My family has lived in New York for generations (Bronx and Manhattan origins for all branches), but as the decades have passed, you can see the demographic trends of the country writ small in our family, with migration towards the south and west. As we drove down the east coast we managed to visit many of them, though once again not all. (And I’m afraid I can’t add any old photos to this post, as I had to move all family photos off my computer to make more room, and then forgot the flash drive in Seattle.)
The first southern relative we saw was my cousin Alice, who lives in the Virginia suburbs of DC with her husband Gary. When we were young we only got to see Alice and her siblings every couple of years, as my Uncle Bill was attached to the Foreign Service in places such as South Africa and Mexico. This was in the days before simple and cheap international flights – I actually remember seeing them off on an ocean liner as they left the US once. HIs last assignment was in Washington, so they settled in Falls Church, and both Alice and my cousin Bill have stayed in the DC area.
Alice and Gary live in McLean, but we didn’t get to see their house, as it is up a steep driveway, (and after our experience in my brother’s new gravel driveway in NY, we decide to play it safe.) So Alice and Gary met us (along with Bob and Susan) for lunch in DC and we had a good time catching up. Gary works in the finance field, with another one of those jobs I can’t quite understand. We don’t get to see them very often, but it’s always fun – they have boundless energy and enthusiasm, and the conversation is always wide-ranging and engaging. We’re trying to convince them to come visit us agin on the west coast soon.
My cousin Kathie lives in Raleigh, where her branch of the family moved in the 70s. At that point, it was so unusual for New Yorkers to move to the south that when my Aunt Marge walked into a store and asked for bagels, she was met with a blank look. Kathie seemed to adapt well as a teenage transplant, and was the only one of her siblings to pick up up a southern accent immediately. Kathie started her career out as a speech therapist, and has evolved more in to social service program management at this stage. She raised three kids, all grown and off on their own now, and is also now a grandmother, with twin baby grandchildren. Her daughter Jennifer, who works as a city planner, came over for dinner when we passed through, and we discussed our experiences of sitting on opposite sides of the table in project planning meetings.
We also got to hang out with Kathie’s partner Chris, who teaches management at NC State, and we had an excellent conversation about the state of academia in different places. As in every other conversation I’ve had with an academic on this trip, my suspicion that higher ed in this country is becoming a strange and dysfunctional world was borne out. It’s not that our individual campuses or departments have issues, it’s that academia (especially public institutions) as a whole is going through a transition period (marked by reduced funding, the explosion of management, the shifting of costs onto students, etc.), the end state of which is unclear. After Greta went to bed we all sat around taking about the general state of affairs, three middle-aged people with enough experience in the world to now understand how things work, and also enough experience to understand how difficult it is to change any large institutions.
The next night we stayed with Kathie’s sister Marirose and her husband Steve (who took off on a trip the next morning before I could grab a photo). Marirose has another one of the jobs I can’t understand, but at least this time it’s not because it’s in an arcane area of finance. Her work seems to involve human resources, and leadership, and training and networking, and I think she knows everybody in Raleigh. (One of my high school friends moved there a few years ago and immediately met Marirose at a reception.) My mind works in very concrete ways (why I became an architect), and Kathie told me that their father could never really figure out what Marirose did either; he was in HVAC, another member of the concrete-minded side of the family. Steve is an engineer, so his work I get.
Marirose and Steve raised three kids too, with the youngest still in school at NC State, it’s astounding to me that my littlest cousin is also a grandmother. Her daughter Caitlin came over for dinner with her four-year-old son Chase, whom Greta declared to be the most delightful child she had met on the whole trip (Greta is an astute judge of small children and dogs). We had a great time eating, drinking, playing, telling old stories, and catching up on the various goings-on in our extended families.
Our next family stop was with my sister Laurie and her husband Jeff in Estero, Florida. Laurie is my youngest sister, seven years older than me, so she and our sister Sue were effectively responsible for a lot of my upbringing. I was always hanging around them, listening to their music (they had much better taste than my brother) and yacking, and and they never seemed to mind. They were a huge influence on me and how I see the world. Greta and I sometimes discuss how much ideas about how women should live have changed in the past half century – she has always taken it for granted that she can do whatever the boys can, and is amazed that it was ever different (a viewport I’ve always shared). I tell her that my views were probably shaped by having three smart, forceful sisters, who always figured out what they wanted to do and moved ahead in that direction.
Laurie worked at a variety of jobs while living in New York, going to school and raising her son Justin (previously seen in the northern family post). Eventually she moved out to the Philadelphia Main Line to be near our sister Sue, and after a few years she met Jeff, a madman stockbroker with three kids, and who had hobbies like hot air ballooning and racing his Corvette on the middle-aged guy stock car circuit. They got married and later ended up working together, starting and running a brokerage firm and a mutual fund company. (Financial type jobs where I actually do understand what they do.) Laurie has always loved the ocean, so over the years they spent a lot of time in their summer house on the Outer Banks, before deciding to move their winter base to the Gulf Coast.
Laurie has recently joined my sister Pat and brother Jerry in retirement (so I’m the last one working to pay all their Social Security benefits). They now spend most of their time in Florida, but head north to Pennsylvania frequently to see their kids and grandkids, (as Laurie has always been about the most engaged grandmother I know). We had a good time staying with them, and Linda and Jeff got to once again commiserate about what it’s like being a quiet person married to a Keyes who never seems to stop talking.
While Linda was traveling with us in Florida, we switched gears from my family to go visit her sister Paula, who is living most of the time in St. Petersburg at this point. Paula had a long career working for Yum (Pizza Hut, KFC, etc.) in various places around the country. When her son Ben was out of the house and off at school, she moved to Shanghai to work for six years, often taking her vacations in other amazing places around the globe. After returning to Louisville she left Yum, but has more recently signed on as a consultant with Bloomin’ Brands, helping them figure out how to internationalize some of their restaurant lines (such as Outback). They’re based in Tampa, so she’s rented an apartment nearby in St. Petersburg (the most bizarrely laid-out one-bedroom apartment I’ve ever seen. I hope none of our grads worked on it.) We visited her there, dragging her away from the office briefly to experience the St. Petersburg nightlife. The next day we met her for lunch, then we hit the road again while she went back to work.
We returned to south Florida to spent more time with my stepmother Gina, who was living in the home she shared with my dad until his death in 2014 (six months after this photo was taken). Gina grew up in Liverpool, and when she was three, she was evacuated with her siblings to a small town in Wales the day after the British entered WWII. They lived on a farm in this town for a few years until the risk was deemed less and they returned to Liverpool. (I happened to be traveling in England in 1989, and met up with Gina and my dad, and we went down with her surviving brother and two sisters to see the town on the fiftieth anniversary of the day they arrived. Some people there actually remembered them.) Gina then grew up in Liverpool (didn’t know the Beatles), and after working as a seamstress decided to try something new. She moved to the US in the 60s, and eventually ended up in New York, working as a secretary at Associated Dry Goods, where her boss was a client of my dad’s. After my parents got divorced, my dad sent Gina a letter asking if she’d like to go on a date (he didn’t feel right putting her on the spot while at work) and that was that.
They had a happy marriage for over 40 years, living on the Hudson River in South Nyack, and later buying a condo in Naples. Gina went back to school and got her bachelor’s degree in the 80s. They travelled together a lot, sometimes related to my dad’s work running his engineering firm, but then a lot more when they retired. They split their time between the northeast and Florida, but about ten years ago, when my dad was in his 80s, they decided that summers in Florida weren’t a lot worse than the northeast, so they just stayed down south. We visited them in Florida every Christmas after that, which was always a week of eating and talking and walking on the beach.
After a year and a half of living alone, Gina agreed with my sister that maybe she should move on, so they made plans for her to move into an assisted living facility. It’s in the same development as their condo, so Gina will still be near all her friends, and can still participate in all her normal activities, like her exercise class and bridge club. My sister has put her financial and organizational expertise to good use straightening out all of the financial complexities, and we tried to help her sort through papers and books, etc. while we were there. Gina moved into the new place in January. It’s a beautiful building (actually has a better view than the condo), and it seems like a fine place to keep enjoying the good life in Florida.
Leaving Florida we we left all my family behind (mostly they go south but not west), but there’s more of Linda’s family to catch up with in Texas.