Remembering Stuffing and Aluminum Foil
When I was a boy, my family had traditions around important holidays like Easter.
Our traditions started weeks before Easter Sunday with the advent of Lent. Each of us had to sacrifice something during Lent to help us reflect on the real meaning of the holiday. My brother, John, and I always initially suggested something like giving up homework, or discontinuing to wash the dinner dishes or offering not to make-up our bed in the morning or do various chores. None of that worked on our parents. So, we usually gave up candy or soda pop or dessert after dinner.
On Good Friday, my mother insisted on another tradition. From noon to 3:00 pm, no one in the family, including my parents, could participate in any type of play activity or even speak. Silence was the rule. This was to help us think about Christ on the cross.
These hours of silence, however, coincided with another tradition of my mother's. Since we could not play and had to remain quiet, we might as well work. So, we undertook our spring cleaning of the house. For those three hours, we washed floors, cleaned windows. polished furniture, straightened cabinets and drawers, and dusted shelves. My mother's brain was like a super computer when it came to cleaning. She could instantaneously catalogue, organize and assign a seemingly endless number of tasks. She never ran out of things for us to do. Every time we thought we were done, she had another chore to assign. No idle hands for this crew. At 3:00 pm, John and I felt like Andy Dufrane in the Shawshak Redemption when he tumbled out of the drain pipe and into the river.
When John and I woke up to a spotless house on Easter morning, we went right to our Easter baskets. They were filled with candy, colored eggs and about two dollars in coins scattered throughout the green "grass" in the basket. We immediately engaged in trade talk. I would try to convince him that the yellow marshmallow chicks were actually the greatest candy in the universe and easily worth two or three of the chocolate bunnies in his basket. He wouldn't buy it. He's always been a tough negotiator.
After breakfast, we had mass at St. Rose Catholic Church. My parents, my brother and I wore our Sunday best. For John and me that meant a tie, sport coat and shined shoes. (Shoe shining was a back-up cleaning opportunity for my mother on Good Friday afternoon in case we unexpectedly found ourselves with a few seconds of free time.) We did look good, but we couldn't wait to get out of those clothes and into our play clothes.
In the afternoon we went to our grandmother's house for Easter dinner. Nana, as we called her, always had the turkey roasting in the oven, boiled potatoes on the stove, casseroles ready to heat, and bread rising in the warming kitchen. The kitchen and dining room on Midland Road in Bay Village, Ohio was about the size of a matchbox. Two people in the kitchen was a crowd, and the table in the dining room had to be pushed against the wall to allow people to pass without bumping into chairs. So we ate dinner in the basement--which we loved because of the way it was decorated--wall to wall aluminum foil!
On Easter and Christmas, decorating was a team sport for Ronnie, Kaye, Bob and Joe. Sales of aluminum wrap must have shot through the proverbial roof each of those holidays as they used it to cover every inch of every rectangular wall in the basement from floor to ceiling. (If only they had bought stock in Reynolds.) These were my aunts and uncles, but not really. By that I mean they were actually my aunts and uncles, but I never saw them that way. They were relatively close in age to John and me, and they thus always seemed more like older brothers and sisters. We always called them by their names without the aunt or uncle appellation. They always did their best to take care of John and me (and later my youngest brother, Patrick) and showered us with unconditional love. I can still see them taping role after role of foil on the walls.
When we all sat down for dinner, we had to turn off some lights and turn down others. Otherwise, we would have had to wear sun glasses to eliminate the glare from the newly-installed, shimmering sliver wall covering.
The highlight of the dinner was always Nana's bread stuffing. I don't know what magical ingredients she used in addition to apples, raisons, celery, nuts and spices, but it was the most delicious stuffing John and I ever ate. After she passed, my mother and then Ronnie and Kaye tried to make it, but to no avail. They could not duplicate her recipe, despite having my grandmother's hand-written instructions. I think they could never figured how to infuse memory into the mixture. After dinner, we had pie--pumpkin or mincemeat. I never understood why it was called mincemeat since there was no meat in it. It should have been called minceraisonsdatesandfruits pie. It was my favorite. Still is.
I mention all of this because this holiday will be different. Given our self-isolation, we will miss the usual holiday traditions that create memories for us.
For my family, this means that Judy and I will not be present with Natalie Elaine and Samatha Erin on Easter morning as they search for, discover and enjoy the Easter baskets that the Easter Bunny left for them. Judy will not make her standing rib roast; Matt will not bake the minceraisonsdatesandfruit pie; Kevin will not prepare the vegetables; Melissa will not handle the salads; and I will not attempt yet again to duplicate my grandmothers's stuffing.
So, we will have to find other ways to connect, celebrated and make memories--maybe zooming, face-timing, Skyping and snap-chatting or maybe just emailing and phoning.
All of what we are experiencing now will become part of the evolving stories of our families. And one of the most memorable stories we will remember is what we did to beat the virus and get past this pandemic.
For those of you who would have been going to church on Sunday and enjoying Easter dinner, I wish you a very Happy Easter.
For those of you who would have been going to synagog over Passover and enjoying a family seder, I wish you Chag Pesach Sameachi.
Although I consider myself religiously independent, I do find inspiration and reassurance at times from scripture. I particularly like a passage from Psalm 118; verse 24:
"This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."
Good Health and Good Luck.