Ah, the holidays: pumpkins morph into eggnog, tradition into chaos. One of the great chaoses, if you are fortunate, is family. Holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, come but once a year may be the greatest blessing of all. Unfortunately, that year gets shorter as we get older. Tradition dictates that the entire family immigrates to Mom & Dad’s house and spends Hallmark moments together. Doesn’t always happen.
We are the ones who travel now. At Christmas, we first drive to daughter Heather, with her 4 tornadic children, then the next day to Laura’s with her 2 cherubic kids. Son Jon is in San Francisco – this year we visited him at T-day. All this travel is tiring but nothing compared to coordinating a clan visit here.
I found myself reflecting on family sagas every now and then. We all have stories; they are the fabric that allows us to love and laugh together - some of mine happen to revolve around plants. Great surprise, eh?
You Dumbkin, You Can’t Even Use Those Again Next Year. I Can Use Mine Forever!
Heather simply could not understand why her sister Laura would actually buy hand-made wreaths for her windows and doors. Not only could she not understand why Laura would want something whose shelf life is measurable, but she laughed when Laura told her the price. This from a girl who drives a 15 mpg Chevy Tahoe. I, of course, intervened on Laura’s behalf, mentioning that real wreaths were important, not only for the genuine scent, feel and tradition of holidays, but for the people who make their living putting them together. Unfortunately, Laura let slip what they cost compared to Heather’s plastic ones just as husband Ray came around the corner. “Worth every penny”, I horticulturally countered. Ray studied the plastic circles sporting a red bow on Heather’s door. “So, you can use these forever, eh, Heather?”
I Knew The Traditions Were Wearing Thin As I Unpacked The Box.
The older I get the more I realize that traditions are like sporting records - they are made to be broken. In the early years, we tramped through the snow in Montreal, then through the fields around Athens and cut our own. Then we went out and bought the tree, which like the wreath entered our home fresh from the farm. Tradition dictated we fill the stand with water, watch the needles fall, sneeze a lot and keep it until little Christmas, January 6. After the girls left home, Susan dug her heels in, Jon did not care, and I was outvoted. I knew the tradition was wearing thin as I unpacked the Christmas tree box. I felt badly for Christmas tree growers everywhere, but I needed fewer Kleenex and the tree was festive. It is amazing how a little Pine-Sol helps with the fragrance of tradition.
Wearing Thin Part 2
As a Canadian family, we used to revel in a traditional Christmas Eve dish called Tortiere, actually a meat pie. It is a special dish, served in Quebec since the 1800s, with potatoes and pork and all sorts of French Canadian seasonings. However, turned out it was not a hit with either of my Georgia sons-in-law, or Jon’s Southern girlfriend. Soon I heard veiled whispers “Do we have to eat the Torture Pie?” When my children admitted that they ate it as kids only because they had to, we knew French Canada was lost, annexed by Georgia. Another tradition broken.
And It Was Then I Realized That Heather Was a Better Gardener than
Good grief, traditions disappearing, the old country being buried, I had to be able to assert some dominance over my girls. I had an idea; I would take Heather some unusual annuals, like diascia, for her containers on her porch. As I walked up to my daughter’s front door, I stopped in my tracks, confronted by a gorgeous display of pansies, nemesias and pink diascias. Heather bounced down the porch, and said, “Aren’t they pretty, Dad? What are those pink flowers anyway?” Susan took this opportunity to remind me how awful our pansies looked at home and it was then I realized that Heather was a better gardener than I.
Ah, The Learning Curve
Big Jon is a baseball player and parks his 6-foot 5-inch frame on our 4-foot 5-inch couch in the off-season. I reasoned that the holidays would be a good time for him to find a job to help pay for the three boxes of cereal he eats per day. You know, instill that work ethic, show him how difficult the real world can be, and other Dad lessons. After his first (4-hour) day packing boxes at UPS, he came home ready to quit. “Too hard” I smiled, thinking lesson learned: “No, too boring, not enough work.”
After working through the holiday season, damn if he didn’t receive a job offer to work in a management position, at an excellent salary. Good grief, another lesson failed - what happened? “Dad”, he said, towering over me, “I know your intentions are good, but don’t worry about me. Compared to competing in baseball, this was a piece of cake”.
And he broke open his third box of Honey Nut Cheerios.