In 1955, there were 24 people at the Wintwell house for Thanksgiving. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, Mom and Dad. Most of the guests walked to the house, since they all lived within a couple of blocks of each other. Uncle Fred didn't come; he had settled in Los Angeles after the war. Except for the turkey and the Sunday clothes, it wasn't much different than a normal day at the Wintwell house. Every day was pretty much a family gathering.
Last Thanksgiving, there were eight people at the Wintwells'. No one walked, no one lived within a couple blocks of each other. No one lived within a couple of states of each other. Four of them had to fly in and two had day-long drives.
Fred and Karin flew in from Denver. They spend alternate holidays between families, Thanksgiving at one house, Christmas at another. They have to fly to get to both of them. Sally and Haywood flew in from Chicago. They live in Chicago, but it still takes them almost an hour to get to O'Hare on a good day. On holidays, it's more like two hours. The good news is that most of their flying is free. On almost every holiday flight they book, an announcement is made that if someone will give up their seats, the airline will put them on the very next flight out and give them a free trip to anywhere in the states. They almost always take the offer. Once they took two offers in one day.
None of their kids, the Wintwells' grandchildren, could make it. The kids that grew up in Colorado wanted to go to college in California. The kids that grew up in Chicago wanted to go to New York or Boston. But mostly they want to go to the University of Getting Away From My Parents. Then they take jobs in Getting Away From My Parents' State, then they marry people who are Nothing Like My Parents. Families haven't drifted apart, they've exploded. And the strange thing is, they get their parents to pay for it.
"But you'll be home for Christmas, won't you, darling?"
"No, you'll be paying for me to go to Cancun with my friends or I'll never let you see the grandkids -- when I have them." That's what goes for a tight-knit family now.
There are bars in New York where you can pretend you're back in Chicago, there are bars in L.A. where you can pretend you're back in Colorado. There are bars in every state that cater to people who came there from other states. These places aren't called "Mom's" or "Dad's" or even "Just Like Home." They're modeled after the bars where they hung out before they moved away.
Stan and Barbara were supposed to fly in from Phoenix, but there was a storm in Atlanta so they missed their connecting flight. They turned around and flew back home, then called to say they would never travel on a holiday again and that if they wanted to have such a miserable experience in the future, they'd just go skinny-dipping in a jellyfish tank, thank you very much. But everyone was welcome to come to their house on the holidays from now on.
Alan and Lindy drove from their second home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where they live in the off-season and rent out in the summer.
"That way nobody robs us when we're not there," Lindy volunteered.
"But maybe they're robbing your first house when you're in your second one," Fred said.
"It's in a gated community," Lindy said.
"Is that to keep you in or them out?" Haywood asked.
Gloria Wintwell came in from the kitchen and set a golden-brown turkey on the table.
"Doesn't this look just like a Norman Rockwell painting?" she said.
Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.