Friday, December 2, 2016

Holiday Gatherings ~ A Time for Creating and Passing on Family Traditions

Earlier today when I had a task that seemed a mile long, I spent ten minutes that I felt I did not have to spare untangling a necklace chain from which the first letter of each of my children’s name dangle.  I could have tossed the necklace back in jewelry box and decided not to wear it as I ran errands, but I just had to untangle that mess.

“Being good at untangling chains” is not on my resume, but despite the time it takes, I’m usually up for the challenge of untangling such messes.  One pesky knot around the letter “R”  refused to untangle each time I would think I had it freed to join the rest of the letters. This is a metaphor for life,  I thought as I determinedly sought to free the chain from knots.  

So many times in the past, there have been assorted types of knots in the chain that links my family to each other.  These knots prevent us in one way or another from  joining each other in the creating events that strengthen in a positive way the ties that bind us as a family. Relationship problems, time, work obligations, schooling, money, and distance create the knots that keep us apart, yet despite these pesky problems, perhaps no other time of year stirs up longing for family like the holidays do. 

Family ~ Creators and Custodians of Memory of Rituals

I recently read an article which stated that family creates and becomes the custodian of rituals that define the family narrative.*  These narratives are especially developed and passed on during the holidays.  

The rituals of holiday were created for me as a child.  Now, those from the generation before me are gone, but those times when we gathered around the holiday table created connections that remain.  The traditions, the rituals, the connections become an important part of the legacy of family which I hope my children and grandchildren will embrace and continue long after I am gone. 

Cousins gathered in giddy anticipation of family celebrations create powerful memories that last a lifetime.  Cousins share a family history that spans the generations from childhood to old age.  Cousins remain connected long after the aunts and uncles are gone.  

It is worth every minute of untangling knots in the family chain that links us all together to create moments worth remembering when one thinks of the those nearest and dearest to the heart.  

This year, I know it was not without great sacrifice of time, money, and distance that my family and I came together to celebrate Thanksgiving.  That makes the celebration all the more precious.

Family ~  Memory of Rituals 

Filed away in memory bank are many wonderful memories of Thanksgivings from long ago.  Thanksgivings when I was a child were always spent at the home of my grandparents.

Sorting through those memories, certain images stand out in my mind:
The dining room table, large, solid, and the dominating feature 
of the room where my grandparents spent most of their time,
 was set for dinner long before the guests arrived.

The silver had been polished days before.
The china had been removed from the china buffet to be placed
 on white linen table cloths.
Each place setting was perfectly placed according to rule of etiquette.
We learned the rules of etiquette at home and at my grandmother’s table.
“Where is the salad plate?” my father would ask if his place setting was not properly set for even the simplest of meals.
Good manners were very much a part of my family narrative.

I have vivid memories of Grandma and the aunts bustling around the kitchen, 
best dresses covered with aprons, 
shooing all the kids out of the kitchen 
as they fill china dishes with Thanksgiving fare.
“Get out of the kitchen,” 
we were told as the cousins and I ran excitedly around the circle that connected
 the dining room, the kitchen, the bedroom where my grandparents slept, and the hallway to the bathroom and stair that led upstairs.

“Stop chasing each other.   Someone will get hurt.”
I did get hurt.
I was barely three, or maybe younger, 
when playing a game of chase around that circle I fell, 
 hit the foot of that gigantic and very solid oak dining room table.
 I knocked out one of my front teeth.
Was that on Thanksgiving, or Christmas?
Either way, the story became a part of my personal narrative of why I had a missing front tooth from the earliest days of childhood.

I love that my homes where grandchildren have come also have that circle that connects the kitchen with the rest of the house.
It reminds me of the circle that we cousins loved to run around at my grandmother’s home even as she reprimanded us for doing so.

Grandma was a wonderful cook.
Her Thanksgiving dinners were the best.
So, was Christmas dinner.
She made amazing pies, 
but her homemade candy was what we really looked forward to eating.

The trappings of Thanksgiving long ago created a rich tapestry of visual images that formed a template in my mind of how Thanksgiving should always look.

The table laden with food, the china, the silver, did not fully represent the perfect template for Thanksgiving.

All of those trappings would be absolutely meaningless if family were not there.

Family coming together to celebrate created the perfect blueprint for a what I remember best about Thanksgiving.

 Thanksgiving memories are priceless because the memories focus on family.

Time stands still in those black and white achieved photos from long ago.
Time with
aunts and uncles,
and cousins
made Thanksgiving my favorite holiday of all.

My father, mother, and Aunt Katherine on Thanksgiving sometime in the 50's.
Look at all those homemade pies!

Cousins in the 1960's
I am second from the left in the back row.
Next to me is my cousin Steven. He was killed in Viet Nam when he was only nineteen.

Continuing family rituals create a sense of
“Life Is How It Should Be.”

This year’s Thanksgiving plans were not made early.  In fact, as usual, we were still up in the air about plans for Thanksgiving early in November.  Daughter Amy announced she was going to Utah with her children to spend time with her brother Ryan and his family.  I know that Thanksgiving is the very busiest time of the year for Ryan and Sheridan.  Owners of a small business, Hip and Humble (click on the link) in Salt Lake City, Bountiful, and Murray, Utah, Sheridan is especially busy and involved in Small Business Saturday activities both with her own boutiques and with other small businesses in Salt Lake City, Utah. I called and invited myself to Thanksgiving anyway. 

I had not spent Thanksgiving in Utah with my family since 1981.  We've been together at my mom's or my house, but we have not been together in Utah for Thanksgiving for a very long time.

Jim did not want to make the trip with me.  His family narrative of holiday gatherings is different from mine.  He did not grow up with extended family gatherings.  He would just as soon go out to eat on Thanksgiving.  He doesn’t like to travel to Utah in the winter.  He had to work.  He bought me plane ticket, rented me a car to use for a week in Utah, and sent me on my way for a week with my children and grandchildren. 

This year, it seemed more important than ever that we all gather together.  The grandchildren are getting older.  One is already twenty.  Three are eighteen.  One is seventeen.  Two are fourteen.  Soon, they will be going off to make their own way in life, and they will no doubt be scattered to parts unknown.  Before that happened, I wanted as many as possible of us to sit around a Thanksgiving table and make happy memories of family being together.  That is exactly what happened.

There is a sort of passing of the baton that takes place in families as one generation ages and the next takes over the hosting of Thanksgiving.  I'm sure I could no longer pull off fixing a Thanksgiving meal for a crowd.  Yes, despite my children thinking otherwise, there was a day when I could do this.  Despite my lack of cooking these days, I can still shop at the grocery store, so armed with the grocery list made by my son and daughter-in-law, I shopped for Thanksgiving while they were at work.  I loved shopping at the wonderful new grocery store near their home.  We had charted out which store would carry the items on my list.  Did you know that Costco sells a four count package of Martinelli's Sparkling Cider?  Score.  I bought two packages.  They were a big hit.

Keicha had specifically requested that I make a lemon meringue pie.  "It's been so long since I had your homemade lemon meringue," she wrote in a text.  "It's been so long since I made one," I replied.  The pressure was on.  I made the pie with help from Keicha.  It not only looked decent, it was also delicious.  

Passing the baton for Thanksgiving preparation and hosting to my children has proven to be a joy to watch and experience.  Son Ryan and his wife Sheridan were the perfect host and hostess.  They both love to cook and to entertain.  I've had some very good Thanksgiving meals, but I must say that this year's feast was one of the best I have ever eaten.  

Sheridan purchased two fresh turkeys which Ryan brined before they were roasted.  The sweet potatoes and dressing were made from Sheridan's father's recipe.  They were delicious.  The gravy was perfect.  The rolls wonderful.  I loved the winter slaw that came from a recipe from Bon Appetit.   Ryan said there would be no green bean casserole made with canned cream of mushroom soup, but daughter Amy insisted on that favorite dish being prepared, so mom bought the ingredients and made the casserole at Keicha's house.  Sometimes, you have to have that old comfort food from the days when mom put together casseroles that came from ingredients that come from a can.

The tables were beautifully set when we arrived at the lovely family home that belongs to Sheridan's parents.  Ryan and Sheridan are living in this home while Sheridan's parents are in Denmark for a year.  This home is the perfect home for holiday entertaining.  (Thank you B & B for letting us use your lovely home for our Thanksgiving.)

Family photos recorded the day for posterity.

Our hosts for the day were all smiles.  

The Mordiansen's (A name for this blended family that combines Ryan's and Sheridan's last names)
Parker, Regan, Max, Bridger in back, Henry in front, Sheridan, and Ryan
Parker and Regan, a great brother and sister combo, are roommates while Parker attends college and Regan is working.

My daughter Keicha and granddaughter Gillian were joined by Gillian's boyfriend, Fran for a group photo.

Daughter Amy and her children Mason and Hannah flew in from Colorado for the holiday.

It is always a great time when cousins are together.

Sheridan's family brought a new tradition to our family: bingo!  After Thanksgiving dinner, Sheridan's family always plays bingo.  Each person brings a gift to add to the prizes that will be awarded.  When the hostess owns boutiques, the prizes are awesome and much sought by those playing the game.  At times the competition to win was quite intense because winners can take gifts from other players.  Once the gift is stolen, the original winner can't get the prize back.  Ryan was the bingo caller.  Grandma Sally kept winning.  I think the grandchildren thought I was cheating since my card was nearly covered with beans before long.  I soon had many cool prizes, but alas, I ended up with only a box of chocolate covered orange sticks.  The grandkids showed no mercy in taking away my gifts. Regan totally scored by winning a fleece lined flannel and a cool hat.  The amazing part is that she got to keep them.  What a blast we had playing bingo.

At the end of the day, I declared the Thanksgiving of 2016 the very best ever! 
While I wish that son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Samantha and grandson Atticus could have joined us, the day was nearly perfect.

 Thanksgiving, a day for giving and for thanksgiving happened because each family member that could gave up time, energy, and money to come together for a time of family celebration.

Thanksgiving, a day for expressing gratitude for the love we all share for each other, reminded us all what we really like about each other.   

Thanksgiving is a time for rejoicing in gratitude for those invisible bonds that tie us together across the years.  
Those bonds have brought us all both great joy and unbearable heartbreak.

Thanksgiving, is the perfect time to make new memories that will be added to our family narrative of both love and loss. 

Mama Sal surrounded by three of her kids is a very happy lady.
Amy, Mom, Keicha, Ryan
Whenever I am with my children, life truly is how it should be.

Thanksgiving 2016, is now in the books.  
It will live on fondly in my heart for a very long time.

*Tie That Binds...Bonds That Empower by Robert D. Caldwell