Kay Kiernan Brix
Friends Jim Young, left, Mike Natale, Jeff Natale and Ryan Kiernan were on Greenwich High School football team together and Jim and Mike were captains. Jim, who was the youngest in Sherry Young's family, was welcome in the homes of the other three boys who still had siblings around and grandparents near.

As I look back on my life and the lives of others, both personally and in the reading I have done, I am convinced of the necessity of positive human contact in our lives. We are doubly blessed when we are able to make good friends or are a part of a family where we are accepted and loved.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” tells of a time in the 1950s when Dr. Stewart Wolf met a physician who practiced in the area of Roseto, Pennsylvania. Roseto was settled by a group of Italian families from Roseto, Italy, who re-created their life again in America.

This was in the 1950s before drugs and measures to prevent heart disease became important. In their conversation the physician said, “You know, I’ve been practicing for 17 years. I get patients from all over, and I rarely find anyone from Roseto under the age of 65 with heart disease.”

Wolf was surprised by these words as, “It was impossible to be a doctor, common sense said, and not see heart disease.”

Wolf enlisted the aid of a sociologist and friend John Bruhn to help him. They found, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”

They checked into diet, genetics and possibilities of something in the foothills of eastern Pennsylvania but nothing made sense.

What they found was that “Rosetans visited one another, stopping to chat in Italian on the street, say, or cooking for one another in their backyards. (Researchers) learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town’s social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof and how much respect grandparents commanded. They went to Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted 22 separate civic organizations in a town of just under 2,000 people. They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the community, which discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures.”

What they found eventually convinced the medical establishment to look beyond the individual and understand the culture people are part of — their friends, families and town they came from. They determined that the people we surround ourselves with and the values of the world we inhabit have a profound effect on who we are.

1 comment on this story

Likely, this study could have been done with other ethnicities. However, my family's experiences with the Italian families in Connecticut ring true to the study. Our hungry and growing sons, especially our youngest son, Jim, who was left home alone with two beady-eyed parents, all had some memorable experiences being fed and loved in the Cos Cob multigenerational families. Proof of the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

We live in an age when the contact we have with people often is on the internet, and many of us live among strangers. Unless we make the effort to reach out, we will become isolated, especially as we age. The Rosetan study is proof that reaching out and communicating may be good for our health.