A day – if you’re fortunate – set aside for family.
For gratitude. For sharing a meal.
Usually a massive meal – in our house it was based around turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, some kind of vegetable. Rolls or banana bread. Every year the “fixins” changed somewhat.
The most important part: many pies. The dinner was basically a stop on the way to pumpkin…apple…cherry pies.
And my personal favorite…playing cards while eating dessert: aka pie.
Dinner was also all about the conversation and stories we shared. So much time and opportunity for prolonged discussion when you are passing endless bowls of food around. Pouring wine. Pouring water. Carving more turkey. I just never knew what subjects would come up; but many became classics.
In 1990, my husband and I hosted our first Thanksgiving.
I had never cooked a whole turkey before. An overwhelming task. I had heard horror stories about overcooked turkeys and dried out white meat. That would never happen to me…I’ll cover it!That should do it.
My parents and my in-laws were coming – to join me, my husband and our 2 kids.
I dusted off the big blue covered roaster pan my mother had passed down to me. Coated the fresh turkey with spices and some oil. Tied the legs together.
I put the cover on. It went into the oven. I set the timer. And let it cook. And cook. Many hours later – when, according to the recipe it would be done, I removed it from the oven. Look it’s ready! With great fanfare, I lifted the lid…Oh No!
It looked like a turkey snow angel! All the turkey meat had slid off the bones. We had turkey stew! There was nothing to carve. Legs askew. Wings fallen off. My mother was horrified. I laughed. And laughed.
It still tasted great…and…the white meat was NOT dry!
♥ ♣ ♠ ♦
The following year:
Twelve family members gathered at the dining room table to enjoy our Thanksgiving feast – including my parents, my husband’s parents, my grandmother, my sister and her family.
Upon noticing someone struggling to remove the meat from a turkey leg, my father-in-law shared a memory…a story that has become part of family lore.
He began describing his job at the First National grocery store in the 1930’s. When he helped get the turkeys ready to be sold for Thanksgiving. The turkey carcasses were brought to the store and his job was to pull the tendons out of the legs. Apparently, this made the turkey legs easier to eat. He went into graphic detail. Right in front of everyone. Who put their forks down and stared at him…as he explained this was probably not done anymore. Those pesky tendons still attached.
GROSS! we protested.
Shocked faces…especially those with turkey legs eaten or half eaten on their plates. There may have been some gagging. My big city brother-in-law’s face turned white. He got up and left the room…
I would hear their voices…while they walked up the driveway. Waiting by the side door, I watched through the glass. Little witches, clowns, princesses, ghosts, pumpkins, monsters, ballerinas….about to ring the doorbell.
They remembered my house.
And they were excited about pencils.
It was October 30th. The night before Halloween.
Trick or treat night where we lived for 37 years.
I wasn’t always the pencil lady. I handed out fun size Snickers and M&M’s like everybody else that first Halloween in our new neighborhood. It was 1980. But my conscience won out a few years later.
I worked as a dietitian at the local hospital. Cautioning my patients to avoid sweets and eat a balanced diet. Somehow giving out those exact items to young children seemed…well hypocritical. And I was young and very idealistic at the time.
Hence the pencils…
…which I ordered from a catalogue. A box of 12 dozen Halloween Pencils.
In 1985 I started using the lid to record how many we gave out every year. Including how many went to school Halloween parties. I didn’t know it at the time, but 2015 would be my final year as the Pencil Lady. I had already refilled the box before we moved.
As Halloweens went by, I discovered that decorative pencils were not popular with every trick or treater. Especially the older ones. For example:
A group of large size, teenage-looking ghastly creatures came by one year. Fake blood. A few in their football uniforms. Rubber monster masks. Practiced nonchalance. All holding out pillowcases filling up with candy.
“Happy Halloween!!” I greeted them.
“Trick or Treat” they monotoned.
I held out the pencils, ready to drop one in each pillowcase.
One creature looked at me with alarm: “Pencils?”
“Yes! Pencils! They are great for school. You don’t have to take one if you don’t want to!”
The next morning I looked for and usually found a few broken pencils in the front yard.
When I was growing up, our dentist lived at the end of our street. As I trudged to his house dressed in my hippie/flower girl/hobo costume, I knew I could count on Trident sugarless gum. Which was fine with me. Another neighbor handed out homemade popcorn balls. Another one gave us apples. My favorite: Mounds bars and peanut M&M’s. The trading back at the house with my brother and sister was intense. Almost as fierce as swapping houses and hotels in Monopoly. My brother often had an unfair advantage as he would trick or treat twice – changing costumes in between. I personally wished I’d thought of it first, although he only got away with it once. That I know of.
When my children reached trick or treat age, we celebrated with costumes and pumpkin carving. Candy trading. Traditions evolved.
Chili became Trick or Treat night supper since it was a fast one pot meal. My son and daughter trick or treated together in our family friendly neighborhood until she left for college. Either my husband or I usually tagged along. Not because they needed us, but because it was fun.
After they were both grown and out on their own, it was trick or treat from my viewpoint as the Pencil Lady. Those little faces so bright and expectant. Carefully climbing the 3 stairs to our side door; the light left on to welcome them.
From 5 – 8 pm every Oct. 30th, the doorbell rang and rang.
Costumes of all shapes and sizes – from lions and tigers to Sesame Street and Disney movie characters to robots made out of cardboard boxes – they were so proud.
The littlest ones trying their best to say Trick or Treat.
And, as they turned to leave, say Thank You.
I wonder if they miss the Pencil Lady.
She misses them.
Trick or Treat does not happen here in our over-55 condo community.
Although I suppose I could still hand out pencils in the lobby.
Today is the “official” Memorial Day, but as far as I’m concerned, May 30th is the real Memorial Day, no matter what day of the week it is. For the record.
So I’m an old fart. I’m okay with that.
“Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, honey” Oma told me years ago, when I was certainly old enough to know this already (or at least remember it). “We would go to the cemetery with flowers and ‘decorate’ the graves of soldiers who had died in battle.”
Today…how is it celebrated…or…advertised? I opened this morning’s local newspaper and found a handful of colorful sales flyers…each with a common theme:
Memorial Day value
RED WHITE & BLUE SALE
Memorial Day SALE shop 2-day Door Busters
MEMORIAL DAY sale ALL YOU NEED FOR WHEREVER SUMMER TAKES YOU
MEMORIAL DAY RED, WHITE & BLUE SALES EVENT 5 DAYS ONLY
Memorial Day: another holiday married to massive sales events throughout the country. A one day sale. A two day sale. A five day sale. Another excuse for a sale. That’s common in this consumer driven culture we live in, but…really?
I personally was never aware of anyone in my family’s history who died in a war. As far as I know, my living relatives either survived or did not serve in the military; except for my father. He served his two years in the states during the Korean War but his number wasn’t called to deploy. I came of age during the Vietnam War – I was too young to actively protest, but was horrified by what I saw on television. By the time I graduated from college, the war had been over for several years. I didn’t know anyone who served there.
And then…there was Mrs. Lynch.
When I was a child (11 years old +/-) – and my parents went on a trip – my favorite babysitter Mrs. Lynch stayed overnight with my two sisters, brother and me. She wore a freshly starched white uniform (similar to what a nurse would wear), giving us the sense that we were in the hands of a professional. A short woman, with thin curly hair (maybe pulled back under a hairnet); she had a thick Irish accent & a high pitched voice. I thought she was “old” at the time, but she was probably only in her late 60’s or early 70’s. (I say “only” now because my perspective is altogether different). She also made the best french toast, grilled cheese sandwiches (I think it was all the butter….) and pork chops ever. But I mostly remember her stories. Mrs. Lynch often told me about mailing care packages to her sons during “the war.” I am fairly sure she was referring to World War II. I had never heard any stories like that before and I wish I could remember more about them now. The emotion in her voice was palpable as she described packing up snacks and goodies for her “boys.” I do remember that. The worry and fear and fierce love wrapped in with the only thing she could do for them at the time. The son of a friend of mine enlisted after 9/11. My friend was also in that dark place until he came back from Iraq.
My childhood diaries mark Memorial Day – May 30th – as the day I watched and/or marched in parades as a Girl Scout, went swimming at the local pool, played baseball in the street and had cookouts with friends. I also noted it was our dog’s birthday. And no school! – if it was a weekday. The year I turned 14, however, we spent Memorial Day cleaning the house, going through boxes in our overstuffed basement and changing the sheets on the beds. No parade. No barbecues. After that year, I have no record or memory of what our family did, if anything, to mark Memorial Day.
So today, for the first time in at least 50 years, I went to a Memorial Day parade. I now live in a small rural New England town. It was a cloudy and chilly morning for May. I looked out the window at…well, gloom. Was it raining too? I stuck my head out the door to check. No, it wasn’t raining. By then it was 10:30 am. The parade had started at 10:00. Finding a parking place could prove challenging.
I am not familiar with the downtown back roads here yet, so thank goodness for GPS. The music of drums, trumpets and flutes grew progressively louder as I pulled into a parking space near the end of the parade route – near the town War Memorial. Just a block away from the main street, I made it to a spot on the sidewalk as the initial motorcade of police officers approached – blue motorcycle lights flashing. The sides of the street were lined with women, men, children, babies in strollers, dogs on leashes. Many were waving small flags. Then came the marchers: Firefighters. Boy Scouts. Daisy Scouts. Girl Scouts. Daughters of the American Revolution. The local historical society. The high school marching band was, by far, the largest group in the parade. It passed by playing “It’s a Grand Old Flag” in near perfect unison.
Much to my surprise, I almost immediately felt a lump form in my throat. Which didn’t go away for many minutes. The music. The earnest young faces trying to keep step with each other. The elderly firefighter walking with a cane. Those faces could have been anywhere. Any time. Any place.
And the flatbed truck with white crosses and flags.
The parade marchers eventually stopped at the war memorial, across the street from where I was standing. The band members turned to face it. There was a short service and presentation by town officials. The origin of Memorial Day was explained. As was the Missing Man Table. The involvement of our town’s soldiers in the Civil War was mentioned. We all recited The Pledge of Allegiance together. A young girl tried her best to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and everyone clapped. A 21 gun salute followed and then I heard someone playing “Taps.” We all stood and watched and clapped and put our hands on our hearts.
It has been many, many years since I stood with a group of Americans and said The Pledge of Allegiance at a ceremony honoring fallen war veterans.
“The Star Spangled Banner,” always played before my kids’ high school basketball games, seemed a much better fit on this Memorial Day morning.
When I was little, the Easter Bunny always left baskets for me (plus my sisters and brothers) to find. We each got a couple (or 4) straw baskets complete with the requisite Easter “grass” which ended up in the rug…everywhere. Inside we’d find foil covered chocolate eggs, a chocolate bunny and those marshmallow peeps – which were just as bright neon colored then as they are now. And jelly beans! And sometimes a stuffed animal – usually a bunny. And other stuff apparently… like educational books…
My younger sister and I often had matching dresses (ugh) and we each usually had an Easter hat. I actually got a kick out of the hat – I remember one had small red fake flowers around the brim. Patent leather shoes completed the look. It worked for my sister much more than me, as I’d just as soon run around the backyard and scoot up the jungle gym, Easter finery and all.
A few days before Easter we dyed hardboiled eggs different colors using the wire holders, still stained, from previous years. The kitchen table was covered in newspapers to limit the mess we’d make. The kitchen smelled of vinegar as we poured it into different cups of water. When I was older I was allowed to drop a different color pellet into each one and watch it dissolve. Sometimes we used wax crayons to draw designs on the eggs first. We were each allowed about 6 eggs to decorate. They were then stored in the frig for the “bunny” to get for our baskets. Or so went the story.
Sometimes we made it to church. Sometimes we didn’t. We belonged to a protestant church and went on a fairly regular basis if my parents didn’t sleep too late. It wasn’t my favorite childhood activity. We tried to be very quiet on Sunday mornings (ssshhhh stop talking so loud! Turn down RoadRunner!).
The best part of Easter, in my memory, are the years when my grandparents came for the day (or sometimes the night before and slept over); usually to take us all out to eat. And play cards! And eat the black jelly beans we didn’t want. Going out to eat was one of their most favorite things to do – and bringing the grandkids didn’t faze them one bit.
In grammar school we usually had an Easter party the week before Easter. Apparently it sometimes included student entertainment….
There was no school the week following Easter….for years referred to as “Easter Vacation” – and it included everyone; whether or not you celebrated the holiday. Nowadays it is just called Spring Break; a much more appropriate and inclusive label.
As I got older the Easter traditions became less defined. We drifted away from the matching dresses Thank Goodness (said I, the older sister) and the coloring of eggs. There was usually a stuffed animal – I got one in a care package my freshman year of college.
It was all useful, however, in knowing what to do when I had my own children many years later. Coloring eggs? check! Easter baskets? check! Easter grass (still getting stuck in the rug)? check! Chocolate bunny and eggs? check! I changed it up a bit with some little decorations and wind up silly toys. Hiding places were always a challenge – back of a closet or in the bathtub were usually dependable until they got old enough to remember from year to year. In the 1980’s there was such a thing as “Me and the Easter Bunny” photos at the mall – did that too; although that huge bunny was kind of bizarre looking.
Set the alarm for Easter morning? check! We usually went to church – one of my favorite services. My daughter dressed up and once wore one of my childhood hats. My son in a little jacket and tie. (at least I didn’t have to decide about matching dresses!) Easter dinner was at home or at my in-laws’ house – our children’s local grandparents. Traditional style – deviled eggs, ham, escalloped potatoes, etc.
One thing that didn’t survive down to their generation: Peeps. Nobody liked them.
One last thing: Easter is the subject of my most treasured book from childhood. It has the sweetest illustrations and story. It made the cut when we downsized – and I also made sure I knew where it was stored. The paper jacket has long since disappeared and the binding is loose and fragile. But precious all the same……