Tuesday, November 21, 2006

When We Spent Holidays Together

Here we go, just a few days before Thanksgiving. We're on the heels of another holiday season. While it's great to look ahead and know that memories will be made and joy will be shared, it's almost preferable to look back instead of ahead. That may seem odd, as it's almost always better to look forward than backward. But when you get older and family and friends go away, you really do have something to be thankful for. You should be thankful for the memories of times past as well as those that are to be created in the present or future.

This Thanksgiving Day, we'll be spending the day at my sister-in-laws / brother-in-laws house, and my wife and I are always happy to spend time with them. I'm glad for it for another reason too, as my wife hasn't had the opportunity to spend too many holidays with her family. We've spent more of them with my family than with hers. I feel bad about that, because looking at it, I believe she's been denied the chance to look back when we get older on those times that could have been and probably should have been. She's never, ever complained, but a spouse deserves as much time with their family as with yours.

Why do I think about these things? Because I can sit here and think back to a time that was and remember a dinner table lined with family members who won't share those holiday dinners anymore. As I already mentioned, some have passed away. My father and my grandparents aren't around anymore to spend those holidays with. Some others won't be there because of changes in family situation where they've married and have their own to care for. And like all families, sometimes it's impossible to get everyone together because of someone who can't stand to be in the same room with another or someone said something stupid to another a decade ago and it's still remembered to this day. With many folks having the day off after Thanksgiving, maybe we should have a Forgiveness Day too, a chance for all who harbor ill feelings because of things petty or significant to come together and correct the wrongs.

What will your holidays be like this year? If you say they could be better because of something that can be corrected but hasn't, maybe this is the year to see those things resolved. If you've placed selfish things ahead of family and/or friends, put them aside temporarily. There will be other days and times for those things. Someday the folks you can make the best of things with aren't going to be there anymore. And someday, you may look back at what could have been instead of what should have been. It's always better to make the changes now while they mean something, rather than regret what you can no longer do.

...My grandfather roasting nuts in an old 1920s era gas oven in the basement of their home on 17th street. No pilot light, you turned on the gas and lit it quickly or you'd get a nice "whoosh!" from the built up gas igniting.
...Conversation. Everyone stayed in the living room, dining room, or kitchen. No one ran to the sanctuary of their own room once the dinner plates were cleared, and if someone watched TV, we all did, and still talked all day.
...Everyone showing up before noon and not leaving until evening. No rushing to dinner and out the door.
...Two things were always available to drink at my grandparents: a bottle of wine for the adults and a few quarts of Frank's Ginger Ale for the kids (or adults who didn't drink much wine). We didn't guzzle the soda like kids do today. You drank it from maybe 6-ounce glasses or jelly jar glasses (remember the Flintstones glasses that Welch's sold their grape jelly in?) and made it last.
...Wresting in the living room of my grandparents house with my brother and cousin while my grandmother would yell that we were going to hurt each other. We almost never did (I remember one of us hit our heads on the marble coffee table once), but we did get to imitate our favorite wrestlers from Saturday morning TV. Never broke any furniture either.
...A full-course dinner as found in most Italian homes. Macaroni (none dare call it pasta), meatballs, sausage, and bragiole, turkey and stuffing, and then the salad (salad always came last, and always with vinegar and oil, no bottled dressing). Bread fresh from Lanci's Bakery on Jackson St. was always on the table.
...Along with the walnuts, chestnuts, and brazils, cheese from Cilione's (also on Jackson St) was on the table before and after dinner, along with bottles of Jacquin's Anisette and Blackberry Brandy. My grandmother would never let a holiday go by without stopping by the State Store to get bottles of both.
...My grandparent's neighbor Pete always knocking on holidays to say hello and to give my brother, sister, and I a quarter. As we got older, it became half dollars and we looked forward to getting those Kennedy heads, always checking to see if we got a silver one.

I know, the memories all seem like simple stuff, and they are. But they're my memories, those of time spent with people I loved being with and those gone that are really missed. Although they seem simple, I think I'd rather remember things like that than remembering that we spent the day around the PlayStation. And I'd rather see everyone in one room than going from house-to-house. Those times were times well spent.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mrs. M

Life leaves you with a lot of time to look back and either regret the things you did or laugh about them. Or both. A lot of what I write about happened when we were young kids through our very early teen years. So I can claim that we were young and stupid and give myself enough slack and know that there's no need to carry too much guilt about youthful indiscretions. If you grow older and do the same stupid things, shame on you. If you're a kid and do stupid things and grow out of them, you get to share a laugh with others and move on. I've moved on.

I've moved on, but you get the benefit of reading a story that should leave you laughing a bit, or maybe a lot, depending on your sense of humor. Or you'll call us all jerks and wonder how we didn't end up with a felony conviction or three. You decide.

The neighbors here on the bottom end of the block didn't have too many kids here to point a finger at when something happened. So we - my sister, brother, and myself - would usually be on the stubby end of those fingers when someone had an accusation to level. Alright, sometimes they were right, but they lacked the evidence. They were wrong too at times, but not always. One of those neighbors was an elderly lady who we'll call Mrs. M.

Mrs. M lived across the street and a few doors down, in close enough proximity to still make her a mark for our youthful mischief. I'd like to say she'd look back and laugh about it now that we're older should she still be with us, but I doubt that would be true. Some never forget. Elephants and old neighbors to name a few.

Had we realized the people could get hurt and we could get in trouble for it because of our mischief, we may not have done some of the things we did. You may say that's a load of fecal matter. You may be right. Why wonder if we'd change things, they've already happened. One of those things involved clothesline and doorknobs. You may be wondering if we had a fetish with all things lengthy, such as rope and fishing line, especially considering the post a number of months ago about Dave, who just so happened to be Mrs. M's next-door neighbor. What we did - a number of times, although not nearly as many as with the fishing line - is to take the clothes line and tie it to both of those neighbor's door knobs, with just a little bit of slack. Just enough for them to open the door almost halfway. Once the line was tied, we would pound on their doors and hide behind the cars - and laugh. What ensued was a unique version of tug-of-war in which there was no winner. And it lasted for a number of minutes, until one or both gave up. Then there was enough room for someone to cut or untie the line and the fun was over. Until the next time.

Another incident involved a ski mask, rain coat, and two older kids putting a little guy up to doing something that would get you arrested for indecent exposure today. No, I was not that little guy, nor was I either of the two who egged him on. But he'd laugh about it rather than blush if you were to mention it to him today. What that kid was put up to was that he was asked to dress in nothing but the rain coat, ski mask, socks and shoes, and knock on Mrs. M's door and flash her. Imagine if you would a maybe nine or ten year old kid flashing an eighty-year old woman. I don't think she'd ever imagine it possible had she not experienced it herself.

Anyhow, she was much sharper than anyone had expected. As soon as the flash that made neighborhood history occurred, the first thing out of her mouth was "I know that that's you, _____ ________". Of course, the name of our flasher is omitted as even under the law, youthful offenses are sealed. But there's a small handful of us here who know exactly who he is. Maybe he'll become a neighborhood legend now if enough folks read this post. The Phantom Flasher. Imagine that.

Well, you're wondering why we all did such stupid things, and the answer is the same as why you did your own stupid things. We were bored. Maybe you'll say, "We never did things like that when we were bored." I know you didn't. That's because we were much more creative than you were. Live with it. How would I feel if a kid on the block did that to me today? I don't know. Maybe be stuck between thinking him the product of parents not watching out for their kids and actually getting a huge laugh. Were our parents negligent in our rearing? Not at all. But I think if we were to tell them of some of the things we did in our youth, they too would wonder what they've raised - and then laugh!