Month: December 2014

Living in the Modern Village

We’re traveling on Christmas day, heading to New York to be a part of our granddaughter’s birthday celebration in a few days. The plane is half full and except for two year old twin boys across the aisle, fairly quiet! The boys (and their parents) are going to visit grandma and grandpa and, as I watch their activity level, I hope grandma and grandpa have a big yard and lots of energy.

I know what to expect from our (almost) 7 year old granddaughter. She’ll grab our hands and lead us to her bedroom, close the door firmly and place us on her bed. Then she’ll show us all her new acquisitions, acquired during the past seven days of Hanukah. Many of these will have some connection to the movie “Frozen”, her most recent obsession. We’ll ooh and aah at all the right moments and she and I will apply the makeup, nail polish and skin glitter that came in one of the packages. She’ll sing a few of the songs from “Frozen” for us and then we’ll move into the living room to play the game “Sorry”. What fun!

My husband keeps saying that if we had known grandchildren were this much fun, we would have had them first! But we both know that they are this much fun because we’ve already been through it all raising three children. I understand now why it’s better to live in “villages”, to have extended family around you to share the bad times and good times; to take some of the burden off of over-burdened parents and to share some of the wisdom acquired over the years. I know, I know! Sometimes this “wisdom” is less than wise and sometimes it only adds more stress to young parents trying to do everything at once. But on the whole, I think the saying’ “it takes a village to raise a child” is right on.

Neither of our parents lived near-bye when we were raising our kids. That was partly because of jobs and opportunities and partly because we chose to live a distance from parents we worried might just add more stress to our lives. We were probably right about the latter but I do wonder now that I’m a grandparent, if we didn’t also deprive ourselves and our children of really knowing their “village”.

My “village” consisted of three great-uncles, great-aunts, my grandma and assorted cousins- some who lived in town and some who visited in the summer. My uncles and grandmother had traveled from Lithuania to Virginia, Minnesota when they were in their twenties, looking for more opportunities and trying to escape pogroms aimed at the Jewish community in their home country. They literally left behind their village and then recreated it in a small town in Northern Minnesota.

I remember holidays at Aunt Bess and Uncle Carl’s house, poker games every Saturday night at rotating homes and fishing trips in wooden rowboats that held way too many people. I remember my grandma who gave me unconditional love and died years before she should have. My most vivid memory of my grandma was visiting her on Friday afternoons and walking across newspapers laid out on her wet kitchen floor, my nose filled with the wonderful aroma of chicken soup simmering on the stove. The newly washed floor and good smells of dinner were in preparation for Shabbos which arrived at sundown.

When grandma died, we moved into her house above the store and the family poker games were often at our house. Both men and women played and the mix created evenings filled with loud conversation, good food and lots of tension. More often than not, the game ended in a loud argument and threats of quitting the game. This usually lasted until the end of the next week when it was time to get-together for the next poker night. My brother and I would hide under the table or try to disappear in a quiet corner so we wouldn’t be sent to bed and miss all the excitement.

In the summer, my family often congregated at Uncle Carl and Aunt Bess’ cottage on a small lake that offered good walleye fishing. This is where I learned to swim and to know the older cousins and their families who came back to visit from places like Minneapolis and Detroit where they had settled after leaving home. We were scattering, just like every second generation American family.

I always knew I wouldn’t settle in Virginia. As much as I loved it, the town had less and less to offer as the iron ore that had financed the original boom was mined out. I believe my parents realized this also and knew that once they sent my brother and me to college, we would never live there again.

And so my husband and I have created our own villages every place we lived; first in Southern California, then Upstate New York and finally, Florida. Our extended families visited us and we visited them, trying to keep the link alive. But now our children are doing the same thing; creating their own villages where they live. We all work hard to keep the family link alive with frequent visits, phone calls and e mail and I’m very thankful for airplanes, telephones and Skype! They all help to keep our villages intact when we don’t live down the street.

After we land in New York, I rush to baggage claim, hoping to see the reunion of the twins and their parents with the grandparents. And there they are, scooping the suddenly shy boys into their arms for many hugs and kisses. After our suitcases arrive, we too, will be on our way in a taxi to spend time with our daughter, son-in-law and almost seven year old granddaughter. And for a few days, part of our village will be together and we will make new memories for our granddaughter to take into her future.

Thanksgiving for the Family

This year we actually had a small family Thanksgiving. This is unusual because I have a tendency to invite everyone I meet to our family’s holiday celebrations. In part, it’s because I grew up in an extended family of great aunts and uncles and their families who all got together for the holidays. To a child, these were great affairs, with piles of food and people milling all over.

Most of the time we ate smorgasbord style; circling the dining room table, plate in hand, and picking out the delicacies that came from many kitchens and many cooks. Once our plates were heaped with food, the trick was to find a decent place to sit before the delicacies ended up on the floor. This was especially tricky for a child who usually ended up sitting on the floor because the chairs were reserved for the grown-ups. For me, they were wonderful times – listening to my uncles’ stories about fishing and the old country (Lithuania) and inhaling my Uncle Carl’s pungent cigar, a smell that I still consider perfume.

I’m not so certain these were wonderful occasions for the women who had spent days cooking and now were busy in the kitchen cleaning up the mess the rest of us were making. Once in a while, loud voices, filled with strain, could be heard coming from the kitchen as the women grew irritated over a mild alteration on a recipe, a child running underfoot or a clash of personalities. My mother, who had a volatile temper, was often involved in the clashes. But for me, they were long days of feasting, family and togetherness.

Because large family holiday celebrations are important to me, I assume they are to everyone and I hate to think of anyone celebrating alone. So I extend invitations to anyone I think might be alone for the holiday. This includes good friends who usually share my need for large celebrations, acquaintances who happen to mention their family won’t be able to join them and sometimes even people I meet in the grocery store who, in casual conversation, tell me they are alone for the holiday. My husband is used to this and when I come home from the store or an exercise class just before a holiday and say, “I hope you won’t mind but ——-“ , he immediately cuts me off and says, “How many more?”

One year for Passover, we had to move all the furniture out of the living room and fill it with rented tables. Another year, we made room for three extra people within hours of the festive meal. I use all the dishes in the house and usually have to add a few that are borrowed or are paper. I cook for days before and always say afterwards, “Never again. This was too much work.” But then I forget and the next year I do the same thing. I have “Holiday Amnesia,” an untreatable disease that, I believe, affects many women.

My children are also used to this but every year for every holiday, they try to stop me, “Please, can’t we just this once have only our family?” Or – “Wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate with just our family?” I listen and agree that that would be nice but then I forget and do the same think again, year after year.

But this Thanksgiving was different. Good friends were either invited elsewhere or leaving town and no poor souls who had no place to go on the holiday appeared while I was waiting in line at the grocery store. Our son and daughter-in-law are living down the street and our oldest daughter flew in from Syracuse, NY late Tuesday night. Our middle daughter, her husband and our granddaughter couldn’t make it so this left a big hole but it was still just family at our Thanksgiving dinner.

Because it was just us, I was very relaxed about the food. I made the cranberry sauce and green beans a day ahead but that was all. I was so relaxed that my daughter and I went shopping at the new Sarasota mall on Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday morning, the turkey, which had been defrosting in the garage refrigerator, came in to finish the process in the kitchen sink. But – horror of horrors – it was still frozen solid! I was so relaxed I found this funny! So the turkey was still frozen; so what! We’ll find an open grocery store and have chicken (which I prefer anyway).

But my husband, who is the turkey cooker, wouldn’t have this. He took off to find an open grocery store. Our daughter did the smart thing; she got on the phone and started calling different places. Success! Walmart had ten defrosted turkeys left. The frozen turkey went back in the outside refrigerator for cooking on another day and the new turkey went on the grill.

Our son and daughter-in-law wandered over around 11:00 am and asked what they could do. Setting the table was a natural for our daughter-in-law, a talented artist, and our son and daughter tackled the pumpkin pie. I worked on the stuffing and sweet potatoes and then we all went out to the lanai to drink wine and snack on starters. And guess what! I had been so relaxed I had forgotten to buy starters. So out came the olives, a half-eaten carton of hummus, a lumpy cheese and some chips. My son found a package of shrimp in the freezer which we defrosted in the microwave and shared with a hungry white egret who was begging at our back door. (Note to my readers: This is a bad idea. You shouldn’t ever feed the egrets and blue herons but this was a holiday, after all, and shrimp was a natural food, so please forgive me!)

Around 3:00 pm, the turkey was done and we all sat down around a beautiful table to eat. We ate and chatted and ate and chatted some more. The dirty dishes piled up and no-one cared. We finished the meal with the pumpkin pie and then sat around the table some more. Later on, I sent home large packages of turkey and all the trimmings with my son. My oldest daughter, husband and I filled our plates for the second Thanksgiving meal of the day and settled on the couch to eat and watch a movie! What a lovely Thanksgiving!

And so, after all these years, it finally happened; we had a (partial) family Thanksgiving. I must admit that I did enjoy the day and I wasn’t exhausted by the end of it. So the question is – will I remember this and keep the guest list down to our family for holidays in the future? Can I resist inviting all those poor souls who have no family to join them for the holiday? Well, maybe. What do you think?