A family affair worth creating

Dear Creativity,

As we enter July, I am prompted to think about reconnecting with family and friends. For as long as I have been in California I can recall flying back east to celebrate the Fourth of July with family and then visiting my friends on the the eastern coast. These memories always bring a smile to my face.

I come from a large family. My parents were born in Trinidad and Tobago and my mother was one of nine children and my father one of four. I have over 20 + first cousins that I know by name and when you throw in spouses and children, and the non-blood relative aunties and uncles, it is quite the family tree. The special sauce of a big family is the joy-filled family gatherings, the people you can count on, and the abundance of love.

My cousin and her spouse on my father’s side created a 4th of July tradition that was not to be missed. It was a gathering of both sides of their families designed to have them get to know each other, which turned into a must-attend event every year. If you were to miss it, you would be talked about because we were not complete without you. And, how dare you have more important matters than gathering with us.

Over the years this three to four-day event blossomed into a festival like no other. Every meal was a well-crafted affair filled with Caribbean delights balanced with healthy eating. There was breakfast at Wimbledon, where you could get your hot beverage of choice, baked yumminess (coconut bake, a lovely count bread), salted codfish, fish fritters, and fruit salad and cheer on the Williams sisters to victory. Or the celebration dinners with a fish fry, baked beans, salads galore, curried chicken, curried channa (chickpeas) and potatoes, roti. All of this is later topped off with ice cream cake for a celebration and various homemade delights. No one was going to leave the weekend hungry.

5 cookbooks on a table: Caribbean, Finnish, and Joy of Cooking

Our commitment to health included a variety of activities. Whether you swam in the pool to cool off, walked the neighborhood when you got yourself up early enough to join the morning walkers, danced the evenings away, or pulled the outdoor party indoors when the heavy rains set in we kept it moving. But equally important is rest, whether that be in a quiet corner reading a book or watching a movie in the movie room.

There was always a lot of play. A rousing game of All Fours, Rummy 500, BS, or Monopoly with a lot of friendly jabs about the gameplay that would stir old childhood rivalries was always on the table. We take our play very seriously. If you weren’t in the competitive spirit there were always the little creative tasks of setting up for celebrations from homemade cards to larger collages. No milestone would go unacknowledged.

What kept me returning year after year from the far West Coast were the rituals. There was always time taken to celebrate the accomplishments of the young and old that marked big academic achievements, celebrate birthday and anniversary milestones, and honor those who have moved onto other worlds.

This was a celebration that filled the soul and when I left every part of my body would be vibrating as I awaited a new year to roll around. We are now reviving the festivities post-pandemic and my husband and I are unable to attend. I am bummed but look forward to the next year.

Since I can’t be there in person this has me thinking…

How might we use creativity and play to (re)connect with family and friends?

After all, the heart of these reunions isn’t just about being in the same physical space—it’s about the connections we nurture, the memories we create, and the love we share. While nothing can fully replace the vibrant energy of in-person gatherings, Creativity, I wonder if some of these creative approaches can help us maintain and even strengthen our bonds across time and distance.

  • Create a family memory book: Start a digital scrapbook where everyone can contribute photos, stories, and memories. This living document becomes a treasure trove of shared experiences, growing richer with each passing year. I wonder if this would help me finish some physical memory books I had committed myself to complete about those who passed.
  • Initiate a postcard letter chain: Begin a journey of words that travels from one family member to another. Each person adds their thoughts and then sends it on, creating a tangible thread of connection that spans distances. Creativity, I remember reading about people who take photos with a little character in different places. This idea could go in so many directions.
  • Compile a family recipe catalog: Food is at the heart of so many family gatherings. Collect cherished recipes from various family members, complete with stories and memories associated with each dish. This not only preserves traditions but also allows everyone to recreate a taste of home.
  • Start texting channel: Choose a weekly theme (childhood memories, favorite books, dream vacations) and have family members contribute. This simple act can spark conversations and keep everyone connected in bite-sized moments throughout busy weeks. I can imagine this becoming a tad unwieldily with a large gregarious bunch, so it might be wise to figure out some good constraints.
  • Create collaborative playlists: Music has a way of transporting us. Build shared playlists that remind everyone of family gatherings, with each person adding songs that evoke special memories.

So, as I reminisce about Coconut Bake and Rummy 500, I’m inspired to find new ways to keep our family’s special sauce simmering. After all, the true magic of family isn’t just in the gatherings themselves, but in the love that flows between us, no matter where we are.

I know it’s not the same as being there, feeling the warmth of hugs, and tasting all the authentic cuisine. Yet I’m inspired and know with your help, Creativity, maybe we can craft something beautiful out of this distance until I meet them again.

Innovatively yours,
Dr. Abigail