I just finished listening to WILD by Cheryl Strayed. This was my second attempt and came about because I decided to tackle Oprah's Book List. I think that I was in a better place to hear it.
While I felt and heard many things while listening to it, one realization struck me. Every family has that family member who is essentially the glue. In ours, it was my paternal grandfather, who died rather suddenly, and by that I mean quickly, of cancer. He was a longshoreman his entire life and he and my grandmother were hard drinkers. This had interesting effects on their children (my mom and her siblings), but what I remember is that he was always in the midst of things, always inciting others, and always hosting holiday or other gatherings that included a wide extended network of friends and acquaintances.
My memories include picking strawberries with my mom, my sister, my aunt and my two much younger cousins. He just came by in his Cadillac and drove us all off for the day. We picked 90 lbs. alto her and had jam for years. He had friends with a small house at Long Beach and we'd pack up and use it for a long weekend. The adults would go oyster picking or clam digging and the kids would dig for steamer clams. He'd pit cook a sturgeon for a barbeque. He picked wild blackberries for my grandmother to make preserves. He was very social even after he stopped drinking, but that caused a lot of problems between him and my grandmother who didn't quit.
After he died, holiday celebrations limped along until my grandmother died a few years ago. Now, Mom's siblings have their spouse's families, their kids and grandchildren and we all rarely interact spontaneously. My mom, my sister and i live largely separate lives from the north to south ends of the I5 corridor. I see my mom's siblings occasionally, rarely see my cousins and have completely lost touch with what remains of my dad's side of the family.