Each summer, my family spends a week at Garden City Beach in South Carolina. For the past 40 years, my mother's folks, who live in Thomasville, North Carolina, have rented beach houses there to accommodate all of their kids, grandkids, and now great-grandchildren — 29 people in 2 houses this year. That's 2 80+ folks, their 5 kids, their 5 spouses, 11 grandchildren, 4 spouses/significant others of grandchildren, 1 foster baby, and 1 great-grandchild. In other words, a lot of people, representing Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Vermont.
And that was just in our 2 houses. Most of my father's family was hanging around, too. They still live in Michigan, in the suburbs around Detroit, where I grew up. About 20 years ago, they started making the trek to Garden City whatever week the Doretys would be there. This year, my dad's 3 siblings and their spouses — along with some of their kids and grandkids — showed up. One of his childhood friends from Detroit and his son tagged along, too. On July 4th, we had a party and invited everybody — 45 people in all.
This is a diverse crowd — Southerners, Northerners, white collar, blue collar, straight, gay, Southern Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Unitarian, flag wavers, environmentalists, soccer moms, autoworkers, latte sippers and Bud Lite drinkers all under one roof. And we had a great time.
As usual, I used the opportunity to take the pulse of our great nation. Here's what I found:
• Even conservatives have soured on the war in Iraq. Though many in my family (on both sides) can be loosely described as "socially liberal," nearly all of them voted for Bush in the last election. I try not to talk politics with them when we see each other, but they often insist. This time, when they got going, I asked about the war. All of them — from my crusty old grandfather to my uncle the autoworker — think it was a mistake. They're sharply critical of George W. Bush for leading us into this war. My step-cousin says her best friend's husband just came back, and he's a mental wreck after having to shoot at gun-toting kids.
• The adults are terrified of outsourcing. The Michigan contingent is especially fearful. My uncle Ken told what sounded like a preposterous story about outsourcing at McDonald's. He said they want to route the orders at the drive-through into operators in India, who will then relay the orders to the kitchen in the states, so that customers in their cars will get their orders faster. Not sure how true that is. Bottom line is that they all hate outsourcing, and think it will dramatically decrease the quality of our lives. They think none of the politicians addresses it adequately.
• Southerners aren't as intolerant as Northerners would sometimes think. My Southern Baptist aunt and uncle had a long discussion with me and my partner about a doctor in Winston-Salem who decided to transition from male to female. They were very supportive.
• The kids don't read newspapers, and most of the adults don't pay a lot of attention to the diminishing amount of actual news in newspapers. I picked up the Living Section of the local paper, and it had 5 different advice columns. FIVE! There were 2 stories. The only person who seemed nearly as concerned as me was my grandfather, a former account and fighter pilot, a member of the "greatest generation" who has discovered a taste for books about the "greatest generation." He confided that he's disturbed by media consolidation and downsizing. Finally, common ground!
• All of us are excited about Harry Potter VI, but most of my family will buy the book at Wal-Mart ($16+)rather than at a favorite indy bookstore ($32).
All that polling and such aside, I had a great time. Can't wait to get back again next year.
The picture shows my dad, his friend Gene, my Uncle Ken, and my Uncle Jim — native Detroiters — talking on the 4th of July.