Visiting the Relatives: A Worthy Vacation

Fisher Lavell, her nephew Christopher, and their family

Fisher Lavell, her nephew Christopher, and their family

My nephew Christopher loaded his three kids and his partner Sam’s three kids into their 2004 passenger van and drove the 300 miles out of the city to visit me last week. He took Thursday afternoon and all day Friday without pay, which gave the family three-and-a-half days in total. This was their summer vacation.

While on his “vacation,” my nephew repaired my smoke detector and my yard light, replaced my kitchen faucet, installed some blinds for me, and tore out and replaced the rotting wood floor in my storage shed. Of course, they couldn’t all fit in my 2 bedroom house, but the little kids slept on my sectional couch, while the others set up a tent in the yard.

We spent a lot of time cooking, eating and cleaning up, with the kids often at the kitchen table playing cards and snacking. Word spread that Chris and Sam were down, and a stream of other relatives dropped by. Evenings, we had a campfire in the yard with beer and wine, laughing and singing and storytelling. The teenagers wandered up and down the roads, checking out the locals and, of course, went on to make too much noise in the tent. We old folks sighed and rolled over, periodically calling out to them to “Go to sleep!”

On Saturday, Chris borrowed the key to a cousin’s nearby rustic cabin and took the kids swimming, fishing, and berry-picking.

A ‘Family’ Vacation

My nephew does long hours of back-breaking work for a moving company. Like most of my family members, he gets no scheduled holidays at all. He does get holiday pay, which in theory he could exchange for a holiday. But that would mean taking a few bucks off each check — checks that are already far from adequate to raise a family. I am only too aware that, with my college degrees and work as a professional in the school system, I get summers off. With pay.

In my view, vacation time visiting the relatives is consistent with working-class values of collectivism, mutual support, and passing on traditions.”

Although our financial and other resources are quite different, my nephew’s and my idea of a fun vacation are similar. I’m near retirement age now, but over the 30 years that I worked elsewhere, my kids and I have spent most of our vacation time coming home or travelling around, visiting our relatives. Those vacations included sleeping in basements, sewing rooms, or gun rooms; playing cards, laughing, joking and telling stories — often remembering and celebrating grandparents and kin who are no longer here.

What Makes a Vacation?

For many middle-class people, the idea of vacation is synonymous with travel to other lands, being away from familiar places and people, paying to be served, and observing or participating in others’ geographical or social cultures. When my daughter Shannon went to law school, she found it disconcerting that foreign vacations were such an important topic of conversation in most social settings. Having had many, and the right, travel vacations was important social capital, and the lack of these experiences was effective in quietly excluding some students.

My daughter has since vacationed in several countries, and many working-class folks who are more upwardly mobile have come to enjoy travel vacations. But I am certainly not arguing that working-class people should focus their sights on middle-class cultural mores like this. In my view, vacation time visiting the relatives is consistent with working-class values of collectivism, mutual support, and passing on traditions. It is practical, economical, relaxing and, to me, the best of fun.

3 Responses

  1. Dustin

    “working-class values of collectivism, mutual support, and passing on traditions”….
    these are not specifically or exclusively working-class values. This whole article smacks of the “noble savage” archetype.

    1. Denise Moorehead
      Denise Moorehead

      While you have a right to your opinion — we created the blog to create discussion and the exchange of opinions and points of view, the phrase noble savage archetype is offensive to many. Native Americans, especially, have written about the pain this type of language causes them. Perhaps you were unaware that some readers would interpret your comment this way and have this response. But language, of course, is a very powerful thing.

      In fact, an upcoming blog post will speak to the power of language as well as language use and class differences.

    2. Fisher Lavell

      Hey Dustin.

      Let me clarify a couple of things. First, this is a blog spot for a website that’s about social class and classism. My post was addressing connections between vacations and social class, and the editors had actually suggested that posts work well when they begin with a personal experience. I thought it was a great idea. Many people are better able to relate to theoretical constructs through anecdotes about personal experiences. So the blog I wrote was centered around my recent personal experience of having a visit from my nephew.

      Second, Dustin, I wonder if you realized when you wrote your brief response that it was, well, kind of insulting? And dismissive. And, I’m going to say, aggressive. I wonder if that was your intention. To be insulting and dismissive and aggressive? Maybe, where you come from, conversations are about holding forth and trashing others’ views. I don’t know. But this is my feedback to you, just in case you weren’t aware. You might want to give a little thought to respecting other people’s experiences and, if you have a critique of their ideas, put some effort into conveying that critique in a way that is respectful and rational.

      Finally, I’m going to say that certain values, experiences, and worldviews are very much associated with some social classes. Nobody said they were exclusive. In fact, many of the values associated with non-dominant social class are also associated with non-dominant gender and ethnicity/culture, too. If you would like to learn about class-related cultures and values, I suggest you begin with the works of Barbara Jensen or Betsy Leondar-Wright, Or even with Janet Zandy’s work on what makes literature working class. In fact, in some social classes, experience, cooperation and mutuality are very much respected, whereas in others, logic and abstractions are often used to compete with, and dismiss, the viewpoints of others. Dustin. Are you picking up what I’m laying down?

      Fisher Lavell

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