Monday, November 30, 2009

Words of Wisdom and Such

The holiday weekend provided warm memories of family and friends and long conversations which left me with many thoughts to ponder in the coming days. Thanksgiving was a lovely day. All of my children and grandchildren gathered at my son’s house for a delicious dinner, and we relaxed by the fire afterwards, talking and savoring the quiet peace of the holiday, as we enjoyed the antics of my little grandchildren.

On Friday we brought lunch in to my father and mother-in-law. We spent an enjoyable hour talking about their holiday dinner with my husband’s sister, and reminiscing about past Thanksgivings – the larger gatherings, the old traditions, and simpler times. As we tried to remember some maternal cousins, we were reminded of the importance of writing down genealogical information for future generations. We were at a loss as we tried to piece together the connections between this particular line of cousins. I’m certain that I have some notes on this side of the family, which were given to me by a great aunt one long ago holiday afternoon as we looked over old family photos. I must look through my papers one of these days and write down the information I have. Several years ago, I began some genealogical research on my side of the family – it was very interesting and exciting, and I hope to continue it some time in the future when life is a bit slower.

On Friday afternoon I spoke with a childhood friend, in town for a few days, who provided some interesting perspectives and insights on the current state of our economy and political system. In the course of our conversation, Bill commented that none of us can say we’ve never lied or stolen. I mulled this over for a long time. I consider myself an honest person, and I raised my children to be truthful and to stand up for their beliefs, and yet, I think of the numerous little “white lies” I have told here and there when I make up excuses to avoid doing something I really don’t feel like doing. I remember that I break traffic laws consistently – almost never staying within the legal speed limit. I also recall that there have been times in large chain stores when an error was made in my favor at the cash register, and I didn’t call it to the cashier’s attention. In small stores, I am always honest, but if I believe there is no way the cashier will be penalized in a chain store, I will let the error stand, believing the corporate owners have much more money than I do – but, in essence, this is stealing. This conversation forced me to view my own sense of honor in a less favorable light.

On Saturday I spent the afternoon with a friend who shares a November birthday. We lunched at a lovely little tea room, and laughed hysterically as we discussed our sad, but humorous, decline in memory and mental acuity as we age. Rita and I almost always see the humor in everyday situations, and as we shopped away the rest of the afternoon, we kept laughing about some of our more embarrassing memory issues. While our physical and mental decline as we age is laughable at times, it is still a serious issue for us. Women who prided themselves on their youthful beauty are particularly stressed by the aging process. Those of us who were efficient, organized, and proud of the work we produced are saddened as we see ourselves become slower and more forgetful. Friendships are crucial to us at this age – laughing over our shared predicament is the best of medicine.

I received a wonderful Email from a long-time family friend who just celebrated her ninetieth birthday. Edna underwent surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer earlier this year, so I was thrilled to see photos of her birthday celebration. She looks healthy and happy, and it was so good to hear from her. She was a friend of my favorite aunt from the time they were girls. She included a piece she had written about the small community of Hampton Manor, where her parents had built one of the catalog houses so popular in those days. I was thrilled to hear her thoughts on my aunt, mother and grandfather in those days when they were all young. Since my aunt’s death, Edna corresponds regularly with my cousin – tending the bonds formed all those years ago.

On Sunday I lunched with my close friend, Karen, who is my granddaughter’s other grandmother, “Nanny.” We both lead busy lives, and we very seldom spend much alone time together anymore, so this day was a gift. We enjoyed a delicious lunch and caught up on each other’s lives. Of course, we talked about Alivia. We laughed about a sweet incident recently. Alivia loves to play with her alphabet blocks. As I teach her the letters, I match each letter with the name of a family member – “P” for Poppy, “N” for Nanny, “L” for Luke and so on. Recently, Luke took one of her blocks as she was playing and ran into the hallway with it. She started crying. I said, “Alivia, he just took one block – you have all the other blocks.” With tears streaming down her face, she cried, “But he has Nanny!” Sure enough, he was holding the “N” block in his hand. I think how much this little girl loves her Nanny, and I think how fortunate my grandchildren are to have this large extended family to love. There is a deep security in knowing that you are valued and loved by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. You are never alone in this cold world – there is always someone who cares and loves you.

Last night we celebrated my daughter-in-law’s birthday with dinner at our house. I kept it simple – roast beef, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and bakery pies. While my weekend was fulfilling and enjoyable, it was also tiring. But, gathering together for a quiet dinner was the perfect way to bring the long weekend to a close. Today we are all back in the world of work and routine, and this holiday is just a pleasant and richly textured memory, but I will reflect on the many conversations that linger in my mind and heart and give thanks for these moments shared with loved ones and friends .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Traditions

Yesterday I placed a single candle in each of my front windows, removed the summer wicker from the front porch, and brought out the antique sleds that provide our winter d├ęcor. I think back over the countless years I have gently untangled the electrical cords and replaced lamps in these old candles. This is part of my holiday tradition, and lighting them for the first time yesterday brought a deep sense of joy and anticipation for the season ahead. However, this has been a tough year for our family, and my holiday traditions will be necessarily adjusted in the coming weeks.

For the first time in almost forty years, we will not gather for Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws. My mother-in-law is suffering from dementia and is completely housebound this year, and their house is not large enough nor her emotional state strong enough, to host a dinner with so many loved ones. For years now, I have looked forward to dinner at my sister-in-law’s warm and inviting home, but this year, she will instead prepare a smaller dinner at her mother’s house, and we will gather at my son’s house for dinner. A new tradition is being born – one my little grandchildren will come to cherish. This is a difficult transition for my sister-in-law and me – for so many years our holidays have revolved around her parents – as we make our new plans, our hearts will be heavy. I am looking forward, though to dinner at my son’s house. His wife is a wonderful cook, and the view from their dining room table is of the distant Berkshire Mountains – a sight lovely even on a misty, gloomy day. Our smaller gathering will include all of my children and grandchildren – who could desire more than that.

My sister’s death this past summer will cast a shadow over my joy this season. Even now, as I walk past a display of nutcrackers, I hold back tears, remembering her penchant for nutcrackers. In fact, she cherished her huge collection of Christmas decorations and spent days unpacking them and placing them around the house. Knowing she is not here to enjoy her favorite season is difficult. For several years now, she has invited us for a peaceful meal during the week before Christmas. One of my most treasured memories is of a quiet lunch at her home one Christmas Eve – the day when I am always frazzled with preparations. The delicious food and warmth of her home, with its well-loved decorations and quiet beauty soothed me deeply on that long-ago afternoon. I will miss her.

For thirty-five years, I prepared our family Christmas dinner at my house – a gathering that has varied from year to year through births, deaths, and circumstance. There have been as few as twelve and as many as twenty people crowded into the dining room for this most beloved holiday. The memories flood my heart as I picture the faces that are no longer with us, as well as the ever-changing bounty of friends and family that have graced us with their presence at the table. Our Christmas plans are in flux this year. We will celebrate Christmas Eve with my daughter, and one son and his family, and my other son and his family will share Christmas Day with us. Once again, I will miss our traditional dinner with my in-laws and extended family, but these smaller celebrations will certainly be much less tiring for an almost-sixty woman. For the past couple of years, by the time I had dinner on the table and my father-in-law had given the Blessing, I was too exhausted to taste the meal. I will have more time now to savor the spirit of the holiday, and to focus on my grandchildren.

Traditions are an extremely important touchstone in our lives. They give us a sense of continuity and family cohesiveness. However, as circumstances change, we must be able to revise these traditions. We must hold them in our hearts and cherish the memories of other times and other holidays. It is necessary that we let them go with grace and begin to create the new traditions that work for us now. There will always be a measure of grief for those who are no longer with us, and a sadness for what once was, but we can move on to embrace the reality of our new circumstances and find joy and contentment in the newly-created traditions.

I do hope, though, that I never have to give up my candles in the windows – they quietly spread the joy of the season to the world without and to the soul within.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!