Posts Tagged ‘tradition’

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.


Funeral Etiquette 101

Coffin With Her Arms And Legs WalkingFor as long as I can remember, starting in my childhood, whenever a family friend or relative died my mom would send the family of the deceased a sympathy card. More often than not, it contained money. I never knew exactly how much she included with the card. I suspect it may have been a small amount, maybe 10 or 20 dollars. It might have been more; depending on what our family budget at the time would allow. Nonetheless, I recall that sometimes mom would write a brief message on a thoughtfully selected card and then set it aside without sealing it. When I would ask, “Aren’t you going to mail it?” she would usually say something like, “I can’t seal it yet. I’ve got to put some money in it.”

During my childhood, it was easy for me to understand why someone might include money with a birthday card. It’s a nice gift, especially for a youngster. Over the years, I received some such cards containing a few dollars from my parents, grandmother, a few favorite aunts, and uncles. I even recall occasionally getting a coin slot birthday card with dimes or other coins appropriately placed inside the card. (Are those still being manufactured?) Nevertheless, whenever I learned that someone we knew had died, my young mind went back to wondering why people include money with a sympathy card. And I would naively ask myself, “Is it to make the survivor feel better or the sender?”

When I became an adult, like numerous other benevolent deeds I learned from my mother; I followed the tradition of including money in a sympathy card for close friends and relatives. And although I have discovered that this is an ongoing custom observed by many people; the question of why do it has never left my mind.

As with other lessons learned while growing up, I came to understand that the planning, preparations, and costs for funeral services can be overwhelming; so including money with the sympathy card might help ease the financial burden on the bereaved, especially when there is no life insurance policy. But sometimes the devil’s advocate in me thinks that the practice is sacrilegious. And I realize that it sounds devilish to say what I am about to say (so I genuflect and cross myself before continuing), but — it’s like putting a value on the worth of the deceased.

The intent of some givers might be that their donation could help defray funeral expenses, buy flowers, or purchase food for the repass. I get it. As I said, I almost always include money with a condolence card out of habit, and each time I do it I ask myself the same question:  Why do we do this? This issue of whether it is proper to include money in a sympathy card has weighed on my mind for many years, so I decided to research the subject. What I discovered during my investigation and an unofficial survey, which included questioning some friends, is that as with most things, there are two schools of thought.

While many Protestants, Catholics and members of some other religions do it, the evidence is not conclusive. Opinions differ among people in various ethnic groups and communities.

Some people consider including money with a condolence card inappropriate or downright insulting. Instead, they donate to a charity in memory of the deceased, send flowers or simply send the family a card, sans a check or cash.

In a 1998 column in the Chicago Tribune, Ann Landers, (remember her) wrote that “Money or checks NEVER should be included in a card or letter of sympathy.”

To the contrary, in a 2007 NY Daily News Column, Harriette Cole, former creative director of Ebony magazine, lifestylist, author and branding coach of entertainers, entrepreneurs and business professionals wrote: “I think it’s perfectly fine to do so… If you are discreet.”

The jury is out on this one. As with every other issue, people have their own strong opinions. Some say it is inappropriate to send money. Others see nothing wrong with it. All-in-all, it is a personal decision. Whether or not to include a monetary gift with a sympathy card to help with funeral costs or simply as a kind gesture is up to the giver.

Trends change. People live and die. And life goes on.