It's St. Patrick's week, and I find myself thinking of my great-grandparents. Back in the 1800s, when they took a boat from County Mayo in Ireland to Pennsylvania, they also took quite a chance. They risked their lives to make a better one for their children and grandchildren.
When they first arrived, my ancestors settled near Scranton with other Irish Catholics. They married amongst themselves and had lots of kids. Cousins grew up next door to other cousins and extended family members were each other's best friends.
My grandparents and their siblings were a strong, tight-knit, loving brood. They worked hard in jobs that required little, if any, formal schooling. Yet these wonderful people provided for their families, went to church each week and enjoyed their lives. Together.
The next generation married more of the same, but my parents, aunts and uncles didn't have as many children. They were able to go to college and get good jobs. A few moved out of town or out of state. Some came back, but others did not.
The following generation is my own, and we married a whole lot of everything.
I was the first to stray, snagging a Jewish guy, and then bringing two sons with a blend of Irish and Hebrew traits into the family. Siblings married those of Polish and Italian descent, but at least they were still Catholic. Other relatives completely branched out — of the closet in some cases — and committed themselves to Hispanic, Persian, agnostic, Muslim and gay partners.
Family reunions now look like a UN meeting, with more piercings.
More of us went to college and a majority earned advanced degrees. We make pretty good money, which allows us to invest, buy retail, fly across country for rock concerts and eat organic strawberries.
Talking to my mother one day, I mentioned how our family is much stronger now because we are educated and diverse. We know more about the world and ourselves. Mom remembers growing up with people who would do anything for one another. They were poor, but they knew what was important. Everyone attended each other's plays, recitals, first holy communions, weddings and funerals.
You didn't call 911. You called Aunt Nora down the street.
"My mother and her sisters, the whole family really, was plenty strong," she said.
She's right. Is something lost when we blend into a larger melting pot? I cannot deny that my generation isn't as close as the previous ones. We are scattered all over the country; hardly anyone stayed in Scranton. We don't vacation or spend weekends together. We are lucky to hang out once a year.
And yet, we have gained more than we've lost. My generation isn't just a disconnected diaspora with only bloodlines in common. We have had more advantages and, to our credit, seized them. What's wonderful is that we stay in touch and remained connected through texting, Twitter and Facebook. We don't have to be in each other's lives, yet we want to be, which makes our bond just as real as if we lived next door to each other.
Our Irish story is similar to that of other descendants of ethnic immigrants. Future generations generally have fewer kids, get all kinds of smart, and not only travel the world, but change it.
Perhaps comparing generations is unfair. Both have their own sets of strengths. Our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents laid a strong foundation and gave us roots that allowed us to become successful. What a shame if we hadn't taken the opportunities they made sure we had.
I'd like to think my ancestors are proud of us. We're their legacy, after all — every one of us.