The Holidays are here. It just so happens I decided to make my entrance into this world with dramatic flair, popping myself out on Turkey Day. Growing up my Mom always told me I ruined Thanksgiving that year because she couldn’t have any turkey. That should be a little insight into my self-esteem as a child. Having a Thanksgiving birthday, and Thanksgiving always being the last Thursday of the month, my birthday falls on Thanksgiving once every four years. This year was a bingo year, so I celebrated Thanksgiving and my 45th birthday on Thursday. Forgive me for getting my blog out a little late this week.
Growing up I had a Grandmother that made a huge deal out of every holiday, so naturally Thanksgiving was a big one. It was celebrated in a long, large, lodge-like room she called the “Stone Room” because the interior walls were all river stone. The lack of insulation made the room pretty chilly and it was closed off all winter long except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. There was a built in wooden bar with stools, an enormous working fireplace with a real moose head hung above, and tapestries on the walls. I felt like a princess in a castle in that room. One corner was lined with shelves and books and this is where I fell in love with books and reading. For Thanksgiving, two enormous tables were brought in and set together making for one big long table. This was covered with paper so the kids could draw. I had no siblings, so myself and my two uncles, one 5 years older than me, one 10, were the kids for many years before some of my cousins came along. We could draw with crayons before and after the meal. For dinner time she used a proper white lace tablecloth, her best china and a gold plated flatware service. Since I was a turkey baby, every year I got a big red plate that we called “the special plate” and it said “You are special today!” around the outer rim. I never wanted to BE “special,” I wanted to fit in and be the same. My oh my, how times change.
Since my Grandmother died over 20 years ago, I have tried my best to uphold many of her traditions. I have held Thanksgiving in my home for almost every one in the past two decades. I feel as though I could do it blindfolded, and I am a fairly decent cook, if I say so myself. I continue to make the Leeks Au Gratin casserole that she made, although I’ve never heard of anyone else serving this. It is still my favorite vegetable dish. Although I adore raw oysters, I stopped serving the oyster casserole, as I wasn’t a big fan, but this may have been one of the most traditional side dishes she made. We do corn pudding instead, which she also made. She made enough food to feed a small army, there wasn’t such a thing as too many side dishes or vegetables in her opinion. All the leftovers went to the bears, deer and other wildlife out back, and this I do as well. I don’t give myself a special plate. I probably should. I have learned I AM special, every day, and in a wonderful way, as everyone is.
My Grandmother ruled the family, she was the supreme Matriarch. She was an incredibly strong and sometimes frightening woman. She lived in the middle of the woods in a tiny rural town at a time when not many did so by choice. She also happened to be the one person I could count on for love and affection. I used to lie on the couch and she would stroke my forehead and hair in a loving way which I longed for since my Mother rarely touched me and my Father I rarely saw. She drank vodka straight out of the bottle and chain smoked. She was certainly no saint, but she made my childhood rich with tradition and celebration and love. She was of Slavic descent, her parents coming from Austria-Hungary, a place called Ruthinia which no longer exists. We always said she was Czech. She loved sex and would greet my Grandfather at the door when he came home from work naked wrapped in cellophane for him to unwrap. She worked as Rosie the riveter during the war. I wish I could ask her so many questions now. I named my second child Emily after her, to honor her. They called her Millie or Milka. She was extraordinarily beautiful.
Holidays are tough. They are fraught with high expectations, lots to do, they drain your finances and tensions are often running high as everyone runs around trying to complete tasks or arrive on time. It’s often the only time of the year certain family members that have personality conflicts are forced to be together, and people swear beforehand that this year they will NOT get into it!!! In our family, it wasn’t a real holiday unless someone had a big ole’ fight. From what I’ve heard over the years, this is not an uncommon theme. When I was a kid, my uncles and I would escape to play Manhunt, High Stakes or Monopoly or we’d just go play in the woods or snow that had usually fallen in the Berkshires by then. Now I have nowhere to hide. This year it was small. My family has dwindled over the years. My Grandparents are deceased on both sides, my parents divorced, I myself going through a divorce. It was just my children, my Mom and myself. My 2 older daughters, both in their early 20’s, ended up “getting into it” with my Mom when she told my special needs son to “hush up” in a fairly scary voice. My kids are all very loyal and protective toward one another, and of this, I am proud. I did something right. Unfortunately the fighting that ensued, although I rushed to quell it as quickly as I could, scared and upset my youngest daughter and she began to cry. I could’ve beat them all but I remained calm and managed to get everyone to knock it off, at least temporarily. At least it was in the evening when the day was almost finished. Have I had better birthdays? Um, yeah. Am I disappointed? Not at all. All I really hoped for was I could spend it with the ones I love, my amazing kids. I did. My Mom and children gave me some lovely gifts and a nice cake. I also managed to buy myself some birthday presents online and the next day. Really, what more could I ask for?
Thanksgiving is funny, because you wake up in autumn but you go to sleep in winter and BOOM! It’s Christmas! The next holiday is already fast on it’s way. Naturally we’ve already been confronted with it in stores for weeks now. It’s really here now though, and with today being December 1st, it’s official….it’s Christmas time. I will be humming carols with the best of them, dragging out the boxes of magical decorations for the kids to go through. Memories stored in a couple of plastic red and green boxes. Is there a better smell in the world than balsam?
As we enter this holiday season, with honking cars, dirty, slushy snow, and tightly wound, angry shoppers, try to remember everyone has a back story. Someone looking ready to kill may not know how to buy Christmas presents for their kids this year. Perhaps their Mom is dying in a nursing home. Their favorite cat may have just been hit by a car. Or maybe one of the hardest ones of all….everything in their life is “okay” but they are completely alone in the world….and incredibly lonely. You never know what is going on in someone’s home, head or heart. Be the bigger person. Apologize, ask what’s wrong, offer to help. I guarantee you’ll feel good with a little spirit of pay it forward in your heart. In fact, when you’re feeling really ready to pop, rent that movie and have a glass of wine or cocoa or tea. Every little thing is gonna be alright. As I read a book about suicides off the Golden Gate Bridge in California, one story sticks in my mind…a guy walking the span getting ready to jump said to himself “if one person stops to ask me what’s wrong I won’t do it.” Today, be that one person for someone. I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving. Remember folks, until next time, make love, not war!