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THE DINNER ROLL RECIPE

“It’s time for us to move back to the Bay Area,” said my father.  “We need to live closer to you — not with you — but near you.”  At 85 he finally admitted to himself that my mother was slipping away and she would need more care than he could provide.  Not yet diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease, she was showing all of the signs.  I had noticed her failing as well, but the decision to leave their lovely home located between Sebastopol, California and Bodega Bay which boarders the gentle Pacific had to be theirs.

The little farm as the family lovingly titled my parent’s retirement home had been a gathering place for more than 20 years and tradition at Thanksgiving.   All of that time she and my father bought the bird from a local turkey farm while the rest of us brought the side dishes.  The one thing, however, that no one even ventured to duplicate were the dinner rolls straight from Mama’s oven.

Whether the recipe was her own, her mother’s or one clipped from a magazine we never knew.  What we did know was the roll recipe was tucked away in her black, loose-leaf binder among the other clippings and hand-written cooking treasurers collected through all the years of her married life.  My sisters and I never asked for the recipe because the rolls were Mama’s speciality.  Being a wonderful cook she prepared other specialities as well when there was an occasion or if she felt inspired, but when she was busy, food was plain and simple, “and better for you in the long run,” she assured us.  So it was that we grew up experiencing a few culinary delights as well as steamed potatoes still in their jackets and vegetables cooked in “waterless” cookware.

With their final decision to move absolutely firm, Ken and I looked, and found, an ideal house for them just a few blocks from us.  Four months later I drove the two-hour trip to begin packing with the family coming the following week for the big move.  Mama saved everything.  My job with the help of my niece Denise was not only packing, but also included sorting through some 60-plus years of accumulation.  Dad’s job was to keep those empty boxes coming, and Mama’s job was to see that we were all fed and happy.  After all, she was a wonderful cook.

As we sat down for dinner Denise and I looked at one another with the same thought, “What is thisssss?”  Tasting did not answer the question.  Too much spice, too much salt and too much of whatever else it was that she found in her food supply which made up the mystery dish.  My father, who usually wolfed down his meals in a matter of minutes, ate everything on his plate, but it was an obvious effort, and because he was hungry.   Denise and I dabbled with our food then went back to packing.  Mama, we agreed, had forgotten how to cook.  Following that first night one of us worked with her preparing dinner and I told my dad that he would have to help Mama in the kitchen once they moved into their new home.  Either that or he would have to get used to guess-what dinners.  I had known that Alzheimer’s was stealing away my mother’s thoughts and memories, but I hadn’t realized it was stripping away her skills as well.

When I packed the kitchen supplies, I placed all of her cookbooks in one box, sealed it up realizing that it would be unlikely she would ever use them again.  At the new home I placed the box on a shelf in the garage, planning to glean the best of her recipes and to browse through the black binder at a later date.

The later date didn’t come until after she was gone.  Picking up the dilapidated binder I thought about the aroma of her freshly baked rolls which had beckoned us to the dinner table on so many memorable occasions.  Page by page I searched, but to no avail.  There was no recipe for the rolls I remembered.  Instead of being tucked away in a book it was no doubt tucked away somewhere in the corner of her mind.

Even after  nearly two decades I find that every so often a thought races through my head, “I’ll call Mama and ask her about …..?”  But just as quickly reality follows; Mama isn’t here and a thousand little questions will never have answers.  Nor will I ever make rolls as delicious as the ones she made.

Originally posted 2009-06-04 06:23:00.

ALZHEIMER’S AND THE CHRISTMAS TREE

 

The Romick family over 50 years ago.

The Romick family  50 years ago.

 December 13, 2013 —  We have an artificial Christmas tree which looks, especially when its up decorated and well-lighted, every bit like a noble pine.  The only drawback to artificial is dealing with the negative responses from our grown children for our plastic choice, and the fact that plastic has no fragrance.

The fragrance part is easily remedied when I cut back my juniper bushes in the front yard and arrange a garland across the mantel.  The aroma of evergreens fills the air, and I can pretend it’s from the Christmas tree.

 CHRISTMAS AS USUAL

 Two nights ago David and our granddaughter Kristina helped me get the boxes down from the loft in the garage and I began.  I knew that the old spark of Holiday decorating in me is rather withered as Ken continues along the downward stairway of Alzheimer’s.  What does push me along are the little ones in our family, now a third generation, who still comes to visit at Grandma’s house, and once hearing from one of them – take Dylan for instance – on a winter’s night when he came to me and said, “Grandma, your Christmas tree is very pretty.  Now, isn’t that motivation enough to get those decorating juices flowing? Continue reading

Originally posted 2013-12-15 05:38:46.

REMEMBERING HALLOWEEN PAST – AND ALZHEIMER’S

October 26, 2012 –

Carved Halloween Jack O'Lantern

Halloween:  I wonder if it’s the candy or the make-believe that kids like most. 

My parents moved to San Francisco when I was six and we celebrated Halloween, but it was very different from the costumes and candy of today.

WHAT — NO TRICK OR TREAT?

Our family occupied the 3rd floor flat in one of the twin buildings which had sunny bay windows and a very long flight of stairs.  The flats were located on 17th Street just a half block off Mission Street in San Francisco. It was Mission Street, after dark, where my sisters and I, as children, celebrated Halloween at the tail end of a parade.

We didn’t wear our costumes to school.  Nor were there any room-mothers to furnish us with frosted cupcakes covered with orange and black sprinkles and a decorated holiday cup filled with apple cider.  It was just another day without any fanfare, but every kid in the neighborhood could hardly wait for the Mission Street parade. 

With one of our parents (usually moms) we lined the sidewalks as marching bands led by a strutting drum major tossed his baton high into the air, a limited number of police officers and firemen in full uniforms walked behind young dancers and acrobats wearing tutus or leotards; all representing their respective studios.  My sisters and I were downright envious of their glitter, glamor and shine as they danced and cartwheeled up the street.  A few cars advertising local furniture stores drove by while the owners handed out all-day suckers and balloons.  Much to everyone’s delight a group of colorful Gypsies was also a part of the parade.  Their music and dance collected circles of admirers while the parade marked time for the special show.  

The evening was pretty well spent, and we knew the end was in sight when the last school traffic patrol dressed in crisp, white trousers, shirt and kerchief, and topped off with a campaign hat boasting their school colors marched past the lingering observers.  That’s when we who were left fell in behind and became the tail-end of the parade. Continue reading

Originally posted 2012-10-28 04:25:22.

SMALL TOKENS OF AFFECTION

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, remembered or not.

There it was, much to everyone’s excitement, in all of its gaudy decorated glory: the Valentine’s Box sitting proudly in the back of the classroom.  Covered in finger-scalloped crepe paper and shiny hearts of red, white and pink by a few of the teacher’s artistically talented students, its message was clear.  The ordinary, newly transformed cardboard carton became a treasure trove  for valentines: small tokens of affection from one student to another.

At home you either made cards, or your mother bought a couple of books filled with “punch-out” valentines printed on both sides, or a package filled with 36 cards and envelopes for all your little friends – plus one for the teacher.  The day before the 14 of February, as you walked out of the classroom door with your lunchbox, books, papers and coat, the teacher stuck one more printed paper into your outstretched hand which included names of every single boy and girl in the class.  That was her way of saying, “Make sure you give everyone a card.  We don’t want any student to be forgotten.”  That was Valentine’s Day in elementary school.

In high school, they dispensed with such childish frivolities as elaborate Valentine’s Boxes, the day being just another school day, except that everyone was looking forward to the coming Friday night Valentine’s Day dance held in the boy’s gym.  The other exception was the special cards stuffed through the vent slots of certain lockers by handsome young swains and adorable girls, most being part of the popular group — the cliques – the in-kids; then there was everyone else.  That was my group: everyone else.

However, that exclusivity didn’t stop “the-everyone-else group” from having crushes on certain members of the opposite sex with whom no one outside of the cliques had a screaming chance.  For many of us, we took our non-couple status and dared to pursue the unsuspecting hunks on this special day of love by stuffing our own cards through the vent slots of their locker.

My carefully chosen small token of affection for the dark-haired quarterback, which I signed with a question mark, was a sad-looking street urchin sitting on the curb.  The cover caption read, “Gee, Valentine’s Day ain’t no fun……,” continuing inside with, “…… ‘specially if you don’t got cha one.”  Other than having my English teacher suffer with an acute anxiety attack had I permitted her to read the grammar, the card was a total bust.  Mr. Football Star never knew I existed, and certainly didn’t much care who the unfortunate one might be with a name like question mark.  And that about summed up Valentine’s Day in high school.

Then I grew up, got married and in the doing I acquired my very own permanent and forever Valentine:  Ken.  We continued the romance of Cupid’s work with small tokens of affection on February 14: cards to one another, and cards slipped under everyone’s plate at dinner time when the children were small – and not so small — or a handful of candy hearts in their lunch box, or bag – just to say “I love you.” In return, their handmade cards for us were taped to the living room window for all to see.  Then the children grew up, married their own Valentines and moved away leaving just the two of us once again.

One year, while driving in the car I heard a radio DJ announce a Valentine’s Day contest with first prize being a get-away weekend for two at a romantic resort up the coast from San Francisco.  To win, all the contestants had to do was be the maker of the most original Valentine.  “Just mail your entry to the radio station where it will be judged and the decision of the judges is final.”  “Simple enough, I can do that,” I said to me. Based on a childhood poem about a tin whistle, I cut up some tin cans, fashioned them into a greeting card with my own original “tin” verse and sent it to the radio station.

Did I win the weekend for two at the quaint romantic inn on the coast?  No.  But I did win 3rd prize:  A champagne basket and a dozen long-stemmed red roses would be delivered to my Valentine at his work the Friday before February 14, which was Saturday.

Wouldn’t Ken be pleased to have such a surprise Valentine delivered to his office?  I was excited.  However, on that very Friday, February 13, I received a second call from the radio station telling me they were soooo sorry, but deliveries were limited to San Francisco only.  No deliveries to the East Bay where we lived and where Ken worked.  My surprise bubble had been popped. “But you can come over and pick up the basket yourself,” encouraged the DJ, still apologizing.  I agreed that we would do that.

It stormed 24 hours straight on Valentine’s Day.  Nevertheless, we sloshed across the Bay Bridge, meandered up and down Market Street through sheets of torrential rain finally spotting the florist where the prizes were displayed in the window.  Ken pulled into a vacant place next to a flooding curb – into which I could not avoid stepping.  He waited patiently in the car while I dashed through the rain into the shop where I picked up my prize – his small token of affection from me.  “Happy Valentine’s Day,” I crooned, handing him the beautifully filled basket — me and the prize dripping wet.  I’m still not sure if he felt the water-drenched trip was worth the Valentine, but he gave me a quick kiss adding – almost grumbling — “Thank You,” as we began the soggy trip home.  He gave the champagne to our neighbor while I rearranged the long-stemmed roses for the dining room table.

There have been many other days celebrating St. Valentine, other dinners and other roses –with  none quite as memorable.  Never, have I made a more supreme effort to say “I love you” than with that small token of affection.  Nor, do I suppose, has he ever ventured out in such miserable weather just to make me happy while I was striving so hard to make him happy.  A paradox, you might say?  Probably — but such are the Valentine’s Days of devotion to someone you love — and to long-term married life.

Presently, I do believe Cupid’s quiver is empty at our house, but the cute cherub still hangs out here reminding me that small — and large — tokens of affection aren’t always tangible.  Nor do I need to get shot with one of his tiny pointed arrows to remind me that I do love this man.  I don’t love the strangeness that makes him who he is not — stealing him from me —  or the demons who keep him imprisoned within himself.  It’s Ken, who is losing his battle with AD — who has fought so hard for so long, that I love — for such is Valentine’s Day when you live with Alzheimer’s disease.

Originally posted 2011-02-11 20:31:28.

THOUGHTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

Or perhaps I’ll call it The Fourteen Days of Christmas.  Today, as I am writing, it is January 6, 2011, a little off my usual schedule because we’ve been celebrating a long Christmas, but now it’s over.  And you know what?  I really like Christmas spread  o  u  t,  taking as much of  December as it needs.

If you are among the generations of through-and-through Americans whose big days are Christmas Eve and Christmas Day your holiday ended at midnight, December 25th, just as ours did before this year.  Craming so many celebrations into such a small space of time, it would seem the date was more important than the day.  After weeks, and even months of preparation Christmas is over in a flash, and now it’s gone for another year. The jolly old elf, his reindeer, and all of his helpers are taking a well-deserved rest, and that includes moms and dads everywhere.

However, if you don’t live in the USA customs for the celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ can be different, and are actually more in keeping with the authentic event than all the frantic madness we impose upon ourselves. 

Don’t think I’m a Scrooge grumbling “Bah-Humbug” through this wonderful season of merriment and joy. I’m not.  I love Christmas, the carols, the cards, the parties, the well wishes and even the shopping.  And more; before AD, Ken and I so looked forward to driving through the neighborhoods seeing the decorated homes, malls and the beautiful displays on the grounds of churches everywhere, especially the live nativity scenes where we could let our imaginations go and become part of what occurred more than 2,000 years ago: the birth of a tiny baby whose life and teachings have changed the world.   Yes, Christmas is a beautiful and unique celebration – and different – as we all know elsewhere in the world.

My family and friends who have close ties to Mexico tell me that it is January 5, when the children leave their shoes out to be filled with gifts – not their stockings, but their shoes – and gifts not coming from our white-bearded friend – but from the Three Wise Men who arrive on January 6.  Think about it; isn’t the tradition of gift giving at Christmastime based on The Three Wise Men who traveled from afar bringing the Christ Child gold, frankincense and myrrh as they worshipped the New Born King?

Leading up to the 24th and 25th of December there are posadas and celebrations where loved ones reenact the blessed event, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day being a more reverent time.  But no matter what the custom or tradition, it is a joyous celebration for Christians everywhere.

This year I have found wonderful flexibility in December.  Perhaps taking a bit of the customs from south of the border.  Singing The Twelve Days Of Christmas, while being a delightful carol, sounds a little much for me.  Who needs all of those maids amilking and noisy French horns?  But 14 days of Christmas with some light festivities, and then a few days of rest in between parties is perfect.  When Ken was well, it was tradition to spend Christmas Eve at daughter Julie’s house, Christmas morning at our house, and Christmas afternoon at grandson Sean’s house.  It seemed we spent as much time in the car as we did with family.

Ken no longer travels well, so I declined all invitations to leave our home.  “Then we’ll come to your house,” said Sean.  “What evening would be good?”  I gave him a date and beginning the Tuesday before Christmas we dined and relaxed with those who could attend, and then opened gifts with no rush in having to get the kids home and in bed, or dropping someone off at the next stop.  A few days later we did it all over again with other members of our family.

“How joyful it has been to spread out the Holiday,” I emailed our cousin, Penny, whose family has also multiplied over the years, living in various parts of Oregon.    She agreed, saying  they also spread the Holiday over several days, commenting on how well it has worked for their family.   Christmas Day can be any day we choose.

If any of these changes mattered to Ken it’s highly unlikely.   He no longer has any curiousity or interest in brightly wrapped gifts, decorations, or colorful lights, and has no understanding of the holiday.  But always a social person, he still seems to enjoy having people around him, and especially the little ones.  Our last Christmas celebration was Monday evening with daughter Julie, husband Tim; son John and wife Marisol, and their two little ones, Joaquin and Maya.  The eight of us represented four generations, and when Ken looked at four-year-old Maya, seeing her beautiful brown eyes and dark hair, he exclaimed, “What a little doll.”

With no memory of who she is or where she fits into this vast puzzle we call family, Alzheimer’s has not taken away his appreciation of the beauty of children, and for that I am grateful. 

So after all is said and done, the gifts opened, hugs and kisses for everyone, and the last guest drove out of sight what did we get for Christmas?  The best gift of all:  Family and friends – in and out of our home — bringing their presents and presence, giving us their gifts of time and themselves.  Who could ask or want for anything more?

Originally posted 2011-01-07 06:25:07.

CLEAN YOUR PLATE

Ken and I are part of the generation born during The Great Depression, and for years our title was just that:

white plate

A white plate helps distracted patients with Alzheimer's

Depression Kids.  I suppose we still are, just as “Baby Boomers” will always be “Boomers.”

During our early years, a good percentage of the population was out of work, and the economy then was in much worse condition that it is today. If one was lucky enough to have a job it was often sporadic; when there was work you worked, when the work ran out the boss sent you home with pay for the time put in: no sick leave, no paid vacation, no unemployment, and no medical.  Benefits?  There were no benefits.  Well, I guess there was one: having a job was the benefit.

Housewives watched every penny, nickel and dime striving to make ends meet.  Axioms, still of great worth, grew out of the struggle.  “Waste not, want not,” was my grandmother’s favorite, and she often quoted scripture when it was applicable.  “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was another favorite of probably every housewife in the neighborhood.  Time and time again she put those words to a test transforming the good part of a torn shirt into “new” underwear for one of the younger boys using her sewing skills and an old treadle sewing machine.  Uppermost, however, was food; the mother of the house gave strict orders, “Clean your plate.”  The moms of America didn’t have to add the guilt trip, “People throughout the world are starving,” because people in America were also starving.  Waste was not allowed.

I suppose when you grow up understanding value, especially the value of food when you’re hungry, the words “clean your plate” can almost be redundant.  So it’s understandable that life-long habits are hard to suppress.  I recall my father breaking off a piece of bread, dropping it into the last puddle of gravy on his plate.  Stabbing the bread with his fork he mopped the plate clean before surrendering it to be washed.

Nor did my father stand alone in the practice.  Just about every red-blooded American did the same.  A clean plate was a show of gratitude and appreciation.

Many of us would have to plead guilty of this “offense” especially when taking one more biscuit from Thanksgiving’s basket and sopping up a little more giblet gravy.  While the Emily Posts of the world frown on the practice, especially in public, we do, on occasion sneak by with mopping the plate at home.  However, when I see Ken stretching his own boyhood habits (distorted by AD) it’s a little different.  Bread is cut up as if it were a piece of meat and if it’s gone or not recognized he uses a cut carrot, an apple slice or a couple of green beans to swab his plate, which he does at every meal.

I’ve watched how the rest of his eating habits have changed during the years of battling Alzheimer’s.  When there were only two of us (after the kids had grown and gone) presentation became more important than when we all sat down together eating family style.  With just Ken and me the dinner plates were filled at the stove and served as if we were eating out.  Now days, I still arrange the food in a pictorial manner, but I notice that before long he has stirred everything together making dinner a gooey goulash, although he does appreciate what I cook and often states, “This is good.”  The nice presentation has vanished, but the goulash is still served on a china plate.

Years ago I read a story (true or not I do not know) about a family who had taken in the wife’s mother, who might have been an Alzheimer’s victim.  The story did not tell, only that she was a crazy old thing who would occasionally break her dish after she had eaten.  In frustration, the daughter bought her mother a wooden bowl.  Each meal was served in the bowl: accidents still happened, but there were no more broken plates.

Eventually, the old woman died and the daughter tossed the wooden bowl into the garbage.  The young granddaughter, who for years had observed her grandmother eating from the assigned utensil, retrieved the bowl from the trash. “Why did you bring that old thing back into the house?” the mother asked.  Thoughtfully, the young girl answered, “I need to save it for when you get old.”

No matter how inconvenient it might be I believe AD victims need to have the same respect as the rest of us.  I felt sad about the old woman having to eat from a wooden bowl, and also felt as if the younger mother deserved her own daughter’s conclusion, which might have been, “When you get old you’re not worth much, not even a real plate.”

Don’t get me wrong; at a picnic or any other appropriate place, or if it’s your chosen lifestyle paper or plastic is just fine.  Just don’t use a cheap substitute as “punishment,” or because that particular “someone” isn’t worth the best of what’s available.

Often AD patients clean their plates so thoroughly they want to include in their meal the patterns under the glaze.  I’ve watched Ken do this time and time again.  My mother did it as well during her years with Alzheimer’s.

One evening at a friend’s home, as we completed an pre-Christmas dinner, Ken kept scraping at the Christmas tree design in the center of his plate.  “Don’t do that,” pleaded our hostess, “It will ruin the dish.”  Yet Ken continued “cleaning his plate.”  Other than the irritating sound, reminding me of finger nails on a chalk board, it would have been difficult to inflict permanent damage on the Christmas ware before Ken gave up and relinquished his plate, which, by the way, was clean as a whistle.

“Next time he comes,” my hostess said firmly, “he’ll be eating off plastic.”  Sure enough, on the next visit, where she had prepared a lovely pre-New Year’s dinner, my friend had a very special Holiday plate just for him.  While the rest of us ate off the good china, he ate from a festive plate made of very heavy paper with a plastic coating – a throwaway.  It was nice, but to me it was still paper.

For some time I have noticed that he often tries to include the flowers or scattered leaves adorning our dishes as part of his meal even after the plate is thoroughly clean and all food is gone.  I doubt that scraping the edge of a fork or spoon over the surface does any more damage to the glaze than does a steak knife cutting meat.  However, the finger-nail-chalk-board noise was getting to me.  Problem solved: I bought some plain white china plates for us to use with absolutely no decoration — no flowers, leaves and definitely no Christmas trees.  Even at lunch he gets his sandwich on one of the new plates, and if it gets broken that’s okay.  We have more.  He uses what I use whether it’s china, paper or plastic – whatever is appropriate.  But I do draw the line; absolutely no wooden bowls.

Originally posted 2010-12-26 23:56:30.

THANKSGIVING MUSINGS

The day before the holiday I took a few minutes on Facebook to wish all of my friends a very Happy Thanksgiving.  Adding a short note of greeting I mentioned that even though we are all grateful for our blessings on a daily basis, Thanksgiving was a special day to review the year and once again be abundantly grateful.  Sounding redundant, I wrote that this day was the Super Bowl of gratitude.

Granddaughter Marisol quickly wrote back saying she was going to use that.  Continuing she told me about talking with someone who was basically a TG-Day Scrooge.  He all but grumbled, “Bah-Humbug,” about the holiday.  She was pleased with the idea of a Super Bowl of gratitude, and together we wondered about the naysayers of Thanksgiving?  We can’t call them Scrooge, nor can we add the “Bah-Humbug,” that’s already in use for Christmas  grouches.  We agreed that they would become just plain Old Turkeys — Tough Old Turkeys.   Later, thinking further ahead, but I’ll run it by Mari, instead of “Bah-Humbug,” how about using, “Bah-giblets.”  It flows nicely and a lot of Thanksgiving fans would like that one, especially grandson Sean who despises giblets.  He cooks them and then unceremoniously gives them to the dog.  She is overjoyed.

Our daughter Julie surprised me by coming to our house in the morning with wonderful vegetables to cook.  I thought her last years effort was over the top, but this year her contribution was fabulous: sliced and roasted brussel sprouts, roasted sweet potatoes, and green beans flavored with sage and butter.  (She believes roasting makes everything better.)   The day was half over when she finished with just enough time left to rush away picking up husband Tim for dinner with his parents.  “It’s all ready — just reheat and serve,” she instructed before leaving, and then she gave me a long, hard hug – half for me and half for Ken.  We’re never sure how receptive he is to hugs and didn’t want to change his good mood with an unwanted touch.  A wave and “Goodbye, Dad,” was sufficient.

Turkey day arrived at 12:01 p.m., November 25; an ordinary day, but being Thanksgiving it’s never ordinary especially when celebrating a holiday with a seriously ill family member.  Admittedly, it can be difficult.  However, the wonderful thing about our kids, their spouses and their kids is their acceptance of Ken, his Alzheimer’s and dealing with it in a matter-of-fact way.  Our grown progeny talk to Ken as if his mind understands their conversation, and that’s good – and appreciated – especially by me. It all feels so normal, and he feels involved even though his contribution to what is being said makes no sense to others.  They have learned to use some of my favorite key words and phrases such as: “Really?” “Is that right.”  “I didn’t know that.”  “I’m not sure,” in addition to a dozen other forms of reply to their father and/or grandfather who lives on another level of existence which doesn’t share our reality.

The afternoon and early evening was filled with good food, good company and lots of loving phone calls from those who couldn’t be with us.  Granddaughter Kristina, who lives here decided to spend the holiday with her mom and dad in Ogden.  She and significant other Chris drove the 800 miles, and then she called to wish us a happy holiday, as did other grandchildren and sons far away.

It was cold today.  I remember many years when we had the front door open because it was so warm, but not today.  After dinner Keith started a fire, we served pies and whipped cream and everyone helped themselves.  Most of the younger ones passed up the pies in favor of ice cream, and Ken felt tired preferring to go to bed rather than have even a dish of ice cream.  Tomorrow he can have his choice.

Have you ever noticed when company leaves it sounds like a swarm of bees?  They often leave in a mass – a tight group – making  buzzing sounds with everyone talking at once.  Adults are still finishing their conversation, saying goodbye, a frantic realization and quick search for a child’s missing shoe — it’s found — gathering coats, purses, dishes, hugs and kisses, waves from the porch, and then silence.

Pulling a rocking chair closer to the fire I put my feet up on the hearth and watch the flames dance in the grate.   A perfect time to reflect on the day, the year and count my blessings. It had been a good Thanksgiving and a good day for Ken. I am grateful.

We have come such a long way from those long-ago Thanksgiving days at the little farm of my parents in Sonoma County.  How the years have piled up bringing constant change to our lives; taking away our older dear ones and birthing new life for us to love and watch grow.  I sat there making a study of the dying embers feeling just a little melancholy, and then the phone rang; a bit late, but not for a holiday.  It was Debbie calling from Ogden.  “I just wanted to wish you and dad a Happy Thanksgiving,” she said.  The melancholy vanished with her hello.  I suppose I needed one more slice of family to complete the holiday.

We talked for a while comparing dinners and guests, our family here and most of her family there.  The debate over using the good dishes of our shared tradition or paper plates as some of the younger generation would prefer.  Makes life easier is their claim.  Deb and I laughed realizing that even the utensils we use for eating are part of someone’s tradition.  And as previously stated we must respect the traditions of others, especially the coming generations.  So we wonder as Thanksgiving 2010 fades into history, who, in the future, will be interested in or even want our good dinnerware and all of those bone china tea cups?

Originally posted 2010-11-28 08:15:53.

TRADITION REVISITED

Is it Thanksgiving that kicks off the Holiday Season, or is it Halloween?  While the “they” forces are debating the question I’ll take a quick sentimental journey back to my own childhood remembering Christmas decorations lurking on the high shelves of our local “5 and 10 Cents” stores waiting for the Halloween masks and costumes to disappear.  No different from merchants of today, they couldn’t wait to push an early start for Santa’s helpers to swing into action.  My sister Janet and I used to ask one another, “What happened to Thanksgiving?”  Even at 9 and 12 we were aware that every holiday had its own tradition, and it wasn’t Christmas, but Turkey Day that arrived in November.   In school we had learned of the pilgrims sharing their harvest with the local Indians and giving thanks to the Almighty.  Nice beginning.   America’s first Thanksgiving has long since been tradition, and we continue to celebrate as the first gusts of cold air remind us that winter (and Christmas) is, indeed, on its way, but first let’s have our day of gratitude.

When we were children both Ken and I spent Thanksgiving day with family — not friends — family; unless the friends joined us for dinner.  As youngsters we were yet to meet, but family traditions were pretty much the same.  Dinner was either at home, or everyone gathered at some other relative’s house; that house belonging to anyone on the long list of the aunts and uncles.

After we were married we continued to share with one another the Thanksgiving traditions of our parents, aunts and uncles. It was a little more difficult because we now had his family and my family from which to choose.  It was also noticed that our cousins were growing up, getting married and having children, as were we.   With so many invitations and so many relatives, the older generation soon realized that traditions needed to change — not disappear — just become less rigid,  less cumbersome, evolving — even morphing — into a family solidarity of  love  and genuine affection for one another — which they did —  all the while respecting the new chosen Thanksgiving traditions of the younger generation.

We settled on Grandmother’s house – either one.  When Ken’s parents, Rose and Nick, began to have health problems we brought our brood, their brood and Rose and Nick, health permitting, to the home of my parents; a country setting located in Northern California’s Sonoma County.  For years my personal tradition was to arrive on Monday to help my mother prepare; making pies, cooking ahead and cleaning – getting ready for family on Turkey Day.

It was during dinner that last year when I noticed my mother seemed to be talking endlessly about not much of anything.  Her dinner plate was untouched as she droned on and on until my father said, “Irene will you stop talking and eat your dinner.”   She paused, took a few bites and began her filibuster once again.  I had noticed her being inattentive the previous three days, losing concentration and not listening.   Later, much later, we realized she was slipping away into Alzheimer’s.

Nick and Rose had already journeyed into the disease.  It was more than 35 years ago when doctors weren’t even certain what was wrong: “Just old age,” was the usual diagnosis, “or senility – maybe dementia.”  The medical community groped and we did too.  Uncertain about what to do, we did the best we knew finally placing them in full care facilities when we could no longer cope.

My parents moved back to the Bay Area to be near us so we could supervise and be a part of their care, and life continued.  So did tradition, but once again a new one:  Thanksgiving dinner was at our house just as I had promised Mama.

Years before when I could see my mother was growing tired, not so much because of the work involved with family gatherings, but more of the house being filled with company; the laughter and chatter of adults, the clamor and joyful sounds of children, the cry of a new baby seemed to tire her.  Interesting, no matter how much we might love family and parties there comes a time when a little peace and quiet is better.  My parents were ready for love and devotion to be served in small portions.  I suppose we can compare the often overwhelming joy of family to a lifetime of being stuffed with Thanksgiving dinners – some better than others – but appreciated none the less.  When age finally dictates after such a life-long feast, and we are filled to the brim, all that is wanted is a very thin slice of pumpkin pie.  I understood what she meant; enough was enough.

Nevertheless, she worried about letting go of the reins of her tradition, “If I don’t have the family come to our home, then where would they go?”  Smiling a sad smile I reassured her, “Then they will come to my house, and when I’m not able someone else will have the family Thanksgiving at their home.  There will always be someone to hold it together because family tradition is so precious.  Just let me know when you and dad are ready to let it go.  I’ll be there.”

We took photos after dinner that year: family photos, group photos, candid photos, couples photos and Mom and Dad photos.  With everyone being in a jovial mood, Dad made the announcement, “This is the last Thanksgiving here at the farm.  Mama just isn’t up to it any longer.”  The invisible baton of tradition was handed to me and for all of these years I have held it close.  It has changed, been reshaped, gotten smaller – and larger – depending on the number of guests.  The door of Ken’s and my home swings wide, and there was/is always  room for one more.

Since Ken’s AD Thanksgiving is always the holiday which hangs precariously in limbo until November.  By then I know whether we can do it one more time — or not.  In October we had a small family gathering.  Ken was very good.  Somewhere in his damaged mind there remains a spark of social.  He did so well that evening I decided yes; we would have Thankgiving dinner at our house once again.  Our daughter Julie and her daughter-in-law Marisol did the cooking last year, and what a wonderful gift it was.  This year I will have Ben to help when he isn’t watching Ken, and those coming will all bring a dish of something fabulous for the table, as usual.  What a bounty of blessings abides in my home.  I am forever filled with gratitude.

Last Thanksgiving I wrote about “Fiddler On The Roof,” Tevya and his ever-changing tradition and reluctantly accepting what he could not change when his daughters began their own traditions.  I see my battered baton fragmenting as did Tevya’s; bits and pieces scattering in many directions as members of our family move to various locations throughout our great land, but that’s okay even though we will miss them.   I think of tradition as a lighted candle –  like love.  It’s by sharing, giving it away,  allowing it to spread that it becomes bigger, better and brighter.

Following the “tradition” of Tevya and his humble friends I decided last year to place a metaphoric fiddler on my roof as a reminder that in spite of the adversities we all have, life is good.  As far as I know my fiddler remains.  Listen, once again I do believe I hear the lilting strains of music.

Originally posted 2010-11-20 21:38:29.

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