Anxieties and Magical Moments in Marriage and Parenting

Melding Traditions at Thanksgiving

Our parents had a common heritage and instilled in us the importance of family and tradition. Among her staunch convictions was that Mom sincerely believed that older people were interesting to listen to, and that without them, the world would be very boring. In Daddy’s mind, family was his siblings; we kids were a close second, and accepted our place in the pecking order, especially on holidays.

Some of the more wonderful memories I have as a small child on Thanksgiving were making the rounds with Daddy.  We visited his older sister first thing; might not yet have been 10:30 in the morning, but they were up and ready for us, our aunt greeting us like long lost prodigals, and our uncle hugging us in a vice-like grip that, once over, convinced us we could still breathe on our own; our ribs hadn’t cracked.

Daddy would join the adults in a holiday drink and we girls had Shirley Temples.  It was okay on Thanksgiving to eat dessert in the morning.   Cookies on the side table were waiting.  One type in particular was an old family favorite that only my oldest aunt baked – a ravioli-looking cookie with apricot or prune filling, dusted with confectioners’ sugar.  The “Tourtons” brought back memories of “down the house” and was one of Daddy’s favorites; they soon were mine, too!

Back at home, our Thanksgiving table was set to include the aunts and uncles who had no children.  They were brave enough to join us two of the three main holidays each year.  Only Bro and his family always joined us as well.  This was a fun time for us younger aunties to spend with our two little nieces.

Mom’s concerted efforts to replicate the familiar repast, again from “down the house”, kept everyone happy; our table was always bountiful. Sadly, the meals caused our mother considerable stress and strain to maintain the expected standards each year.  She was a nervous wreck on every holiday.  Once she had served the dinner, however, she could finally relax in the knowledge that it had met with everyone’s expectations and approval.  Talk about peer pressure!

Sometimes I honestly wish that I could relive just one of those Thanksgivings. I loved hearing the stories around the table, especially from my uncle who had served in WW I.  My aunt’s harmony and the siblings’ ability to break into song during dessert can never be replicated.  This was a once in a lifetime experience; even our nieces barely recall some of the original players.

The older ones are all gone now.  We second generation are left to communicate and continue the traditional family fare. Our challenge is to communicate the caring and the sharing, not the stress and strain! I long ago made choices; neither time nor finances would ever afford me the opportunity to completely recreate our childhood dinner table. Since then, I have chosen to include some things and delete others; often, I alternate certain specialties from time to time.

Fast forward; I managed to pass along some of our family standards to My Only.  New traditions had to be melded to accommodate the latter day necessity of job commitments and the longer distances traveled between family branches.    My Only doesn’t remember the uncle who squeezed me to death until I thought my ribs would crack!  Traditions had changed as had the personalities involved.

When her turn came, My Only learned all the nuances for her uncles. For example, she learned how to properly greet her Uncle J.  We fashioned a particular protocol, specially honed for the one uncle who didn’t like little kids hugging or hanging on him with sticky hands and runny noses…

I kept the instructions simple:

Honey, just walk in, say “Hello, Uncle J” and keep on walking toward Auntie Dee…

Talk about passing with flying colors; my daughter became a master at this routine.  She’d be through the front door and nearly midway toward the kitchen by the time he could respond, “Hi, Kid”.

It worked. We always had a great visit, and Uncle J thought she was rather well behaved; for a kid.

(My Only with her two big cousins; circa 1980)

Hansel and Gretel; the Retirement Years

Like every child in junior high, all my mother had to do was walk in a room and I experienced “embarrassment”; it didn’t matter…whatever came out of her mouth, no matter how entertaining or engaging for the other adults, would easily direct me under the nearest available  table.

My mother was a genial sort who never failed to entertain my mentors with her laughing, smiling, and congenial personality.  Truth is she never stopped talking, especially when she was nervous.  Hence, her stories and jokes were nothing short of revealing to this twelve year old, especially when she shared a chuckle with my eighth grade art teacher.  Like the day she shared her favorite joke:

Eat every carrot and pea in your dish.

Giggle, giggle, smile, and the eyes twinkled.  My teacher thought it was cute; but then, her parents were of the same generation, so I am sure she had learned to cope much better after she’d passed thirty years of age.  I would not recover from this happenstance for another twenty years…

While Mom thought peas and carrots were funny subjects to joke about, she found little other vegetation amusing, especially that from my father’s backyard garden.  She couldn’t believe the amount of water that Daddy used each month to water and care for the plants; the water bill was easily the sorest subject for her every year.  There were other sore subjects as well; like the mud he always tracked in.

Daddy would come home after working all day, pour himself a glass of red wine, slice a piece of bread, grab a couple of slices of salami or cheese, then stroll down the hallway to the backdoor exit; he was on a mission: time to check his garden.

One could follow my father’s steps by the wine drops and French bread crumbs.  The kitchen door was a more convenient exit, but for some reason, he preferred to walk down the sixteen foot long hall, leaving his markings (I never had any problem believing Hansel and Gretel had marked their way back home; I’d witnessed this a hundred times as a child; bread crumbs are easily seen under any lighting, even on shag carpeting!)

Once he’d completely planted the backyard bed and lined up all the paste buckets for that growing season, Daddy moved forward, focusing on the planting space that remained along the sunnier side of our home.  Tomatoes and pepper plants lined the western side of our house, adjacent to our narrow cemented driveway.  Because of the hours of good hot exposure, some of the best fruits of his labor were produced along this narrow planting strip.

Mom maintained that it would have been cheaper to just run to the Japanese produce stand down on the boulevard.  But Daddy had decided that he would always have his garden.  Sometimes, the tension was very strained during those retirement years.  Each time Mom tried to explain that the cost of growing his own garden was not worth all the trouble, my father was more determined than ever to grow his own vegetables.

This particular day, Mom had had it.  The mud that Daddy tracked in with his prize crop (some of the tomatoes were no bigger than marbles) finally was too much for her to take.  She was tired of all the extra dirt and loudly said so. When she flatly refused to wash any of his garden harvest and told him to take it back outside and wash all the dirt off FIRST, Daddy said “to hell with it” and announced he would cook it himself.

I stopped by after work that afternoon, as sometimes I had a few minutes and, having returned to the area, I could enjoy a short visit a couple times a week before heading on home.  I walked in and Mom informed me that Daddy was outside with “his” vegetables.

I stepped out in back and discovered that Daddy had fired up the charcoal grill.  He was cutting up his prize vegetables and throwing them in a pot of water sitting over the coals; he was making soup.

I’m not helpless…I’ll show her…your mother isn’t the ONLY one that can cook…

Obviously, this was a very serious stance in my father’s eyes. I walked back in the house and noticed Mom was peeking out the back window, watching his every move.  She’d giggle a bit, and then return to her kitchen. Soon after, our neighbor arrived home, closed his garage, and saw Daddy over the wall, standing by the grill.  He walked over and heard the entire story while Daddy proudly showed him his “soup” and reiterated,

The woman thinks I’m helpless, you know…

Our neighbor just chuckled and shook his head, finally taking leave and going home for dinner.

Don’t ask me what Daddy’s soup tasted like.  By this time in my life, I was old enough to understand this particular standoff was far from over; good time for me to split…

When Life’s Dreams Are Interrupted

 

Dear Readers:

Like many others, I’m watching my fellow countrymen fall prey to a divisiveness that will not go away with medical technology alone.    The 2020 census will reflect a composite of peoples and creeds; as before, this diversity offers a myriad of possibilities for national renewal.  We came together September 12th; and while today’s challenges may seem more fierceful, they are not insurmountable.

Actions still speak louder than words; we are all role models for the generations that follow, so let them taste of America’s Promise by mentoring with compassion, sharing our common experiences, respecting our differences, and lovingly serving one another in times of need.  Only by coming together can we successfully maintain the freedoms, opportunities, hopes, dreams and sanctity of human life in every American neighborhood.

May Our Creator  continue to guide and protect us all in this endeavor.

Annette Brochier Johnson/postscript 9-11-2020

 

 

 

There was no doubt in my mind; the effect must have been the same…

I’ll bet you never thought you’d live through anything like this again.

No, I never imagined…thought we’d seen it all….

That was the conversation between my ex mother-in-law and me on Wednesday morning, September 12, 2001, the day after the World Trade Towers fell.

For her, 9-11 was the second time she’d witnessed infamy on American shores; she and others her age remembered the radio address that alerted a sleeping giant about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then President Roosevelt had called December 7th, 1941, a day of infamy.  That description would sear itself into History’s future chronicles.

Like many young-marrieds of that decade, her husband would later leave to serve in the Pacific.  She would stay behind, living close to family, raising their first born, the son who had arrived in ’43.  True to character, she worked at the army base located in the local airport of the small, Northern Californian town.

And like most military wives (then and now), she relied on help; often from a favorite cousin, who made sure that she and the little guy had enough to eat.  With rationing and a family of his own to feed, this cousin often hunted as did his friends to bring home extra meat.  She admitted to me that had it not been for him, she and her son would have made do with much less. When I first met them, the mutual devotion was apparent, even after thirty years.

Wartime and necessity had changed her.  She’d always been rather spunky, but she became a real fighter if need be on behalf of her baby son’s needs. When her little boy needed new shoes (he was fast outgrowing the only pair he had), she’d tried all the normal avenues to no avail; a toddler’s shoe wasn’t necessarily regarded as priority in a very limited, wartime marketplace; sizes and specific items were difficult to come by.

Neither the doctor nor the local authorities were any match for this young tigress. She personally presented her son’s curled little toes inside his only shoes to whatever authority would listen, and did so until she’d obtained a correctly fitted, newer pair of shoes for her son.

The Greatest Generation?  Likely true.  History does repeat itself, however, and that should not preclude us from supporting our own greatest:  the volunteer sons and daughters who currently serve under our flag.  Those of us born after World War II would view September 11 as the closest we had come to living with war on our country’s shores.

More than ten years later, it thankfully remains the closest experience for Americans in our homeland.  We are still safe to plan and dream here. Much credit goes to the many servants in and out of uniform who are diligently fighting the undeclared war against our Judeo- Christian heritage.

 

When Healthier Roots Prevailed

The American Dream was the prevailing mindset:  there were opportunities for those who sought them and a political system that – in its purest sense – erased social classes via the ballot box.  Thus had the quintessential republic become a world beacon for opportunity, not opportunists; and this young country flourished as long as those tasked with governing maintained the disciplined checks and balances needed for a healthy milieu to support free enterprise.

Some old country practices and expectations naturally slipped right on through Ellis Island into the new country.  A family member contributed to support of the entire household, sometimes at the expense of a shortened, formal education.  Daddy was one of nine who had grown and matured, understanding full well the responsibilities of earning one’s keep as part of the workforce in the family’s laundry business.  As one of the babies, my father was lucky enough to finish high school, and then enter a trade school.  Not so the older daughters; many of them married early and became homemakers themselves; more often than not they, too, worked outside the home.  Two of my aunts had married foreigners who became naturalized citizens.   In keeping with another customary practice, my father and mother were married only six months when they moved “back home” to take care of his aging parents.

My father had his dreams like any young man of his generation.  He’d had the chance to tour the Orpheum Circuit.  As one of a barbershop quartet, he lost the big chance when one of the four decided he couldn’t commit to traveling the country, so went into hiding for several days; his action was long enough to permanently break off any remaining ties of a permanent contract with the entertainment circuit.

A marriage and two children later, Daddy was too old to enlist for WWII, so worked for the war effort at home.  After the war, he and Mom opened up a floor covering business.  Daddy understood the labor movement from both sides now, and was reforming his previous union mindset.  My father changed his voter registration to vote for Ike.  Eventually, my uncle joined as a full partner. By the mid-fifties, the linoleum shop was supporting two families and growing.

While not easily fooled by smooth-talking orators, Daddy liked men who told it like it is (and touched his own emotions).  Spiro Agnew was a particular favorite.  I can remember my father chuckling at Spiro’s deft handling of the press; that is, until the first American Vice President with a Greek lineage was exposed for federal tax evasion, then struck from the nation’s memory in quick form!  Daddy had voted for the Nixon-Agnew ticket.  We’d never let Daddy forget it.

The Brat and I guaranteed old Spiro would forever remain in our father’s conscience; a metal trashcan with Spiro’s cartoon image would ensure the proper place for additional garbage – political and otherwise.  We presented it to him for Father’s Day.  It stayed – well hidden but serviceable – under the shop’s main desk for many years.

When the Vietnam War was aired on nightly television, Daddy insisted that we watch Cronkite’s coverage each evening.  My brother had already received an honorary discharge, but others’ sons were fighting; thus, my father insisted that we remember the toll being carried by our fellow Americans. This was difficult for us around the table; several times, we asked if we couldn’t dispense with the war coverage just for one night.

My father was insistent: our young men were fighting in a terribly difficult terrain and under very divisive circumstances here at home; the least we could do was stay informed.  The news would stay on during dinner.  End of subject.

Did You Have History When You Were Little?

My daughter was learning her manners and just barely past two years old at the time of this conversation:

Mommy, tie shoes PLEASE?

Okay, Honey.  And what is the nice word you are going to say to Mommy when she is finished tying your shoes?

DONE, Mommy?

When she had reached fourth grade and was learning about US History (or some of the highlights), she came home one afternoon and asked me:

Mommy, who was president first… Lincoln or Kennedy?

BOING!!!!  Help me, God…I’m becoming my mother….

History is REAL.  As I learned too quickly, it is REAL for those who lived through the headlines; it only STAYS REAL if SHARED…   SO?  What to do this Memorial Day?

JUST BE AVAILABLE.  While military tributes are on-going across this great land of ours during Memorial Day Weekend, recall that Veterans from  WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq War will be in attendance; and some of these survivors are not completely healed themselves, yet are there to honor their fallen comrades.

Hence, it is incumbent upon us all to stop and reflect upon the ones who grieve among us.  Don’t underestimate the value conveyed in the simplest expressions of a supportive arm or a respectful nod… or a sincerely expressed “Thank you for your service.”

 

Look Mom, No Hands!

Sometimes we moms wonder if all the repeated teachings we perform as loving parents are ever really understood; emphasis on ever.  During her upbringing, My Only received every family storyline and set of values, including the proper respect one should show for the colors.

At our next downtown parade, I arranged to take her along with her little buddy. The kids had great seats because I worked right on the parade route; I could have the two of them sit along the curb and enjoy the parade until my shift began. As each unit passed by, I made the two of them stand up if the particular club or service group had an American flag color guard.  I explained that we were showing respect for the flag and the military who had served under it by our standing quietly at attention.  By the time the parade ended two hours later, both children said they never wanted to go to another parade with me again; they were too tired from standing up so many times!!!

More often than not, children do understand when we least expect it; to our great joy, their comprehension is often greater than the initial credit we give them at so young an age.   Such was the case during a patriotic assembly at my daughter’s elementary school years ago.

The program was in full swing.  The next grade to enter was my daughter’s third grade class.  Nothing unusual; I saw that My Only was standing in line next to her best friend; both seemed ready and willing to participate.  We two mothers were sitting together, remarking how cute the girls looked, dressed in their Sunday best.  The girls filed onto the stage with their classmates.

It was then I took a double take and let out a small gasp!  I remained sitting, somewhat speechless. When I recovered enough to look at my friend, she knew immediately what had taken me by surprise.  We both began to smile, tempering the glee that we felt as we turned our attention again to the stage.

My Only was wearing her one pair of white gloves.  She was singing with all her heart, her true blue friend standing right by her side.  When the pledge was recited, the small, white clad hand held over her heart was even more visible!

I sensed neither pretense nor any foolishness from my little lady’s countenance that day.  She was a genuinely focused, good student. My friend remarked that it was obvious that my daughter had comprehended the desired sense of decorum all the teachers had tried to instill to the school children for this patriotic assembly. We agreed; My Only appeared to be somewhat of a trend-setter, seemingly poised and very much at peace with herself, having accessorized her own outfit.  This was all more than we could absorb; the giggling began and soon we moms were almost out of control, trying very hard to retain a bit of dignity ourselves!

To this day, I don’t believe either of us even remembers much of the assembly; but I can still remember my joy and delight at the sight of my daughter’s white gloved hands.

 

A Mother’s Thoughts

It’s a choice to cry again, my dear one, for as you cry unknowingly

My heartstrings’ tempo recognizes two-part harmony

 

Others now still once walked before us; stumbled, felled time and again

Understood the child within, anxiously searching for a friend

 

Some lived the same foreboding life, cried long but healing did not find

Nor does watching you repeat despair; such wounds reopen yours and mine

 

Refuse all hurtful dregs! Ignore the sabotaging din!

Reach in and calm the child, caress the babe who lies within

 

It’s assurance that we yearn for, when days dawn less bright, more gray

“But when”, you ask, “will my tears dry? When will they finally go away?”

 

Remember, dear one, you are complete and perfect in His eyes

Your song is music to His ears; this is your time to rise!

 

Enough with choruses of fears and verses from a darkened moon

Compose! Rewrite with humble talents a new verse; a brand new tune!

 

Confirm within your heart and soul a melody you seek

Quell the sharpened tongues with confirmation, quiet and meek

 

Only you can stop the off-key discord… Only you can build and travel over

A bridge that’s waiting to be built, a path you choose toward Heaven’s clover

 

My child, you are complete and whole; you need simply take your place

Beneath his ever-present arms: Sing, Child! You are covered by His grace.