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)