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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Grateful for my childhood

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. Mine turned out much better than I expected. I knew the family I was visiting had a little girl, but I did not know about the boy. They were the most delightful, intelligent and well-mannered kids I have met in years. Victoria and Morgun (supposed to be Morgan, but dad was so worn out after the whole birth thing, he couldn't write straight when he filled out the paperwork). I guess the hospital staff didn't question it. Duh! I guess they are so used to misspelling or 'creative' spellings of names, they don't even notice anymore.

And they had two dachshunds that were the sweetest little things. I got my face washed more times than I care to count. Yes, I know their mouths are "clean", but that's hard to remember when you see where else they've been. Midway in the day they were lolling across my body on their backs gazing up at me in such an adorable way.

Earlier, as I was getting ready to go in the morning, I noticed a commotion out on the highway. Many cars and people. I thought perhaps the neighbor up the road was having a big dinner and people were parking along the highway. But no, it was another car off the road and in the ditch. They were trying to help before the CHP came. Funny, I hadn't heard this one go off. Usually there's a squealing of tires then some type of crash. I write a about this on Hamida the Herbalist, Issue of the Week for last week.

I guess no one was hurt as they did not call the police. It made me even more careful driving that day.

We had the usual Thanksgiving dishes, including pumpkin pie made from scratch.
Throughout the day I thought about Thanksgivings past. This has always been my favorite holiday, but not necessarily because of what happened. I just liked it, that's all.

Since my parents divorced when I was around 7 or so, and they both felt I should get the benefit of both of them, they decided that each year they would schedule the holidays in advance. One year Dad got me for Thanksgiving, Mom for Christmas - etc. The next year they would switch.

I always preferred Dad for Thanksgiving, since he married another "American" and they would have "real Thanksgiving". That is, turkey, dressing, yams, pumpkin pie. My mother's people would have "Italian Thanksgiving" which meant tons of food, but no turkey or dressing. Yams? No way. It was more like roast beef with lots of garlic and a mountain of spaghetti.

For Christmas, Mom was best since her family was so huge and I had so many cousins, it meant I got a ton of presents. If I was not going to be there, it seemed I got fewer presents. Also, we would spend ALL DAY eating! I mean it. We'd get to grandma's around noon (after Church) and stay at the table until 10pm or so. We usually had two meals plus desserts, nuts, fruit etc.

Between meals, the men would go out to smoke and play horseshoes, or stay in and play cards, while the women cleaned up the first set of dishes and argued. Us kids would go outside and try to get grandpa's bull the chase us out in the field, then hope to run back through the huge gate in time. What fun! Or we might try to play "baseball" out in the yard near the barn. You had to be careful not to end up in the cesspool, that was inconveniently situated in the yard. We mostly used the outhouse attached to the barn for a toilet, so the cesspool was not as bad as it might have been. We thought nothing of this. It had a structure consisting of mountains of lumber over the top. The only reason I ever knew there was a cesspool there at all was when something went wrong one time and my uncles had to uncover it and fix something - a pump I guess.

Even though I was an only child until my mother remarried and had another daughter, I was part of a huge extended Italian (Sicilian) family. We spent most of our lives visiting each other. There was always something. Holidays, birthdays, showers, weddings, baptisms, then later funerals. My grandparents never spoke English even though they were in this country for nearly 75 years. They had green cards.

I am so grateful I grew up like this. I feel so fortunate. It makes it very difficult to handle holidays now, however. It doesn't feel right unless there are at least 20 people at the table.

At Dad's American Thanksgiving, I had all the great traditional food. When my first step-mother was around, we usually went to her sister's house. They "had money" so they really did it up right. Even the booze they drank was expensive. They had a huge house and their kids, my step-cousins had every great toy you could want.

I'll never forget the year step-mother no.1 made dinner at their house in Fremont. I was already on my own by then and my best friend from high school, who was now my college housemate was with me. Her parents had gone to Texas for the holiday and she did not want to go, so she came with me. Oh God! Dinner was to be around 2, so we went over there around noon. Step-mother no.1 as still in her bathrobe, drunk and stuffing the turkey. We realized it would be hours before dinner was ready, so we drove over to my aunt Annie's in Livermore where my mother was for the day. We ate there and hung out for awhile. Then we went back to Dad's where things were moving along. We had a few drinks to ease the pain. Finally, we ate. Ugh! Misery. Raw turkey. Finally we got out of there. Before we went home, we stopped at my aunt Frances' in Hayward and, of course, ate there. We had eaten 3 Thanksgiving dinners that day!

Whenever I begin to feel sorry for myself - living alone, no children, I think back on that day. All of it. The bounty of food, the family, the dysfunction, the driving around trying to appease all my relatives, the embarrassment of having my friend see that part of my life, etc. and I am grateful that at least I did not duplicate the dysfunction. My father married again. That time to another alcoholic and the last Thanksgiving I had with him, he had to cook it all himself because she was so bad off. My Dad never cooked, but he wanted "a real Thanksgiving" so much he went way out of his comfort zone to try to make it work. Bless his heart.

I know my parents did the best they could. They were the generations that came after the immigrant generation. Children of immigrants who were between cultures. Trying to fit in - "be American". Since my father's parents came here single to work and planned to return 'home', they learned English. WWI broke out and they had to stay here. They met and married. They were from two different countries - Ukraine and Poland.

My mother's parents came from the same village in Sicily. They were married with two children when they came to the U.S. There were lots of Italians in S.F. already, so they could work without having to learn English. They were not forced to assimilate, so they didn't. They were able to retain much of their traditional culture all of their lives.

I knew all my grandparents and learned a lot from them. I am grateful for this as well. I miss them all.