Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Time: Cherish Time with Family

That's the title of an editorial written by my daughter on November 17, 1993 while she was in High School. It is framed and holds a pride of place in our dining room and I think it worth preserving here.

My house is full of ghosts.

Occasionally, when walking past the cubbyholes which line the backdoor stairs, I will hear the sound of small hands scrambling for footballs and baseball mitts, followed by the pitter-patter of tiny feet running out into the yard. When I wake early on Sunday mornings, I can hear the laughter of familiar voices in the kitchen, though a quick glance reveals the room is empty.

The greatest center of this "supernatural activity" is the dining room. There is a lot of wood trim in my house—beautiful, dark walnut—but it is most prominent there, where the rich floor boards are covered only by a rose colored rug beneath the walnut table, and the fine walnut china cabinet and buffet line the walls. I think this is why my earliest childhood memories of the house are of that room.

The walls are broken by leaded windows, and the light which flows through them make the room just a bit brighter than others in the summer, and just a bit cozier in the winter.

I cannot recall all the gatherings which have taken place between those four walls. The room has witnessed a continuous cycle of dinners celebrating New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, not to mention the birthday parties, baptismal gatherings and graduations. When I think of happy times, shared with good friends and family, I think of that room.

Recently, I was looking through college literature with my parents, and we concluded that if I went to school out east I would  probably come home only for Christmas. It was strange to think that I would not spend such times at the table with my family, and I realized that the history of my family was rapidly approaching its third era.

The first of these eras was our childhood. Those were the days when we were all together under one roof, my two brothers and two sisters and me. When Christmas morning found us scattered throughout the house with our various toys (probably to ensure that no one else would play with them), the sound of the dinner bell would round us all up again. When given to bouts of temperament, as children sometimes are, we would come to the table surly, grouchy or pouting, but the room soon worked its magic and we were happy again.

Even when my brothers and sisters gradually began to fly off to their respective universities, they always found their way back to the table for the holidays. The conversation became more interesting, more diverse, as my siblings shared their experiences with different people in different places, and put their "higher education" to use. Even I, many years away from college, would occasionally find a little glass of wine by my plate, a promise of the maturity that awaited me, too. I don't believe we ever realized how special it was for all of us to be there with each other. We never said, "Enjoy this time together, it won't last forever." People never do.

Last year we entered our second era. My sister married and moved to Ohio, and my other sister moved into a nearby flat. Our meetings at the table now are more important. We sit together, boyfriends and husbands included, in great spirits: our company is precious.

But nowadays not everyone is always present—I celebrated my 17th birthday this year without my sisters, who can no longer always be around for such occasions, and a place will be empty this Thanksgiving when my sister spends the "alternating year" with her in-laws.

Two years ago when my brother returned from his first two-year stint with the Peace Corps, we welcomed him home with posters and balloons and, of course, dinner in the dining room. But this August we we had dinner there again to send him off to Madagascar, and I realized that we would be incomplete for two years until he joined us there again.

Our dining room then, is a barometer of sorts, indicating the climate of our family; a full table reflects that we are united, blessed. When I say my prayers at night, I ask God to protect my family, but then, as if such a factual request lends no light to its importance, I invariably add, "Please let the coming years grant us many more meals around the dining room table."

But those meals, at least consistently, cannot last forever. When did my father stop going home to his parents' house for Christmas? When did he begin stuffing the stockings of his own young ones, instead of leaving his on a little nail above the fireplace to be filled? My mother was 24 when she left England for America and within two years she was married and had a little boy. She saw her parents and her brother every three years on average.

And so the third era is upon us; a time when, though we will always love each other, my siblings, my best friends will have our own families to feed in our own dining rooms, and we, the limbs of our family tree, will branch out in different directions.

In my room there are two photographs. One is of a blond-haired boy in a sailor suit—my mother's father, and in the other are the ancestors of my father, fresh off the boat from Germany. They have watched the many gatherings of their decedents through the years, and, God willing, I will watch those of mine.

And when I watch my children, or the children of my children's children, whether in the flesh or peering through the glass of a musty picture frame, I will know that they are the product of a room with magnificent walnut trim and a rose-colored rug, and hope that the wealth of happiness which found me there will find them as well.

I thought I was posting this for my children who had asked for a memento of their sister's writing as she embarks on another era of her life.

I found I posted it for me.

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