Once upon a time, generations of families lived close enough to gather for Sunday dinner, help raise the little ones, look after the old ones, bear each other's burdens and, despite their differences, try to get along.
Or so it was with the family that raised me. My mother and her eight sisters loved each other dearly. They sang in harmony on the porch with the voices of angels, and always had each other's backs. But, at times, they fought like badgers.
I think of them often, always with a smile, especially when I hear Paul Thorn sing, "I Don't Like Half the Folks I Love."
My parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins were not just my family. They were my world. And I was sure they always would be.
But as my generation grew up, jobs and marriage and life in general pulled us in different directions. Many of my cousins stayed in the South. But some of us moved far away — too far to show up for Sunday dinner.
I married and raised my children in California of All Places. Money was tight. Travel was costly. Family get-togethers were replaced with once-a-week phone calls and face-to-face visits every few years.
My mother longed to know my children the same way she knew her other grandchildren. She wanted to look in their eyes, hear their laughter and nuzzle the backs of their sweaty necks.
The best I could do was to send photos. It wasn't easy. I had to (1) find the camera; (2) clean up the kids; (3) make them pose; (4) take the film to the drug store to be developed; (5) go back to pick up the prints; (6) pick out the least fuzzy pics and (7) put them in the mail.
My mother never cared about the quality of the photos I sent. It was good medicine, she said, just to see those fuzzy faces.
I often hear from readers and other friends who long to live closer to their families, and try their best to stay in touch.
My husband and I share five children, their partners and nine grandchildren. His two boys and their families live a few hours from us. My daughter and younger son and their families are only minutes away.
But my oldest and his family live near Los Angeles, a long five-hour drive. So our visits are often limited to FaceTime calls. Their son Jonah is 3 years old. A year ago, when his baby sister was born, I spent a month at their house pretending to help, but mostly playing with Jonah.
We got to be good buddies, Jonah and I. And we still are, thanks to our FaceTime talks. Recently he called to tell me about what he calls their new "castle house." It's really nice, he said, and it has a big room for me.
"Will you come see us, Nana?"
"Yes," I said, "soon as I can."
We talked about other things, birds and monsters and such. But Jonah kept asking, "When will you come see us, Nana?"
Finally, I said, "I can't come right now. I have a bad cold and I don't want to give it to you."
His face lit up, the way it does when he gets a bright idea.
"Come now!" he said. "We'll take you to a doctor! Doctors are really good at fixing people!"
I tried not to laugh. "Yes," I said, "doctors are good at fixing people. But so are you. Just to see your face is good medicine for me. Are you a doctor?"
He thought about it. Then his face lit up again. "Yes!" he said, laughing, "I'm Dr. Jonah!"
We heard a deep voice in the background and Jonah shouted, "Daddy's home! I've got to go see him! Love you, Nana! Bye!"
And with that, Dr. Jonah ran off to fix his next patient. And I went to the kitchen where my husband was fixing dinner.
"How's your cold?" he asked.
"Better," I said, grinning.
Face-to-face medicine is good for any ailment. But I hope to visit Jonah in person soon. Our FaceTime calls let me look in his eyes and hear his laugh. But I still long to nuzzle his neck.
Sharon Randall is the author of "The World and Then Some." She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or by email at email@example.com.