Browsing Category Nostalgia

Keeping the Merry in Christmas

While radio and television programs are broadcasting Yuletide carols and reminding us to be jolly, COVID is sucking the merry out of Christmas. That sad reality is the reason why this usual glass-half-full optimist is fighting the pandemic blues. I am not alone. I know this because many of my friends tell me that they feel it, too. We compare our symptoms. Short tempers and long-lasting anxiety. Mood swings from hopeful to hopeless. And the WTF (where’s the food) all we can eat syndrome.

Since the pandemic began ten months ago, it has dragged on from season-to-season, and the set of new rules to live by has become old. We’ve all got the instructions memorized. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Avoid large gatherings. Socializing with family and friends at birthday parties, reunions, holiday get-togethers, even weddings, and funerals is a no-no. I imagine that some employees are not too happy that this year’s Christmas office parties are zooming. Who doesn’t feel like screaming, “WHAT THE ELF? ENOUGH ALREADY!”

As an (often mild-mannered) spiritual person, I wonder if the global pandemic is a Biblical prophecy and punishment is being levied on humankind for our sinfulness. I suppose that atheists and scientists would dispute that statement; it is an ever-lasting argument. So, I’m going back to talking about Christmas. Foremost, December 25 is a day held in reverence. It also happens to be my cousin Jo Jo’s birthday (a shout-out to you, Cuz), and for wide-eyed children everywhere, it is the day when Santa Claus makes their day.

Unlike Scrooge, I don’t need spirits to show me Christmases past, present, and future. I remember, and I envision.

In my mind’s eye, I am about seven-years-old. My mom and my siblings, and I are cheerfully jockeying around the live Christmas tree in the living room. Dad is seated on the sofa, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, clutching a Kool cigarette between the index and middle finger of his right hand. He is all into watching a John Wayne western on the old black and white TV set as I am into hanging my made-in-school decorations on the tree. Occasionally horizontal line interference forces dad to leave the sofa and walk over to the TV. He sticks his cigarette between his lips, takes a long drag, and then removes it, exhaling a puff of white smoke before tightening a small piece of aluminum foil that is wrapped around the tip of the rabbit ear antenna. The picture clears up and dad returns to the sofa. As he is sitting down, he glances toward the tree at our handiwork and nods approvingly. We continue hanging decorations. Simple ornaments created with Popsicle sticks, Elmer’s glue, pipe cleaners, colored beads, and a red and green chain garland made from construction paper share space on the spiny branches alongside store-bought string lights, shiny, fragile bulbs, and long strands of silver tensile. Some years, we add tiny candy canes – and then we wait. Christmas morning is only days away.

During the evenings leading up to the big day, mother sometimes lets us stay up past our 8 o’clock bedtime to watch televised seasonal specials about Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Old St. Nick. On Christmas Eve, she doesn’t need to tell us to turn-in. We eagerly hurry to bed because we know that the next day will be magical when we awake. In the morning, the joy and laughter of enchanted children fill the air as we gush over the gifts that Santa left under the tree. Our family’s meager income prevented us, four kids, from getting many presents. And often Santa didn’t bring us precisely what we asked for, but we always got a few things each, and for that, we were thankful. Mother’s lessons of expressing gratitude for everything were not lost on me even to this day.

The sweet scent of fresh pine needles lingers in our apartment for days, and it seems to take forever before every stubborn spike that lodged in the rug or slipped into a crack in the aging wood floor bordering the carpet has is gone.

In the postwar era, many parents observed – and children believed in – the long-standing tradition of Santa Clause. Some of today’s contemporary parents feel that deceiving children about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other fictional characters hinder a  trusting relationship with their children. So, they don’t adhere to any of the rituals that created beautiful, lifelong memories for their grandparents and parents.

Christmas wasn’t the only day that held magic. I was a curious child. Whenever I would shed a tooth, I would place it under my pillow before going to sleep. The next morning I would wonder and sometimes ask mother how the tooth fairy could lift my pillow and replace my tooth with a shiny coin, usually a nickel or dime, without waking me. Mother played along, leading me to believe that she was as perplexed as I was. I treasure those memories, and I think that mother enjoyed the games as much as we children did.

I know that it is the parent’s prerogative when it comes to observing traditions with their children. Still, I’d bet four calling birds that some of the same parents who say that they don’t want to lie to their children about imaginary characters don’t hesitate to fib to them about other things when it serves their purpose. As I see it, our parents fooling us with myths about the Tooth Fairy, Santa, and the Easter Bunny may have been telling us lies, but they were good lies.

Sometimes, when I am stressed and longing for a temporary respite from everyday living’s harsh realities, reflecting on traditions involving make-believe activities that my family observed during my childhood makes me happy.

Christmas present is eight days away. I doubt if many folks would disagree with me when I say that the best stocking stuffer all of us could receive would be a miraculous, immediate, and complete disappearance of COVID. I’m not promoting fake news, I know it’s not a reality, but nevertheless, that’s my wish for this Christmas.

My visualization for Christmas future, 2021, and all years after that is for love, brotherhood, joy, and peace in the world. That, along with good health, is my wish for my readers and all of humankind.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may God bless you all!

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Aging Like Fine Wine

I see it. There, on the horizon. Another birthday approaching in a couple of days.

God rest your soul, B.B.King, but this septuagenarian won’t need to play your upbeat Happy Birthday Blues song to lift my spirits. I’m good. My plan for B-Day is to express my gratitude to God for the blessing of seeing another birthday and then I’ll take a moment to reflect on my birthday’s past.

I’ve had some ho-hum birthdays when I did nothing to acknowledge the occasion except maybe draw a smiley face on my daily flip calendar and then turn the page. I also had some memorable birthdays like when my beau at the time treated me to a concert, dinner, or some other memorable event. (Eugene, I don’t know if you are reading this or if you are even aware that I have an online journal, but if you are, I want you to know that I still remember when you took me to a small supper club. Unbeknownst to me at the time, you slipped the waitress a note to give to the club host. The host then announced from the stage that it was my birthday and pointed to our table. The clubgoers turned toward us and sang Happy Birthday to me. It was a beautiful gesture, and I don’t know why I felt embarrassed, but I did. I just wanted to dissolve into a heap of chocolate in my chair faster than the ice melting in our drinks. But as you see, your thoughtfulness left a lasting impression because I still remember that unforgettable birthday evening.)

My earliest memorable birthday was my 16th. That was the only time I ever had a birthday party. It wasn’t a budget-busting gala like some contemporary parents provide for their 16-year-old daughters. Mine was a small event. I remember the round cake bought from Posin’s Bakery. It had “Happy Birthday Sweet 16” written on top in pink and yellow icing, encircled by 16 candles.

Along with the cake, we enjoyed Neapolitan ice cream, potato chips, and a few other party snacks.  The several friends who I invited, my siblings, and I celebrated the event in the basement of our family home, while my parents courteously remained upstairs.

We danced beneath pre-strung crepe decorations to the stack of 45 RPMs, which I had prearranged next to my dad’s record player. The lineup included many of my favorite tunes:  How Sweet It Is by Marvin Gaye; Bettye Everett & Jerry Butler ‘s Let It Be Me; My Guy by Mary Wells; Baby Love by the Supremes; and You’ve Lost that Lovin Feelin by the blue-eyed soul duo, The Righteous Brothers. That was when music was music and not just a compilation of noise, grunts, and offensive language.

I, like other Boomers, grew up in The Vietnam War era when gas cost 30 cents per gallon, a loaf of bread was 21 cents, and a US Postage Stamp, 5 cents. The Beatles were taking the world and America by storm. I owned at least two of their singles; A Hard Days Night and She Loves You (yeah, yeah, yeah).

A talented young boxer by the name of Cassius Clay (he later changed his name to Muhammed Ali) won the boxing world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston. The Civil Rights Act was signed into law, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr received the Nobel Peace Prize, but that didn’t stop creative artists like The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron from rapping politically charged lyrics about revolution.

Most pertinent to this lifelong Washingtonian was when the District of Columbia residents gained the right to vote in a presidential election for the first time. I remember that my dad was so proud to cast his first ballot. I don’t think he ever missed voting during a single election after that.

So many birthdays, so much history.

Although listening to music was one of my favorite pastimes then (and it still is), when I could scrape together enough money, I enjoyed attending shows at The Howard Theater, usually with my best friend, Cookie. She and I laughed ourselves silly while witnessing the antics of rising star comedians like Flip Wilson, Moms Mabley, and Richard Pryor. Back then, theater seats were available on a first-come basis. Cookie and I would rush to get to the Howard an hour before the box office opened so that we would be the first patrons standing in line to buy tickets. After purchasing them, we would race to the front of the auditorium and grab seats on the front row. When the screening of the movie previews and a serial film was over it was showtime. We would scream and act-a-fool (as the old folks would say it) during live performances by musical entertainers like Chuck Jackson, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Marvelettes and so many others.

Sometimes I spent Saturday afternoons at the Sylvan Theater. If I wasn’t with Cookie, I went along with my parents and siblings. We enjoyed films like Imitation of Life, Sounder, and A Fistful of Dollars. By the time Blaxploitation films emerged, I was a bonafide movieholic and going to other movie houses in the city. I squirmed through films like Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and cried at the end of Cooley High. (The latter remains one of my favorite films.)

So many birthdays. So many memories.

I’ve aged like fine wine. Over the years, the mature me has expanded my interests to include social activism and politics. Before writing these memories, I couldn’t resist digging up some birthday trivial and I found this. According to the MyBirthdayNinja site, in my previous life (for those who believe in such), I was a publisher and scribbler of ancient inscriptions. (Isn’t that interesting?)

No, you won’t hear me singing any birthday blues, because I see every birthday as a journey. Another landmark. I will treasure every year and enjoy every mile because on each B-Day that I am blessed to be above ground; I will be older than yesterday, but younger than tomorrow.

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Reminiscing Thanksgiving Holidays Past

Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday. Not everybody celebrates it, and if you are one of those bodies who don’t, that’s okay. It’s your prerogative.

But tradition is ingrained in my soul, and every year around this time, nostalgia embraces me like a Snuggie blanket. As I write this, Thanksgiving Day is slightly more than 72 hours away. And I remember.

I remember when I was a very young child, Thanksgiving was the time when our family would often kiss the city goodbye and head south to visit our relatives in the Tar Heel State. Usually, we stayed with our maternal grandmother at her farmhouse. Some of grandma’s other grown children would arrive with their families, and we would reunite with our numerous cousins and other relatives, those who arrived for the holiday weekend, and those who lived in the small town near grandma’s farm.

During the years when my family did not go to grandma’s house for the holiday, Mother would sometimes prepare the Thanksgiving meal and we would pitch in to help. As her children grew older and we had families of our own, we’d sometimes bring a dish that we prepared at home; creating sort of a pot luck Thanksgiving dinner.

I remember one year when I volunteered to bring the collard greens. What I did not realize after cooking what I thought would be a chef-d’oeuvre, not only were the greens undercooked, they were poorly seasoned. I had failed to add any of the staples for making a delicious pot of southern-style greens. No ham hocks or fatback or smoked neckbones. Minus those cholesterol clogging meats I should have seasoned the greens with table salt, but I didn’t think to do that. Can you say bland?

I don’t remember anyone complaining about the greens during the meal, although some of the suddenly wide-eyed expressions by folks when they began eating them should have been a giveaway. One forkful and everyone around the table knew that those were not my mother’s collard greens. Mother was born and raised in North Carolina, and back in those days, if southern women learned nothing else, they surely learned how to cook. And when it came to cooking collard greens, my mother could burn. She put her foot in it. If you are not familiar with the vernacular, those latter expressions are compliments, meaning mother’s greens were supreme.

After dinner, mother pulled me aside and trying to spare me from hurt feelings; she gently told me, “The greens were okay, but you should have cooked them a little bit longer and added some seasoning.”

That was my first attempt at cooking fresh collards. (Canned and frozen greens were the norm for this busy working mom.) Lesson learned. Do not volunteer to prepare a dish that you’ve never cooked for a family holiday dinner. Since then, thank God, I’ve learned to properly cook and season greens.

Sometimes, after our holiday dinner, we would clear the table, cleaned-up, and enjoy playing Bid Whist. (A note for the uninitiated — Bid Whist, is a card game where bidding partners strive to earn high points to win).

My younger brother was often my partner. Sometimes mom and dad played against us or my sister would be mother’s partner. If other whist-playing relatives, like my Aunt Sarah and Uncle James, were visiting, they would be partners. When there were enough people playing we would play rise and fly. That’s when you lose, and if there are other folks waiting to play, the losing partners get up, and another couple sits down to play.

I cherish those good times.

Unfortunately, as unavoidable as it is, things change, and so do people. Our family Thanksgiving holiday gatherings at my parents’ home ended way too soon. I’ve tried to maintain the tradition with my immediate family including grandchildren with the hope that after I’m dead they will have as many treasurable memories of family holiday gatherings as I have, and the tradition will become part of the family legacy for them as it did for me.

Due in part to PC and sometimes to religious beliefs, Thanksgiving Day, like Christmas and so many other festive occasions, has become a cause célèbre. I see the day as a time for gathering, to be with friends and family. If the history and origins of celebrating Thanksgiving Day bother you, then don’t think of the day as celebrating Thanksgiving. Think of it merely as an opportunity to get together with family and friends, some of whom you may not have seen for years (except at a funeral) and enjoy a good meal. It certainly is a convenient time to have the family gathering on a day when a lot of working people have the time off.

Life is short. IMHO sometimes, we need to temporarily set aside our convictions and seize the opportunity to enjoy spending time with those we love because opportunities don’t last. We never know if a loved one that we spend time with today may be gone tomorrow. A missed opportunity can sometimes be a huge regret.

I don’t wait for a particular day to acknowledge things for which I am thankful. I am thankful every minute of every day. I am thankful for my family and friends, including my blog and Facebook friends. Some of my online friends are people who I’ve known for much of my life. Perhaps we met in grade school or grew up together in the old neighborhood. We were friends long before there was social media. And some of the friends who I’ve met online, I’ve known them long enough now to consider them to be genuine friends. They are friends with whom I occasionally talk on the phone, and sometimes exchange birthday cards, email messages, or notes. I am thankful for real friends and also for good neighbors.

I am thankful for good health. I am thankful every day of my life.

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Assessing Easter Sunday

Happy Easter friends.

If you are a churchgoer, enjoy the service. I am spiritual but stopped going to church long ago. However, on Easter Sunday, I often reflect on how it was when my siblings and I were children.

From the time I turned six years old and my sister four, she and I were required to go to Sunday school nearly every Sunday and to church almost as often. Until they grew older, my younger brothers were too little to make the block-long walk with us, so they stayed at home with mom and dad except on occasions when our entire family went to church.

I remember many things about those childhood Easter weekends like mom helping us color eggs and putting them in straw baskets lined with green cellophane grass. Nestling in the grass were chocolate bunnies, multi-colored jelly beans, and yellow marshmallow Peeps chicks. Back then, Easter was the Sunday that I looked forward to more than any other Sunday because I knew that my sister and I would be wearing brand new outfits to church. Cute frilly polyester dresses, fresh, bright white bobby socks, and black patent leather shoes. One year mother bought us pretty matching topper jackets. Mine was pink, and I think my sister’s was white or maybe hers was pink too. Some, but not many details have faded from memory.

As I matured, I realized that children were not the only ones who looked forward to showing off their Easter clothes. Many of the adult parishioners didn’t consider that Easter Sunday was about the resurrection or the message either, it was all about the fashions. People who didn’t go to church all year long showed up on Easter Sunday dressed to the nines, well many did.

Old Mr. John was an exception. The neighborhood drunk lived upstairs in the same apartment building where we lived. One Easter Sunday morning he followed his wife outside. While he hung back, she broadcasted to every neighbor they passed that they were heading to church. A rarity. Mr. John was wearing a battered, wide-brimmed Porkpie hat, probably reserved for attending funerals; a wrinkled, brown pin-striped suit that looked like he had slept in it and overturned brown shoes. An apparent reluctant churchgoer, his scrawny body was tagging a few inches behind his obese wife who was strutting proudly down the street, nearly bursting at the seams in a fitted fuchsia-colored dress. Perched on her head was a huge white hat with so many brown feathers attached to one side that it looked like a sparrow the size of an eagle was clinging there for dear life. Some sights you can’t unsee nor forget.

One day I decided that even if I went to church year round (which I didn’t, but even if I did), I would never go on Easter Sunday. I could hold a one-on-one session with God, as I usually do any day of the week; besides my absence would leave a seat for one of the Easter Sunday only worshipers who will crowd the pews.

There are some things that I miss about my church going days. Things like singing in the junior choir as a teen, watching a minister deliver a rousing sermon while using his white handkerchief to wipe the sweat running down his chocolate face like a melting fudge sickle, and the good, foot-stomping, hand clapping gospel music that seems to shake the rafters and open cracks in the wall.

These days, I need only to look out of my window at some of the churchgoers on Easter Sunday, especially the elder ones, decked out in their Easter hats and fresh outfits to know that there is truth to the proverb, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

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Planting Memories

I don’t have my mother’s green thumb, but I surely inherited her love for flowers and house plants.

For years, I’ve told my daughter about how, when my siblings and I were growing up, mother kept an indoor garden of beautiful house plants. When I was still in grade school, most of those flowers flourished year round on the windowsill in our living room.

The one plant that was too large to sit in the window occupied a place on the floor beside the roll-arm upholstered chair. Its sturdy, bright green leaves must have been at least three feet tall. It was a Sansevieria trifasciata. (“What the…,” you say. My thought exactly, that’s why I prefer to call it by it’s familiar nickname “mother-in-law’s tongue” or “snake plant.”)

The snake plant is native to the tropics of West Africa, and while its average lifespan is 5-10 years, some have been known to live as long as 25 years.

I’m not sure if that particular plant was my mother’s favorite, but it sure was mine. The beautiful flower thrived for years, even surviving the move our family made from the cramped apartment in LeDroit Park to our more spacious house in Petworth; but like all living things, it eventually died.

Some weeks ago, my daughter surprised me when she presented me with the snake plant pictured above. “Had she grown tired of hearing me share memories about her grandmother’s snake plant?” I wondered. No, she’s just that kind of thoughtful person. I almost cried because the plant resurrected old memories. I purchased a snake plant early last year, but it came to an early demise shortly after I brought it home, probably due to my overwatering it. I didn’t know then, but I do now; water is not the snake plant’s best friend. (I did say that I didn’t inherit mother’s green thumb, remember?)

I am not one of those eccentric people who name their plants. However, I made an exception and named this one Millie, after my mother, Mildred, because my childhood recollection of my mother’s beautiful snake plant is as vivid as if I were standing in front of it today. Isn’t it strange how things that some people would consider insignificant are, for others, a lasting memory?

Lately, whenever I walk past and look at that plant gifted by my daughter, I think of my mother nurturing her plants with the same tenderness that she bestowed on her children, all those years ago.

Next month, May 12, is Mother’s Day. When that day comes, mother won’t get flowers from me as she did for many years, because (as some of my readers know) she deceased four years, nine months and 20 days ago. But this year, I’ll look with gratitude at my daughter’s (early Mother’s Day) gift, and smile as I always do, because it rekindles pleasant memories of my mother and her fondness for plants.

Plant-lovers will tell you that plant tending takes root in our mind, and just like every pleasant moment in our life plants sow something sweet in our soul.

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