I empathize with Richard Eisel’s lament in “An Honest Family Newsletter“, and laughed at his alternative version. I too have cringed at the tone of ‘Aren’t We Wonderful?’ press releases.
But here is another perspective. What if six out of seven members of a family live abroad in four different time zones? My family is Out of Sight, in every sense. My five sons, originally from England, live in Cambridge UK, Tipperary Ireland, Harrisonburg VA (me too), Phoenix Arizona and on the Gold Coast in Australia. Not one of my dozen grandchildren has an English accent. Christmases come and go and we seldom see each other due to the expense of air travel. We didn’t see the Australian contingent for five years except on Skype, until we had a family reunion in Arizona last year, and two years sometimes pass between my Irish visits. We could easily lose touch and miss the children growing up, not know what‘s happening in each other’s lives. Perhaps you can surmise what a powerful urge a bereft old hen has to hold her chicks together.
In 2005 when I moved to Virginia to live near one little family, I started the Dight Times to keep us all in touch. It was the first time I’d printed two columns on a page: four pages, no pictures. I soon bought Publisher and learned to use a digital camera. The family sent me pictures of their little ones, 10 children under ten. Small kids are always photogenic. We shared news of our hobbies (beekeeping, metal detecting and gardening in UK, epee fencing and horse riding in Ireland, breeding canaries, kayaking, off road cycling, aikido and dancing in the USA, swimming and wildlife in Australia and so on). We had horticultural competitions for the children to grow the tallest sunflower (7 ft in VA), or the best vegetable (a green pepper in a glasshouse in Ireland). Although they didn’t meet, at least the children knew each other by sight in their photographs. We shared local scenes snapped on camera phones: the Arizona desert, the verdant Shenandoah Valley, Australia’s spectacular beaches, Cambridge’s ancient spires and the beautiful Dingle Peninsula.
We became familiar with each other’s climates: while we shivered in the snow in Virginia, the Australian contingent frolicked on the Gold Coast’s beaches. In Arizona they were air conditioned, while in Virginia and Europe we needed central heating.
At first few of the children could read. The little ones dictated copy to their fathers: “He gave his tools to me, and they are blue,” began four year old Sam in Ireland, lyrically, after his father gave him his old kid’s tool set. “They are not dangerous, I can play with them and fix stuff… I have a hammer and a screw driver and I have nails and they come in a square box and I like them. My favourite food is stuffing and ice creams but not together. The End.” I printed their own writings verbatim, spelling mistakes and all, so in future they can look back and see their progress. The children were sometimes ‘student of the week’, beaming above a chest hugged certificate, or they learned to swim, made their first Communion, broke an arm, won a story writing competition, got born, nearly died, had their tonsils out, had balloons and birthday parties, got into soccer teams, rode the desert on their mountain bikes, went camping, fishing, canoeing and generally created photo opportunities in the process. New jobs, house moves and new contact details were circulated. We shared lists of Tips for Moving House, and a Holiday Packing List (works every time). The children’s stories and sketches are included; school concerts and Halloween costumes in every country. One January we all saw pictures of our families at Christmas dinner so we could at least share the memory, if we couldn’t taste each other’s turkey.
The Dight Times grew in volume. Four pages eventually became 18 or 20. I added educational pieces for the children, like scientific discoveries, pictures from the Hubble telescope, historical pictures of London, a feature on the Easter Island statues which are not just heads, they have bodies under all that volcanic ash and we have photos to prove it. My English daughter in law recently ran the Paris Marathon and wrote an illustrated account of that. There are famous quotations of wit and wisdom.
The Olympic torch will be carried by Roger Bannister in his eighties, for a lap at the racetrack where he was the first to run a mile in under four minutes in 1954, and I remember it. Nik Wallender just walked across the Niagara Falls and there’s a piece on the history of that feat. My Like the Dew article on the Jubilee, “I Watched the Queen Go By,” is in the current issue; the Olympic Games will be in the next, so their growing up is related to current events which they can read about later. And of course there are always recipes and jokes. I put the first fifty issues onto CD and circulated it to the family one Christmas. I’ve just published Issue 75. I used to print and post it abroad, but as friends and relations joined the mailing list (only at their request) it became expensive. It’s now emailed every month. Recipients have the option to groan-and-delete, but so far I don’t think so.
I miss my precious grandchildren, but it would have been even harder without the Dight Times, which helps to shrink the world. What started as a modest newsletter has become Family History Recorded as it Happens. I have a row of box files containing Issues 1 to 75. An unexpected bonus was that the material I’d gathered came in handy when I wrote my recently published memoir, Plate Spinner.
If you would like to see the July issue of Dight Times, just click here.