Talking Turkey

Our most American tradition – celebrating the year’s harvest and blessings – is once again upon us.  Thanksgiving is a holiday that Americans can historically claim as our very own. Does that mean that other peoples before us were ungrateful?  Not by any means.  But IT IS OURS, the one day on the calendar that evokes a melting pot of commonality, culture,  and deep emotions; encouraging a nation of immigrants to give official thanks for the many blessings and bounty we share in our land.

I submit that while holidays can be difficult at times, maintaining some or all of the family traditions can be especially comforting; let these rituals provide the familiar landscape wherein each of you can still participate, even if the role is slightly amended from years before.  If need be, add a new tradition. I suggest:

The “Talk Turkey” Challenge:

  • Give yourself permission to share a story that you’ve never told before; grandparents, this means YOU.
  • Encourage all ages to join in the conversation.  Keep the technology at a minimum (football games excluded)
  • Don’t pull rank; parents often do, then wonder why the kids never talk.  Embrace the ones around you; life is too short to let a minor grievance ruin the holiday camaraderie.
  • Allow a bit of silliness!  (Not necessarily at the expense of table manners, but you be the judge; lots of family stories evolved from dinner tables in past years; try not to shudder.)
  • Fight over the last drumstick; cajoling a sibling into a little childhood skirmish can be fun, especially if one or both parents or an aunt or uncle are still around to watch and laughingly reminisce…
  • Consider each new happenstance a future memory; find the humor in it and laugh together.
  • Look into each face around the table. Observe the personality nuances and mannerisms.  In as brief a span as five years, table personalities will change; children will grow, friends will leave the area; family branches will sprout afar.
  • Can’t travel to be together this Thursday?  Just wait until the next time you can all regroup!  The possibilities are endless!

Growing up, it was easy to take the Thanksgiving holiday for granted; November was a happy month, the start of the Holidays!  Some of us matured rather abruptly once we saw our president assassinated; we all remember where we were, who informed us, and the immediate days after when, as a grieving nation, we gathered that next week to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Many of us remembered only a little boy saluting goodbye to his daddy.

The old adage, Death has no age, was suddenly meaningful; it is this year for some whose  loved one will be missing for the first time this Thanksgiving.  The holiday season can be a particularly painful period.

The coming months present some economic challenges for many; some earners last year are currently unemployed and find themselves in a completely different scenario than the last time they hit the pavement.  Hitting a keyboard can be just as frustrating.

Thanksgiving will arrive just the same. This season, keep our fellow countrymen in prayer.  Choose how to make Thursday one of the sweeter Thanksgiving Days in recent memory.  May we forever feel a depth of gratitude for the lives and goodness He has bestowed upon each of us.

Rejoice! Celebrate! Praise God! Lastly, may God Bless America.

Time to Break

A Daddy’s Girl despite why we argued or how;

Thus, better to hide among life’s background noise.

Six decades have passed; I hear his words even now.

Compromise was the quieter, less tiring voice.

 

Exhausting my arguments one too many times,

I delved into service, believing it wise.

I sought comfort and purpose from childhood rhymes,

Discerning a modicum of truth from the lies.

 

Ambitions still there; might I risk them now grown?

And yet a daughter still…how can that be?

My sensitive soul recalls dreams of my own,

Attempting to live a life fashioned for me.

 

Clearly, the conscious obliged by my heart

Has reasoned the artistic yearn much too strong.

Time to break childish habits apart!

Grasp hold of the hour and release my own song!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snicker, Snicker

During retirement, Daddy had to get out of the house.  He was not good at staying inside or staying still for very long.  Each morning, he had to renew himself among pals and coffee shop buddies.  He could only afford to go to the race track two or three times a week, so options were limited.

When Mom needed something from the store and the weather was nice, he’d occasionally walk down to the boulevard. Of course, Daddy was only concerned with making sure that he picked up the correct items and brought the correct amount of change back or he’d never hear the end of it.  He knew his math, so focused on the list and the total change received.  So what was the big deal?  In Daddy’s mind, shopping was easy; in fact, there was nothing to it; sort of a slam dunk operation.

Lots of changes had occurred along the boulevard; a second bank, an ATM machine, larger parking lots for the few anchor businesses left (like the Ace Hardware affiliate) and all things coming of age for the small, born-again, thriving shopping district.

The neighborhood had lost the independent grocery store many years before, but still had a major grocery chain within walking distance.  On one of these errands for Mom, it occurred to Daddy that he could walk down the candy aisle and find the little Snickers baggies there; yep, there they were.  His wife had given him plenty of cash…shouldn’t be noticed in the total…so; he picked up one bag and added it to the basket.

He arrived back at 3671 Rubberneck and, seeing that his wife was preoccupied in the kitchen, sidestepped through the dining room and walked straight to his bedroom pillow.  He placed the bag of Snickers carefully behind and out of sight.  There.  All set.  This was one bag of candy that she wouldn’t hide from him.  Then, he entered the kitchen and placed the grocery bag on the end of the counter with the receipt and change for Mom.  No problem.

A few minutes later, Daddy was again playing Solitaire at the card table.  He’d already checked his stocks, so was playing cards and listening to the talk radio program when Mom left the kitchen and entered the front room:

So, Honey, where is the candy?

What candy?  I didn’t buy any candy.

You’d didn’t, huh?

You didn’t have that written down.

No, I didn’t.  But the receipt says candy, $1.79 on it….

What do you mean?  Where?  Let me see…

Right here.  CANDY.  See that?

A few moments quiet as Daddy adjusted his glasses and reviewed the grocery receipt… To his chagrin, he hadn’t noticed the recently introduced line item tabulations that classified each purchase in easy to read print.

(Expletives followed)

And you thought you were being clever, didn’t you?

I witnessed this little exchange and understood exactly how he felt when Mom got the best of us.  Daddy turned to me for support and sympathy.

I can’t win.  I thought for sure I’d gotten the better of her this time, but that mother of yours finds everything…

Same Train, Different Day

How Daddy and my godfather were best friends as young men still eludes me.  When I knew them both, there was nothing similar in either their approaches or attitudes toward life. Still, if opposites attract, then perhaps therein lay the explanation.

My godfather was Italian descent and worked as an accountant for Southern Pacific Railroad.  My godmother worked at a meat packing factory, so she was never a stay-at-home housewife until retirement.  They were married for as many years as my folks, but had raised no children of their own.

Because of different family commitments and schedules, it was seldom that the two couples actually spent much time together socially anymore.  But on occasion, we’d be invited to their home for a Saturday dinner.  Their invitation was special and we young ones were always included! Mom would dress us in our best clothes and wear a nice dress herself.  Even Daddy wore a nice shirt and a sport coat for the occasion!

Fortunately, the two childhood friends married women who truly enjoyed each others’ company.  Once we arrived, Mom spent time visiting in the kitchen.  Theirs was one of the few kitchens in which my mother could actually remain “company”, sitting to enjoy her drink. My godmother was usually finishing up the salad.

Winnie and I were served Shirley Temples for our cocktails, and could choose to stay in the kitchen with Mom or move out front to the living room and listen to my godfather and Daddy going back and forth.  During those evenings, three things were a given:

  • By the middle of the second round of cocktails, the two men would already be at odds over the day’s political issues;
  • The Italian dinner served would be exceptional; and
  • Waiting for us on the coffee table were two brand new coloring books with boxes of Crayola crayons.

Each visit, the books were the same.  The pictures to color were pen and ink illustrations of the sights and sounds found along the SP route.  New boxes of crayons helped make coloring the familiar pictures bearable, but given the colored photos and topics, creativity was limited; orange groves would always be orange. So would the mountains always remain brown and grey, just like their color photograph counterparts included alongside each black and white page.

Ultimately, Daddy and my godfather would begin to run down.  Before we left for home, my godmother would open her freezer and place some small ham steaks, sausages, and bacon from the meat plant in a bag for us to take home to enjoy.

At the end of the evening, we’d hop in the car for the short trip home. Most of the conversation was about how wonderful the night’s dinner had been!  We in the back seat changed the subject by admitting to the folks just how tired we were of coloring oranges and train tracks.  All Mom could do was giggle. Daddy was laughing too, adding that he’d noticed additional pencils, paper tablets, and other supplies his old friend had on hand.  It was obvious to us all that Daddy was still disgusted from the evening’s political arguments.

Daddy was still shaking his head and cussing under his breath when he drove up our driveway…

Household Expectations

When the doorbell rang and it was one of Daddy’s business friends, we enjoyed it as much as the adults.   We immediately left homework or other activities aside, greeted all of these “father types” with a hug and a kiss, and then sat down to enjoy a bit of attention ourselves during the visit.

Our home was nothing fancy or intimidating, just comfortably lived in.  Because Daddy’s business approach was genuine and all inclusive, he considered our home an extension of his business.  Daddy wanted guests to feel comfortable dropping by, any day, any time, and through any door.  Thus, he expected his household to be prepared.

Whoever stopped by, Daddy automatically walked into the kitchen to prepare a highball or pour a glass of red, then instructed Mom to slice the salami and some cheese and set a plate within easy reach.

Daddy especially enjoyed the men’s camaraderie; Daddy had been very bashful as a young man, so he wanted to make sure every visitor made himself at home.  Daddy would fling a piece of sourdough toward our guest; while the bread was in flight, he’d yell:

Don’t be bashful!

A slice of salami or cheese followed right after.  Our visitors soon learned to either help themselves quickly or plan to catch the home staples in mid-air!

One of Daddy’s pet peeves was not having enough for dinner to extend the offer to any unexpected visitor. If Daddy walked into the kitchen and Mom hadn’t cooked an “extra” chop or serving of that night’s meal, he could get really upset. This was harder on Mom than it was on anyone else; Mom didn’t shift as quickly or as easily as Daddy wanted her to, though she did make every effort to support Daddy’s expectations in the long run.

Truthfully, our guests didn’t really care about any refreshments.  They knew they were always welcome.  Our home was cheap entertainment for most of them, a respite from their own family troubles and a comfortable stop at the end of a tough day…certainly; one could forget his troubles after a half-hour around our household!

Mom enjoyed the attention too, but for most of the visit, remained in busy homemaker mode in her kitchen.  Consequently, she was unaware of the potted plant inventory that Daddy and a business friend decided to take during one of these visits. Because our living room was well filled with plants, antique vases and several family photos, our business associate told Daddy that our house looked like a funeral home – then proceeded to prove his point by counting all the potted plants around the perimeter, setting the stage for any and all follow-up banter at Mom’s expense.

When they had each stopped after reaching twenty-something in the living room alone, the men gave Mom their results.  Mom made it perfectly clear that she was not going to let anyone get the best of her regarding her beloved plants or children’s or grandchildren’s  photos!  And, she added, if she wanted to find a way to add more, she would!

Daddy never stopped laughing over the funeral home comment.  Obviously, such visits were a bit of respite for Daddy as well as his friends whom, in hindsight, I’m totally convinced were more able to laugh and relax around us than they could in most other places.

Heaven knows, at least when company was there, Mom wasn’t finding fault with the way Daddy’s shirt was buttoned, or how his pant cuffs were dragging…

A June Smile

My fourth birthday photo is a black and white snapshot of my half standing/half bending over my birthday cake; sitting beside me is a lovely lady with an all-embracing smile.  That is one photo I always love to look at; one of many black and white moments that I can cherish as often as I wish.

I don’t actually recall this particular birthday; certainly, I didn’t have many parties as a Christmas Eve birthday can easily pass by unnoticed during such a busy time of year.  But this was definitely my day to shine; and as the years later proved, this lady’s love for life and family meant there was always room for one more celebration and another child close by.

I was ten years old and still trying to figure out just how exactly we were related…she wasn’t a sister to either my father or my mother. Yet her warm welcoming smiles and hugs were there for us all…she definitely had room for an extra “niece” or two.

In our extended families, we cousins had lots of mentors whom we respected and looked forward to seeing each occasion; extended reunions were the norm, and intertwined branches of family and long-time friends appeared and just belonged there; indeed, their absence would have been noted by many of us younger ones who relied on the hugs and kisses to make the day’s reunion complete.

While my mother loved flowers, this lady actually wore them, in beautifully bright, bold and dazzling colors and prints.  They accentuated her olive skin and deep brunette hair, shining bright above the lovely patterns; hers was a stark contrast to my mother’s more classic stripes and small prints.

I was fourteen and attending my first “wake”.  Mom had stated that I was now old enough to attend memorials like this; so, she instructed me to dress up as I would for church.    The big deal for me was wearing my mantilla…a small consolation, but somehow it was very flattering and so, at least, I could look the part and appear more mature than I felt.  I sat quietly there, feeling very uncomfortable and nervous.

 Yes, I was sitting next to Mom, but all I perceived was my mother who was extremely  comfortable in this solemn situation; she had no idea just how very strange it seemed for me, or just how worried I was, were I to accidentally commit a faux pas midst all the adults looking on.

I decided to chance it and look around the room.  I turned around and just a few pews behind me I caught sight of a June smile; the one that was familiar, loving and unconditionally accepting, all at the same time.  She even waved and nudged her hubby to make sure he acknowledged me…just a simple nod and smile.  Sounds hokey, but this very backward teen immediately felt okay and “grown up enough” to sit through this rite of passage.

Such are the memories of a June smile from a lady who crossed my path and influenced me through most of my young adulthood; a mentor who treated friends and family equally; there were none who didn’t get a huge dose of love and hot meals when needed – blood lines or not.

The childlike part of me still craves a smile or a hug to console me; some days, I don’t even know why or what is troubling me, but God seems to provide a certain someone to cross my path.  I may not remember that fourth birthday, but I will always remember that smile.

When one has been lucky enough to have had a June smile come your way, one knows the value that it brings to a child’s heart.  It is incumbent upon one to pass it on…

My First Passion

Some of my earliest memories of a garden are with my neighbor in her backyard.

Hers was the one with lovely flowers that bloomed on the east side of the house.  Not accessible from the street, one had to be neighbors to reach the snapdragons, fuchsias, camellias and all flowering bushes that gave birth each year to a panorama of color.

This was especially important to me around May Day, when we made baskets at school from woven pieces of construction paper, then went home to fill them for our mothers.  We only had calla lilies and geraniums; not my favorites, especially compared to the camellias and the choices next door.  So, I always made a beeline to my Italian neighbor‘s house where I could choose something pretty to fill my basket.  She was my second mother, so was agreeable and made sure I had the prettiest blossoms for Mom’s basket.

I was outside often with her, as she went back and forth to the laundry room that was then adjacent to the garage.  In between, she was tending her yard, pulling unwanted weeds and shoots from around the rocks of the fish pond or along the back fence.  These were city lots, so sometimes it was very hard to tell where a plant began and where it soon claimed jurisdiction in one’s yard.  Her back fence was a small, narrow area; not more than four foot wide before it relied on the garage to continue as the permanent marker of the back property line.

But where the dirt lay beneath the fence boards also lay the roots of a passion vine.  This was a very miraculous flower, made more so by the legend that my neighbor shared with me in her Italian-accented English.

I was immediately enamored of this vine.  The flower petals were a tinged blue on white, in some places suggesting a violet to deeper purple shade.  The center was deeper still and when she explained it represented the crown of thorns that lay on Jesus’ brow, I was very taken by such a plant that spoke of an historical event!  This was the tip of the mysteries that I would grow to accept as a young Catholic child, but it was one of my favorites.  I looked deeply into the blossoms, as though the more I stared, the more I’d experience the passion that emanated from its story.

The vine would reappear each spring, somewhat leggy at first, and then eventually spill its beauty across the fence boards.  The location was one that I had to seek out; it was not easily visible and, as I grew older I could easily forget to walk around the Mechanic’s garage; somehow, like God, I just knew He and It existed, whether I visited or not with Him or His Vine.

So, it was several years before I realized that the vine was completely gone, and the garden spot wherein I had first encountered the meaning of passion was no more; most likely removed by a new property owner who didn’t comprehend the sorrowful beauty in the blossoms’ tale.

How wonderful that God would grace us with such a beautiful, living memorial for such a horrid, painful death.  In my childlike heart, I believed God wanted us to remember His Son’s pain, but spared us the true horror by minimizing the truth in the beauty of that blossom. I had no idea that it was early explorers and missionaries who had given the blossom its legend, specifically to explain the death of Christ in their efforts to convert native peoples.

A caring, accented voice had certainly shared the vine’s story with this teachable child…So be it.