Memorial Day

(If this post sounds familiar to you, it’s because I originally wrote it in 2010. It’s pretty valid today.)

Today is Memorial Day – the day we honor those fallen warriors from all our wars.

I find that I’m having a difficult time with this holiday.  I have a difficult time with all patriotic holidays that honor our nation’s service men and women.

It’s not that I’m anti-military – to the contrary – Big Al was in the Air Force for 20 years

and worked as a DAF Civilian

for another 13 years.  I appreciate and admire anyone who puts their life on the line for their country.  I even appreciate those who didn’t die in the service.  My father served in World War II

(in fact WWII is the reason for my existence, because he never would have met my mother if he hadn’t been in the army).  And obviously, Big Al didn’t die in Vietnam or Thailand during his time of service.

My problem comes from the time of Vietnam.  Al went and served in Vietnam and Thailand.  I stayed home and raised a son by myself.  The Air Force messed up his pay, and, but for my parents, my kid and I would have starved or been on the streets.  And I lost that year out of my life.  To this day, I have to consciously think about how old I am, or how old my son is (subtract year of birth from current year, etc.) because I blocked that year out of my memory.  I never heard the phone ring, or footsteps on the porch without steeling myself for the chaplain’s visit.  And after Al came home there were months of readjustment – to each other – to our family roles – to “normality”.  Unless you have lived through a time of separation when your spouse or sweetheart is in harm’s way for a significant portion of that time, you can’t imagine what it does to you.

My problem now with patriotic holidays is a holdover from that time.  Because when he came back there were no parades.  There were no patriots meeting him at the airport.  There were no prayers for his safe return in church.  There was no thanks from a grateful public.  He was required to travel in uniform, but as soon as he could he changed his clothes.  He didn’t wear his uniform to church.  He didn’t wear it in public at all, if possible.  Because he didn’t want to be spit on, or booed, or otherwise reviled.

So now, when the country has at last come to its senses and is once again appreciating the sacrifices of men and women in uniform, I have a hard time getting into the spirit.  Because I remember how it was when we were the ones doing the hard thing and serving our country, and we weren’t appreciated and loved and cheered.

I only wish we would learn something, and not have to send our men and women into battle, either here at home, or overseas. Surely we can manage to behave responsibly and get along with the rest of the world. If only…

Holidays and Special Occasions

How did your family celebrate holidays? Did lots of relatives get together? What traditions did you have year after year? What food was served?

Thanksgiving

When we lived in Houston/Pasadena, we always spent Thanksgiving at Nannie’s. We would drive up as soon as Papa got off work. We always had a big dinner on Thanksgiving Day, that Daisy had prepared for us. We would have turkey, cornbread dressing, giblet gravy, fresh green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce and several kinds of dessert. Nannie usually invited one of her friends, Miss Robbie Norris, who was an old maid school teacher. She taught junior high history, geography and government on the Texas-side for 50 years. Miss Robbie always treated me wonderfully, because I was born on her mother’s birthday.

When we lived in California, we would have Thanksgiving with Gaga and Uncle Vic, Aunt Franchie, and Susan Greisser. We would drive to Palo Alto/Menlo Park from Concord on Thanksgiving morning, and then spend the rest of the weekend there. We usually ate dinner at Uncle Vic and Aunt Franchie’s house because Gaga’s house was too small for all of us at the same time.  Harriet and I, of course, wanted to stay over there since Susan was not too much older than I, and we would have somebody to play with and talk to, but after Bill was born, they didn’t have enough room for all of us, either. I remember, when I was 11 years old, I, unprompted, chose to stay at Gaga’s house, and I received many kudos for being unselfish. I was such a little prig!

After we moved to New Jersey (I was 12 when we moved) we usually drove down to Richmond to Uncle Bill and Aunt Jan’s house. We loved that! I remember the first Thanksgiving we went down there, I got my first period. It was very traumatic for me, but I got over it. One year when we went down, we had gotten a rubber worm, about 2 inches long, and we were going to play a joke on Uncle Bill and put it in his salad. Only when we got there we found out that Aunt Jan hadn’t planned on having salad for dinner, so Mama stuck the worm in the turkey between the thigh and the breast. Uncle Bill was carving when he suddenly stopped and said, “Pitty, look at this.” Aunt Jan went over and looked and there was the worm! We were all at the kids table and didn’t know anything was happening, and Mama was paying attention to Billy, and she looked up to see Aunt Jan carrying the whole platter of turkey out to the kitchen. Fortunately, Mama figured out what was happening and stopped her before she threw it all in the garbage. Aunt Jan was almost in tears, and she said later the only thing she could think was to wash it off and then say, “I’ll get the OTHER turkey!” Of course, there wasn’t but one turkey, but she was almost beside herself. That little practical joke almost backfired on all of us.

In Richmond, the Bill Oglesby’s lived just behind the apartments where the married students at Union Theological Seminary lived. (Uncle Bill was a professor there.) They always played a touch football game on Thanksgiving afternoon, unmarried students v. married students. I don’t remember much about the games, except the married wives were the cheer leaders for their team, and they dressed up in long skirts, and puritanical clothes. Their cheer was “Persevere onward, Rah, Rah. Persevere onward!” said with a straight face, and folded hands.

Later, after I was in High School, we stayed in Westfield and usually had dinner with the Hachmanns either at their house or at ours. Westfield Sr. High always played football on Thanksgiving morning against Plainfield High. One year I went to a brunch before the game with several other girls from my Girl Scout troop. When we stayed in Westfield, we usually went to an ecumenical Thanksgiving service on Wednesday night before the big day.

We always watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television after we got color and they started broadcasting it.

Christmas

When we lived in South Texas, we always spent Christmas in Texarkana. We usually drove up as soon as school was out and stayed until after New Years. The Bill Oglesbys usually were there, too, for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, we all went to Uncle Stuart Wilson’s house for a big dinner and to have presents from that half of the family. All the second cousins were there, along with all the first cousins once removed, and all the first cousins. Boyce Pagan who was married to Little Pauline, used to play Santa Claus. He was a big man with a naturally red face so he looked the part. He quit playing Santa when Annabel, his oldest daughter, got to be six or seven years old, because he was afraid she would recognize him. He died shortly after that – the red face probably came from high blood pressure. I just barely remember him, so I was probably 3 or 4 years old when he quit being Santa.

We always got a new dress for Christmas. Betty was born right before Christmas, and that year we all trooped down to the hospital to see Mama and the new baby on Christmas Day. Anne was seven and Mimi and I were six. Aunt Jan had made Anne and Mimi wonderful little taffeta skirts with gathers and ruffles, and Mama let Mimi hold the new baby, who proceeded to wet her diapers on Mimi’s skirt (those were the days before plastic disposables). It ruined her new skirt!

One year when Harriet was a baby, Papa had brought Mama and Harriet and me to Texarkana a week or so before Christmas, and then he drove back to work for that week. He was supposed to bring all the Santa Claus presents up when he came back on Christmas Eve. The problem was the car broke down in Carthage and he didn’t make it in time for Christmas morning. Mama and Nannie ran down to the drugstore – the only thing that was open at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve – and bought a few little things to go in my stocking, and told me Santa Claus had gotten confused, and left all my presents in Houston and Papa had had to go back and get them. It worked for me!

The first thing Christmas morning you try to “catch” everybody else by saying “Christmas Gift!” Technically, I think, if you are the first one to say it, the other person is supposed to give you a present (as if we wouldn’t exchange gifts anyway). To this day, I answer the phone on Christmas Day with “Christmas Gift!”

Christmas morning we all got our “real” Santa Claus presents and stockings. Everyone was required to stay upstairs until Gankie went downstairs and opened up the house and lit the fires. All the rooms were heated with natural gas stoves. We would cluster at the top of the stairs until Gankie came back up and he would always say, “He didn’t come.” The first time he did that when Mimi was old enough to understand, she just collapsed in tears, and had to be coaxed down the stairs. All the grandfathers in the family through three generations have teased the grandchildren with that line. My son Ray had the same reaction when Papa said that to him, and Ian reacted the same way when Al teased him with “He didn’t come.”

When we moved out to California, we had to have Christmas at our own house, although we did visit Palo Alto/Menlo Park during the season. The first year we were out there, we put up the tree and we didn’t have THE Angel for the top of it. I, apparently, almost had a nervous breakdown, so Nannie sent the Angel to us. I still have it. The wiring is so frayed that I don’t dare plug it in (it was one of those Angels with a light inside so it glowed). It also has a hole in its stomach where the celluloid melted when the tree was left plugged in too long.

Nannie also had a little winter scene with little houses, trees, and a church, and Santa Claus in his sleigh being pulled by eight reindeer. Once the song came out, we got a Rudolph to lead. That scene was also packed up and sent to us when we could no longer visit Texarkana for Christmas. It has been added to through the years and now includes a log cabin that burns incense, and a mirror for a pond under the snow. When Mama and Papa broke up housekeeping, my nephew, Daniel – Bill’s son – got the scene, and he sets it up faithfully every year. I think it has had a couple of spacemen added. We had little toys in the sleigh, including a matchbox car, some tinkertoys and a doll house baby that had lost its arms and legs. Santa’s sack was the cut-off toe of an old sock. I think the thalidomide baby is still with the scene. Betty and Bill used to hide the baby in the Christmas tree and have many happy hours playing “Hunt the Baby”.

New Years

We didn’t have many New Years traditions, except we always had black-eyed peas for dinner, usually with ham and scalloped potatoes (we weren’t much for sweet potatoes). The southern tradition is that black-eyed peas represent the money you will get during the year.

Gankie used to shoot off fire crackers on New Years Eve. In fact one of the standard things in my stocking was always fireworks. I hated it! I could deal with sparklers, but I didn’t like anything that went “BANG!”

After we got color TV, we always watched the Rose Parade, and the adults watched football in the afternoon. We still schedule dinner for half-time. Often one or another of the adults would have tickets to the Cotton Bowl, so they would be missing and the kids would stay home and eat dinner with whoever was left. In the early days of television, my folks would watch the TV and listen to the game on the radio because the radio broadcasters were so much better at play-by-play than the TV people.

Easter

When we lived in Texas we spent Easter in Texarkana (are you beginning to sense a theme here?). The Easter Bunny always brought us colored, hardboiled eggs, and some candy that we hunted. We each had an Easter basket, and we took it home with us when we went back to Houston. We played with the eggs and rehid them, and rehid them for a long time, until Mama finally confiscated them because they were getting nasty. Still, inevitably, she wouldn’t be able to find at least one of them, and it would surface when the odor got too much to bear.

I quit believing in the Easter Bunny when I was about 5 years old, and I’m not sure either Harriet or Betty ever did believe. We got to help dye the eggs after we got to California. That was as much fun, or more, than hunting them.

We always got a new “Church” outfit for Easter, usually with a hat and gloves. One year when we lived in Westfield, we went in to New York City to the Easter Parade. It was QUITE an eye-opener. We usually went to Radio City Music Hall some time during the season for their Easter show. We had a week off from school for Spring Break, and usually went then.

Memorial Day

As a little girl I don’t remember much about Memorial Day except that it was the end of school.

After we moved to New Jersey, school didn’t get out until the third week of June, but once we got there they made a really big deal out of Memorial Day. We had a parade in town every year, and I walked/marched with my Girl Scout Troop every year.

My Birthday

I was born on August 12th, and in our family, birthdays were treated like holidays. The birthday person got to choose the dinner, and didn’t have to do any chores or anything else they didn’t want to. We usually had parties and played games like “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” and “Hide and Seek.” We always had cake and ice cream, but I wasn’t fond of ice cream until I found out you could put chocolate sauce on it. I hated those little Dixie cups that were always mushy by the time it got to be that time in the party. I ALWAYS chose fried chicken, rice, and green beans for dinner (that we had in the middle of the day). When I was eight years old I got a WHOLE FRIED CHICKEN all to myself.

One year, I was playing outside – I think we were playing “Hide and Seek” in the bushes at Nannie’s – and a bee stung me. I was absolutely incensed! “Didn’t that bee KNOW it was my BIRTHDAY?”