Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Traditions Remembered

Between the dazzling sensory-overload seasons of Halloween and Christmas lies the warm, comfortable hominess of Thanksgiving. As the eleventh month commences, I’m looking forward to time spent with family – and am also looking back.

My grandparents lived an hour away from us, and while visits were frequent they were always a special and highly anticipated occasion. Even our beloved border collie would spring to the windowsill with excited whimpers at the query, “Where’s Grandma?”, looking in the direction from which their immaculate Skylark would arrive.

By tradition, Thanksgivings were spent at my grandparents’ house when I was little, and in my heart the memories of those times are what define Thanksgiving for me.

My Grandma was a tiny lady with sparkling blue eyes. She was the kind of lady who always wore necklaces that looked like some sort of hard candy, and sundresses with a fuzzy white cardigan sweater, be it January or July. She wore thinly applied pink nail polish and usually had a rubber band or two around her wrist, just in case she might need them. She used words like davenport and pocketbook and billfold, and found complete and joyful fulfillment in her life’s role as a housewife.

My Grandfather (we always called him “Gramps”) was strong and soft and full of warm hugs and deep laughter. He smelled like shaving cream, and always had a twinkle in his eye behind his horn rimmed glasses, as if enjoying a private joke. He’d let us beat him at checkers, and would save pennies for us, rolling them in brick-red paper tubes. He was kind and generous, and everyone who knew him loved him.

By the time we’d burst into their house with all of our noise, Grandma would have already been up for hours, happily cooking and whistling. The house would be full of the delicious smells of roasting turkey and homemade gravy and stuffing (never store bought, always from scratch). Oatmeal-date cookies and a bowl full of mixed nuts in the shell would always be at the ready, and a candy dish full of chalky pink peppermints on the coffee table. Gramps would have the football game on, though no one would really pay much attention to it for being busy visiting.

Grandma would need Gramps to help her lift the big roaster (with the chip in the enamel from when Dad shot at it with a beebee gun when he was little) several times throughout the day. She’d meticulously baste and fuss over a much-too-big bird, and supervise as it would be tucked back into the oven for a while. Mom would help with whatever Grandma would need help with, and somehow everything always managed to be ready at the same time. We’d laugh and share and reminisce while eating too much because we couldn’t help ourselves with Grandma’s good cooking. After dinner, Mom and Grandma would rattle away in the kitchen with cleanup chores and Dad and Gramps would doze in the living room. My brother, long and lanky, would stretch across the floor and watch football as I went to my special drawer in Grandma’s writing desk and got out the Silly Putty and comic books. In a few hours, we’d all stuff down a slice of pie and a turkey sandwich with Miracle Whip before returning home.

Gramps passed away in early 1981, and we’d bring Grandma to our house for Thanksgiving after that. In time, as my brother and I grew up and got busy with our own lives, Thanksgiving became downscaled at my parents' house - they would make a small turkey breast and a few trimmings, and take a care package to Grandma at the assisted living center. But for all intents and purposes, we kids were released (too easily?) to create our own holiday traditions with our new respective families.

I now have spent Thanksgiving with the Hub’s family for many seasons. We have compounded a whole new collection of holiday memories and traditions and dishes (wouldn't Gramps marvel at the concept of a deep fried turkey!), have watched our families grow, and now celebrate Incrediboy’s birthday at the same time of year. Though dynamics have changed vastly (for me in particular), Thanksgiving still holds its special blessings each time it rolls around and the happy memories of my past intermingle with tomorrow's memories being made now.

This year will be especially bittersweet for me, though. Grandma died this past March, and while I have not spent the holiday with her in many years, it will be strange to know she’s no longer with us.

All the more reason to strive at making these wonderful moments ones which will be looked back on fondly by Incrediboy, Hub and myself, and the rest of our ever-evolving family. In future years, I will give extra thought to the work and the joy going into and coming out of these times. May our own chatter and clatter echo those of my Grandparents’ home on those Thanksgivings of many years ago, and do so with justice.


Martie said...

Absolutely wonderful! May you make many traditions and memories for Incrediboy to cherish. Your description even makes me miss the past at your Grandma's. You certainly have a gift with words.


Lori said...

This reminds me so much of Thanksgiving at my parents house, in the past as I was growing up and now. Though I love Halloween and find the Christmas season absolutely beautiful and magical, Thanksgiving is the absolute best day. We are an extremely close family and it is a day filled to the brim with love and blessings.

I know that you will make many new and wonderful traditions as you reflect back, then look ahead. Makes me feel warm already thinking about it...

P.S. It's so good to have you back.

Cheryl said...

What wonderful, warm memories. It is so nice to hear stories from someone who, like me, has nice holiday memories. So often people's holiday stories sound like they're competing for a "dysfunctional" award. Your Grandparents sound lovely.

Bainwen Gilrana said...

This is beautiful.

There are so many strange things to remember from past holidays. But then, things do change and become new traditions, and there are always stories to tell of the past. That's the big thing in my family-- the stories. No matter what form a holiday takes on, someone can say, "Hey, remember when....?" and the past comes back to us, delicately coloring the present.

Rebecca said...

I love this post Clew. Grandparents are such a special part of our lives... they are part of the thread that makes us whole.

I am so dissapointed that my children will not have these memories for themselves.... however, I will do my best to ensure that my grandchildren will.

I can almost smell the turkey in the oven..... :)

Michelle said...

What a beatifully reminiscent post, Clew.

Our grandma's had at least two things in common ~ the use of the word davenport for sofa and those chalky pink mints. I remember choking on one to the point of throwing up one year. Not a fond memory in and of itself, but the pink mints in general will always remind me of Grandma and Grandpa's!

Tirithien said...

My family is sort of odd with traditions. Before my grandma died, she was the glue that held that side of the family together. The two sides of my family are 250 miles apart, so that side was all I had. I'm also part of a weird pseudo-generation gap. I'm 23, the 13th of 15 grandkids. The two below me are each 21, the nearest above me is 35. No real connection there.

Grandma held it all together.

When she died, it was like a light switched off. The branches of the family split apart, with spasmodic gatherings. It's never been the same.

Harry Yak said...

gramps is such a cool nickname

Nicole said...

How wonderful. Thank you for posting this. I've been remembering my own gramma these past few weeks and thinking of family traditions.

Thank you for sharing yours.