This post will be one of those nostalgic trips down memory lane about my family again, so I’ll warn you up front and you can abandon it quickly if you’re looking for straight politics. G. Murphy Donovan’s childhood story, “The Cranberry Rumble”, which I mentioned a few days ago, sent me down memory lane thinking about holiday meals. I couldn’t think of one where anything remarkable happened like the Thanksgiving in his story. Our family holiday meals were relentlessly boring and I remember when I was young we would go to my maternal grandmother’s for Christmas, but we spent Thanksgiving at home with our immediate family. In my grandmother’s small kitchen, the table could not hold the families of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc, so my grandmother set the table for the children first. The adults got us corralled and seated, where we ate our fill and then went outside to play. Any family get-together ran the same course, where the adults made sure to fix the children’s plates first and get them seated and fed. Children came first in my family.
My mother, whose birthday fell on Veteran’s Day, passed away in 2001 and she served as the shining example of an independent spirit for American womanhood, long before feminism ever came along to enthrall the whining female masses demanding “female empowerment”. My Mom never considered herself a feminist and she found their selfish, endless carping repugnant, yet she could put almost any of them to shame with her ability to handle manual labor, domestic tasks, juggle a nursing career and six kids with never a complaint or expectation of help from anyone. She knew the best way to be an independent person is to be self-reliant. She worked harder than any person I have ever met. Mom loved to fix things and she repaired everything from our TV set when it went on the blink to chipped china, to all our many scrapes and more serious injuries. On top of all that she was a superb cook and baker, kept the house immaculate, insisted on rules and routine more efficiently than a drill sergeant, yet found time to be our most faithful cheerleader and moral support when we needed it most. The kitchen table, or wherever families gather for meals, serves as the civilizational center, around the globe and my Mom, like generations of mothers before, knew this instinctively.
My oldest sister always veered toward gourmet type cooking, leading to many bumping of heads in our small kitchen at holiday time, where my Mom insisted on traditional PA Dutch food and my oldest sister would argue and plead for us to expand our culinary horizons. Mom let her bake some different desserts occasionally and she excelled at making things like braided loaves of bread and fancy rolls, but the rest of us liked plain old store-bought brown and serve rolls best. My next older sister avoided the kitchen, except to eat and she rarely got roped into any part of cooking any meal. She had a knack for breaking any small appliance she touched, so it was best to exclude her from the kitchen work space. Odd thing that somehow she perfected making pie dough and became the family’s best pie baker in adulthood, despite being a less than great cook (one of her signature dishes was veal parmigiana – frozen breaded veal patties smothered with overcooked spaghetti, jarred sauce and Parmesan cheese from the green shaker, tossed in a casserole dish and baked). My biggest contribution to any meal was to be the reliable, food prep person – just tell me how small you want the vegetables, chopped, diced, minced and I will happily cut away. Oh, you want someone to stand there and stir that pot non-stop until it reaches a full boil, that’s a job for me. I follow instructions well and any tedious task in the kitchen suits me perfectly. My youngest sister could be relied upon to help with any task too and she served as the one to smooth over the personality clashes that inevitability arose with so many strong personalities working in such a confined space.
As I thought about holiday meals, none stuck out in my memory, but a very ordinary meal popped into my mind. My youngest sister possesses one of the calmest, most agreeable personalities imaginable. Unlike me, who loved to get on my soapbox about any issue I felt strongly about and also had a penchant for allowing my cousin, Randy, next door to goad me into doing things where I knew I would get in trouble. The usual taunt, “you’re too scared to do X, Y or Z!” led to my declarations that I wasn’t scared, whereupon I’d charge forward with whatever the dare was. One time he picked up some crumpled, old pack of chewing tobacco at our small local ball field that looked like it had been in that parking area for years. Randy told me that he knew I was too scared to try it and of course I took a wad and chewed it. I might note, he didn’t try it. My sister (the less than great cook one, who also became a state trooper), ever the reliable narc, couldn’t run fast enough to tell Mom what I had done. I had beat her into the house and raced in the bathroom to rinse out my mouth, but Mom came charging in there and there I stood with brown tobacco juice dribbling down my face. I lied and told Mom I hadn’t done it and learned that brazen lying wasn’t the way to go with her.
I got into trouble frequently by allowing Randy to use that same, “you’re too scared” tactic and my narc sister got into plenty of trouble too, but my youngest sister had the most pristine character and she never did anything wrong. We all adored her, because what’s not to adore about someone who is always nice, always kind, always good. So imagine our shock when the perfect child revolts at of all places the supper table, sitting right next to Pop. It was an ordinary supper and Pop always ate way too much bread with his meals and he liked to slather butter and either strawberry jam or grape jelly on his bread. We all talked a lot at the supper table, so when Pop scolded my youngest sister, you could have heard a pin drop in the kitchen that night. There sat my youngest sister, defiantly arguing with Pop that the reason she put a large glob of grape jelly on her potatoes was because she had asked for the butter more than once and no one listened to her. Pop told her that she had to sit there and eat those potatoes. Who knew that underneath that calm, lurked a pretty impressive temper. My youngest sister is retired from the Air Force and served in Afghanistan in the early years, shortly before her retirement. Several years ago, through the family grapevine, I heard that the local pastor was making political commentary about GWB and the war stuff and that Sunday, my nephew had insisted they sit way up front in church. My serene sister got up and walked right out of church in the midst of the sermon that morning. My kids were shocked when they heard this, but I knew that underneath that calm is a strong well of righteous anger.
My three sisters rank as a very talented group of women who have had successful careers, pursue many hobbies and can be expected to do the unexpected. For the past few years, they decided that Thanksgiving will be the traditional holiday meal and during that get together they vote on a foreign country, which will be the themed cuisine for Christmas dinner that year. Then they research that ethnic cuisine and decide on which dishes to make. They had Chinese Christmas dinner one year and I sure wish I lived closer and could have been there for that one. Had my Mom been around for this new Christmas tradition, I feel certain she would have liked the idea, although Pop would have reacted like he did when he came to Fort Bragg to visit one time and we took my parents to a Japanese restaurant. Pop only ate a few bites before deciding he didn’t like Japanese food and as we were leaving that restaurant Pop asked my husband, “Are there any steakhouses in this town?” When my parents visited us in Germany, my Pop decided after his first German meal that he didn’t like German food, which struck me as bizarre considering he was PA Dutch and ate German food his entire life. So, as we traveled around Germany, all meals had to be planned around finding American fast food places or eating on a US military installation. My Mom loved trying different types of food and exploring new places. She once told me she wouldn’t mind getting on a plane and going anywhere in the world, because wherever she ended up she’d find something interesting.
At holiday time it’s common to reach back into those nostalgic childhood memories of holidays gone by, but I feel fortunate for having enough good memories of my parents and childhood to warm me any day of the year. The other day my youngest sister emailed me to remark upon Mom’s birthday and she said it best, “Nearly everyday there is something that I wish I could ask her advice about or share with her. She was a very wise person. She was good at helping us pick ourselves back up, dusting us off and making us try again.” So many people today won’t even try the first time, let alone try again when they stumble or fail.
We had the first cooler days this past week here in this Southern state where I now live. Over the years when visiting, my Mom angrily talked about how many young mothers she saw around the Army who didn’t have the sense to properly dress their children for the weather. I had morphed into my Mom, as I had to bite my tongue more than once as I saw young Moms bundled up in winter coats and boots with babies in the shopping carts – with not even socks on the babies’ feet or jackets on them. Hooray for liberating women from the bounds of motherhood – I am sure your children (if they survive infancy) will be so proud of you…. I find it doubtful these kids will be remembering their Moms, like my siblings and I remember our Mom.
Now for the political commentary, my youngest daughter lives in another state and she decided she wanted to be a “Big Sister” in that program. Her “little” adores her, but earlier this year my daughter and son-in-law moved to another city. My daughter’s “little” called her a few days ago to tell her that her step-dad is in jail for beating her. The teacher saw the bruises and called the police. This girl’s prize mother has a few kids with this piece of garbage and is pregnant. Last year when my daughter brought her “little” to her home to bake cookies, the “little’s” mother came over too and she waxed on about how she’d like to bake cookies at her house, but she doesn’t have cookie sheets. My daughter gave her the very nice cookie sheets I bought the year before. After many adventures with the “little’s” family, like the cockroach infestation that had my daughter wondering if she should call child protective services, now there’s this one. My daughter called me distressed, because her “little” told her this isn’t the first time he’s beaten her. Last year at Christmas when my daughter gave her “little” a Christmas present, this girl unwrapped the present carefully. She told my daughter she wanted to keep the wrapping paper and rewrap that present, so she would have a present to open on Christmas morning, because her loser parents didn’t have money to get the things they had put on layaway at a store. Whenever you hear about a child like this “little”, rest assured there’s a litany of abuses, neglect and trail of tears that follows.
Bad family situations aren’t something new, but despite more information, more opportunities for women, more material wealth, our ability to do the basics, like feed our kids properly and shelter them from the cold, seem beyond the grasp of way too many American mothers. In the mix of all this female empowerment claptrap, there’s a glaring absence of something that most mothers used to know – how to fend for their young. If my daughter’s “little” were a rarity it would still be sad, but behind all those impersonal statistics on children in America, are way too many in situations like hers or worse. Those politically in tune feminist mouthpieces won’t be there to take in any of these children falling through the cracks, nor do they see them as they travel among the elite “educating” women on women’s rights. Laura Bush, a kind-hearted woman, attended an event at Georgetown, along with Hillary Clinton, America’s premiere champion of women and children, and John Kerry yesterday to talk about women’s rights in Afghanistan. It’s sure easier to focus on the plight of women and children in some far off country than to peek beneath the surface and see so many American children in need. Civilization begins with the family gathered together to share meals – if we fail at that simple task, we can’t possibly survive. You want to rescue America, try to teach young men and women to be responsible parents and for crying out loud, sit down together and share meals, not just during the holidays, but throughout the entire year.
And in regards to women in Afghanistan, hello, President Obama is pretty much handing that country back to the Taliban and the drug warlords when we pull-out, so having Hillary and John Kerry lamenting the plight of Afghan women seems hypocritical in the extreme. So besides being clueless on how to bake cookies, Hillary’s also not even very good at understanding foreign policy either. Laura Bush means well, but the political situation we leave on the ground there will erase most, if not all, of the gains made by Afghan women. John Kerry, well who knows why he showed up at Georgetown for this event and depending on which way the political winds blow, he can reliably be for or against any political situation or cause. He’s a man for all political seasons. Now, that I got all that off of my chest, I can think about my Thanksgiving menu.