There is a lovely feeling that comes from generations of a family who have remained close both in relationship and proximity, who share the same stories, the same memories. In the community where I taught, this was often in evidence with families where siblings lived next door to each other, down the street from their parents, just over the hill from their grandparents, and around the bend from cousins, aunts and uncles. There was no need for a grand trek for Christmas or Thanksgiving for family get-togethers. They didn’t wait for those holidays. It was common for them to be having Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day picnics together. They attend the same school as the rest of the family had, does, or will. There is a security and comfort in that kind of connection.
However, for many people this is not the case. Their families are spread out far and wide. My own family has been spread across the state of Pennsylvania, Florida (spreading north to south), Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, Indiana, California, Oregon, and Washington. Getting everyone together is quite the event. When we finally did last summer, it was because one cousin said that we had passed the season of weddings so it would be good to get together while everyone was vertical. He merely put words to the fact that extended families today often gather only for weddings and funerals. I had never realized that, while I had grown up with some cousins, my sister and brother (younger than I am by 7 and 10 years) had never even met them. The only immediate family I have within a distance to stop by and have dinner together is my son, his wife, and my granddaughter.
There can be a loneliness to being separated and removed from family. It has been my experience that human beings have a need for the kind of close connections that having kin around can afford. It is this need that leads us to create family when we have none near. Over the years we develop friendships that turn into family. We celebrate holidays and birthdays together. We take each other to doctor’s appointments, surgeries, airports, and even to get the car worked on. We gather together to help each other pack up and move. The picture with this post is the group of friends I have who serve that role in each other’s lives. We’ve been friends for over 20 years. In the photo we were dressed in our “Old Farts Moving Company” t-shirts as we, for the second but not the last time, jumped in to pack, load, and unload. The first time we did this was when I had to move my parents out of a house in Maryland. These were the folks who were there to help me.
Maybe this is why some of my favorite books are stories of just those kinds of families. I call them “Found Family Stories.” They are stories where friends have each other’s back and where they would do anything for each other. Perhaps the most important quality of the folks in these stories, as well as the ones in my life, is that they provide each other with a sense of belonging, of being loved, and of having a soft place to fall.
I told you already that I call these “Found Family” stories, but another writer called them by perhaps a much lovelier name – “Families of the Heart.” Whatever you choose to call them, here are some of my favorites in no special order. There are several books at the end that are, strictly speaking, children’s books (marked with an *). I would recommend them for children and adults. Follow the link for each title for a brief summary. When you’re done, share some of your favorite books that are about chosen families.
FOUND FAMILY STORIES
- The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
- The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister
- Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
- The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
- The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
- The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows
- Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
- The Land of Mango Sunsets by Dorothea Benton Frank (& others of her Low Country tales)
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barows
- The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
- The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- Christy by Catherine Marshall
- *Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
- *The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
- *Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian
- *Is It Night or Day? by Fern Schumer Chapman
- *Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
- *Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling (If Harry, Ron, & Hermione aren’t family…) – I linked this to a beautiful illustrated edition of the first in the series