but more importantly, a sense of belonging that is provided by the tradition of sharing food with loved ones. We chose the next date and host home and set and assign menu selections each week before we depart. Our Sunday dinners are now looked forward to by the adults, my children, the pets, my children’s friends and even in-laws who often travel from out of town to be a part of the few memorable hours that we put everything else aside to all gather in the kitchen, around the dinner table and in front of the flat screen to share and bond as a family.


Alex Haley once said, “In every conceivable manner, the family is the link to our past, and bridge to our future.” Although, there is a significant age difference in my sister and I, one of the common values we now realize that we share is the importance of family. This value I believe was rooted in us initially growing up attending those gatherings at grandma’s house. In recent chats with my sister we have shared with each other just how important those traditions are to both of us; for me as a single parent of two children and for her and her husband as they build their family. We both feel that developing strong extended family relationships such as the ones we experienced growing up can have a major impact on a child. Relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins provide kids with a needed sense of identity, emotional support and physical support. Children gain exposure to different interests other than just those shared by their parents and they learn through spending invaluable time with a grandmother who enjoys cooking, an aunt who loves to travel, an uncle who grew up hunting or a cousin who spends time gardening.

As my daughter embarks on her teenage years being able to share her thoughts, ideas and concerns with someone she trusts other than me is priceless. Currently growing up in a house full of women our family gatherings provide my son an opportunity to be around positive male role models and to experience firsthand some of the roles that men play in our family. These are priceless opportunities to share values, learn lessons and teach them communication in an age where a text message is often considered as an acceptable form of conversation.

And, let’s be honest, it’s a time for the women to gossip, chat about the latest celebrity news, the hottest fashions, or receive loving advice or encouragement on an issue they might be experiencing. These moments provide us a needed opportunity to be grateful, to mark milestones, to toast accomplishments, to laugh at corny jokes, to learn the latest dance moves, to plan much needed vacations, to discuss our dreams and share our burdens. Sunday Dinner ultimately allows us to stay connected.

I encourage you all to LiveLifeWell and most of all live in the moment. If there are old hatchets that need to buried or if the hustle and bustle of everyday life has simply hindered your ability to spend time with those you love on a regular basis consider the approaching holiday season as the perfect opportunity to revisit your roots and possibly kindle a spark which might be the start of a new family tradition for you and your loved ones. Reach out to those you haven’t touched base with recently, create traditions for your children and, bottom line. make family a priority. Don’t look back one day with regrets of not having spent time with those who are dear to you and remember “Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs…”

 

I couldn’t agree more with what my big sister has to say about the importance of gathering as a family. Sunday dinner is our way to get together, break bread, and spend time together each week. How do you and your loved ones gather to make family time a priority?

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