As we are heading into the holiday season we are learning about the first Thanksgiving, pilgrims, pioneers, memories, hospitality, and family traditions. I can’t help but relive some of my favorite memories as a child, a young married girl, and new mother. It was always my greatest dream to live like my grandparents, and give my children the life I always wanted, not one of a fast paced world, but of the world my parents and grandparents evoked in the stories they told, and the lives they led.
One of my favorite memories is of an early Thanksgiving after I was first married. I knew it would one day fall to me to “cook the family turkey” and I wanted to learn from the best. And my grandma was the best. So we packed our groceries and made the three hour drive to my grandparents’ farm for Thanksgiving just as we had every year since moving closer to “home.” But this year would be different. This year my grandma (who was in her eighties) would be teaching me the trick to her perfect turkey.
I was anxious and ready. I sat perched on the edge of the kitchen chair all ears. My grandma said that I would be the one to do the “prep work.” She made sure I washed the turkey (a 20 pounder), and patted it nice and dry; inside and out. She then said the trick was to “slather” the turkey in butter, and salt it liberally. “Ok,” I thought, “I can do that.” I began my “slathering” and thought I was just about through until she informed me by “slather” she meant outside the bird, and inside. So here I was a young married girl of twenty trying to hold a twenty pound turkey (it felt like more) in one hand while I reached up, into, under, around, and into again this naked bird. You can imagine the look on my face. And my grandma sat quietly by instructing more here, under there, up there, IN there!
Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. I grimaced and begged for mercy just as grandma convulsed into a fit of laughter. I thought it was my lack of enthusiasm for her time honored tradition, but as she caught her breath and stopped her great hiccupping fits, she informed me that I had done a good job. BUT maybe next year the small grocer in the nearby town would not be OUT of the butter flavored spray, and I could use IT like she always does!
My grandma has been gone for a few years, and I have been married for twenty-five Thanksgivings now. But as long as I am able to cook, I will relive this memory, this tradition, and tell it as often as possible.
In first grade we are learning about traditions tied to Thanksgiving and family. Although I know it is something they all come in contact with in their lives, it is not always something children are aware of. In our fast paced, “buy me more,” “do it for me,” attitude of many children today I wonder what kind of memories and traditions they are building in their lives.
We sadly live in a community that parents live with grandparents, and grandparents are raising grandchildren, but not because of a sense of family connection and pride, but instead because the adult children still expect someone to take care of them, and in turn take care of their children, instead of the other way around.
As a mother I understand the reasoning to want to make a better life for our children, to want to give them more, have them have more than we did; but I can’t help but wonder at what cost? How do we bridge that connection of past to present when many “grandparents” are under the age of forty, and parents are still as immature as the children they are having? What is their part of history to share? Their traditions to hand down? Their gift to give to be carried on for generations?
While reading about the pilgrim children the other day some students couldn’t imagine having to stand while the adults ate, or that they had to do the same chores as their parents. Many can’t fathom the idea that the pilgrim children were there to work for what they had, and what they “had” was food to eat and a place to sleep. They did not have a room full of toys, clothes with designer labels, or someone to cater to their every whim.
Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of my parents and their parent’s stories of childhood; it was a world I could only imagine. When I try to convey some of these stories to my class as we read a book that triggers a memory; they tend to look at me as if I’m speaking a foreign language. When they are asked to write about a memory, a tradition in their family, they cannot. When asked to tell me something they are thankful for they may be able to say a mom or dad, game, or pet, but they cannot tell me why. And I worry. I worry I will not be able to teach them, or convey to them the importance of these things, when they do not live them. I worry about what the stories will be that they will carry with them.
My own children were blessed enough to have great-grandparents that lived through the dust bowl and great depression, and told the stories of their lives. The amazing thing was they spoke of it as a learning experience, a time to be cherished and remembered every day. Although they are now gone; I am so grateful for these grandparents, their stories, and their time in history that they willingly shared with my children. Through them they learned the importance of history, tradition, hospitality, and connections.
Children may be better off today than the days of my parents and grandparents. They don’t have to work for their food, grow their own vegetables, milk a cow before school, walk to school, and then come home and spend the rest of the day doing “chores.”
They will never have to spend the evening sitting on the porch looking at the night sky, because the TV does not come on until 10:00 for the nightly news. They will never hear a cow bellow in a far off pasture, or a pig squeal as another nudges it from its trough. They will never hear endless stories of days gone by, and a life in a better time, and although you want to interrupt because you have heard the story before, you know you will not.
Kids may be better off today. They have parents that will stop whatever they are doing to take care of their needs, parents that will buy them the newest, best game because a friend already has one. They have parents that will not ask them to pick up toys, clean up a room, or do homework because they are too tired from a game or a long day at school.
But, do they have stories and memories that will last longer than a generation? Can they close their eyes and see their grandma stirring gravy on a stove, or hear the words of their grandpa slow and soft as he milks the cows. And will they ever know that for every Thanksgiving, every year, that IF the butter flavored spray is gone; you must “slather” the butter on and IN a turkey to make it golden and juicy?