Tag Archives: family

Shards of My Parents

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Ed & Edith at WeddingMy parents have both been gone a long time. My mom died at the young age of 55, when I was just a shy, naïve 13 year old. That was 46 years ago. My dad lived until 67, when I was just 33. That was 26 years ago.I was very close to both of them, but more so with my mom. I miss them every day, and still learn from them, believe it or not.

You see, I have these little piles of shards of each of them. They are various memories. Shiny bits. Sparkly bits. Fuzzy bits. I’ve sifted through them and handled them so many times, they are well worn. They are in disarray. But they are there, in my heart, in my head, in my hands. I piece them together this way and that. I try to fill in missing details, long forgotten. I’m sure I make up the rest.

It’s kind of sad that it’s been so long that this is what I have, but it is truly a wonder to have the piles at all. And they are mine. I can play with them whenever I want or need to. They comfort me. Make me smile. Make me laugh. Make me cry. Influence me. Remind me of who I am, and who they were.

So, while I’d love to have a brain full of whole stories, clear pictures, complete with dialogue filled in, I’ll be very happy to hang onto my piles of shards.

Turkey Time

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We all have our Thanksgiving memories to cherish. As children, we look forward to the super-sized, special meal. And as we get older, we watch our loved ones prepare the meal, picking up tips for when it will be our turn to prepare our own Thanksgiving meal.

When I was young, Grams always gave me the impression that a turkey took at least twelve hours to cook. She would rise at the crack of dawn, or before, and start shuffling around in the kitchen. By the time I got up, I was met with the sight of her wrestling the stuffing into the gaping carcass.

Once the turkey was in the oven, she began the other dishes. A huge pot of potatoes on the stove, sweet potatoes going into the oven, and the good old green bean casserole being thrown together. And last, but not least, the cracking open of the can of jellied cranberry sauce, plopped into a dish with no attempt to hide its can-shaped appearance.

The carving of the bird never went well, even though it had now cooked three times longer than it should have. Grams would call Dad to carve, but then proceed to tell him just how it should be done. She’d finally just take the knife from him, eventually resorting to using her hands to tear it apart. If that wasn’t appetizing, I don’t know what was!

Although I don’t make the Thanksgiving meal like my Grams used to, I did learn some things from her. Remember to remove the innards from the bird BEFORE cooking. A turkey does not need to cook for TWELVE HOURS. If you must resort to using your hands to carve the turkey, wash them first and DON’T lick your fingers as you work. Bon appetit!

Christmas Traditions From an Outsider’s Point of View

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I’m not a Christian, so I don’t really celebrate Christmas myself. A loosely practicing Jew can really muck up Christmas. I’ve had a Christmas tree that I called a Hanukkah bush, hung blue lights and stockings, sung Christmas carols about Jesus, and even attended midnight mass. I can just see my very Jewish aunt shaking her head and wondering why. But I’ve also been a part of many Christmas celebrations over the years with Christian friends, and have seen how the holiday is done by those that know what they’re doing. Today as, I was cruising through the holiday posts on Facebook, I was musing at how differently everyone celebrates the Christmas holiday.

First comes decorating. Real tree, or fake tree? Ornaments handed down over the years, or ornaments to match the chosen theme of the year? Tinsel? Popcorn or cranberry garland? Angel or star? Lights…all one color, or mixed colors? Outside decorations…over the top, fill your yard, cover your house, and light the neighborhood? Or simple lights along the roofline? Nativity scene? Angels everywhere? Wreaths? And when do you put up the tree…Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day? Christmas Eve? Whenever you have a moment to yourself without the kids? Or with the kids?

And the countdown and preparations. Elf on the shelf? Advent calendar? Shopping trips? Pictures with Santa? Naughty or nice checklists? Cookie exchanges? Airline tickets?

Food is a big deal at any holiday, but Christmas seems to come with more than any other. Ham or turkey? Or something more fancy like prime rib roast or lobster tails? Or perhaps a special, local or family traditional fare…like lefse, or lutefisk? Potluck, or is one family member responsible for the entire meal? Christmas cookies, candy canes, fudge, and all of the cute treats that look like something Christmassy. Glug, grog, cider, hot chocolate, hot toddies, or a good ole Tom & Jerry?

And what about Santa? Do you have a family member (or perhaps a Jewish friend) dress up as Santa to visit the kiddos and pass out presents? Or do some gifts appear that have Santa’s name on them? Do you leave cookies and milk out for him? Anything for the reindeer?

Then there’s the opening of the presents. Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning? Or maybe one on Christmas Eve, and the rest the next morning? Does everyone take turns, oohing and ahhing over each gift, or is it mass chaos as everyone tears into their prizes, regardless of what’s going on around them? And do the presents get put under the tree as they were purchased or made, or do you wait until the kids are asleep on Christmas Eve to drag them all out of hiding?

And for those with larger families, how do you decide where to celebrate, and when? If you have to make it to 4 or 5 houses to “do Christmas” with each relative, how do you fit them all in, and still make it meaningful for your family? Do you eat 5 Christmas dinners in one day? Do you ever get to have Christmas at your own house if you are traveling all over creation to attend all of the relative’s celebrations?

And, last, but not least, what’s it all about to you? Presents and decorating, eating and drinking, visiting and enjoying time as a family, or the religious parts? I see a lot of folks get caught up in the rat race of Christmas, running around to find the best gifts, getting everything cleaned, made and ready. They must be too exhausted to enjoy the holiday once it arrives! And there’s the expectations that tend to run rather high for most. We’ve all seen the Christmas morning tantrum over a gift not received, or a gift that doesn’t work as promised. And that’s not always just the kids!

As an outsider, whatever your Christmas was, I hope that it was everything you hoped it would be. I hope that you spent it with family and friends, and that you inhaled deeply the time together.

Ed’s Grill & Bar

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I’m sitting here thinking about what I can throw on the grill for dinner. Cooking on a gas grill is so quick and easy…it’s the decision as to what to have that’s the obstacle. It reminded me of my experiences with grilling in the good old days. You see, I grew up with the master griller, Ed Beck. I knew no one more particular about his grilling, and no one who could produce finer charred beast.

So, back in the 50’s and 60’s, gas grills weren’t even a twinkle in Mr. Char Broil’s eye yet. We had charcoal grills, or none at all. And if you were Ed Beck, there was a lot of thought, preparation, and tending that went into grilling. You couldn’t just decide at 5:00 what you were going to toss onto the grill, and be eating by 5:30. The meat had to be washed and prepared, sitting at the ready on a large pan or platter, most likely lined with heavy duty tin foil. The barbecue sauce and dousing matter had to be mixed and put on the stove. Dad mixed his own barbecue sauce, adding worcestershire, Tabasco, dry mustard, molasses, and beer (among other things) to the bottled sauce (which back then was original flavor.) If he was cooking anything but a steak, he also doused the meat with a vinegar mixture (and/or beer) while it was cooking, before putting on the barbecue sauce.

The grill had to be carefully lined with heavy duty tin foil, and the charcoal arranged just so. Then there was the starter fluid. There was a method to the dousing of the charcoal, and the speed with which you struck the match…just long enough for the fluid to soak in, but not enough to evaporate. And the calculation as to how quickly you had to move to avoid singeing off your eyebrows, or arm hair. (Are you counting the carcinogens with me??) Now, I know there are many out there who are stackers of the charcoal, but Ed was not one of that camp. He believed in laying out the coals in a double layer, filling the grill edge to edge. He was going to need a BIG fire.

You see, Ed’s idea of portion size was not as big as your fist. No, Ed believed in as big as your head, or perhaps as big as your left thigh when it came to portion size. A two-pound steak was average for Dad. Per person. And he counted on everyone eating 2 or 3 pork steaks, 1 whole chicken, or a rack of ribs each. Dad was a big man, and planned big when it came to meals. Is it surprising I have issues?

Anyway…back to the ritual. So, while the coals were burning down to the perfect white all over, Dad was busy stirring the sauce, and having his first beer. Grilling was usually a 4 or 5 beer operation, as I recall. Hot Illinois summers, cold cans of Miller High Life, or, in the later years, frosty bottles of Heineken. And, on occasion, it was a martini kind of day. You just never knew.

Dad was in his element. He brought out the pan of meat, stacked neatly on the heavy duty tin foil. He used his barbecue tools (which he ALWAYS pronounced in an exaggerated accent, much like a popular commercial on tv at the time) to hoist the heavy hunks of beast onto the hot grill. He sat and drank as he doused the beast with the vinegar mixture. He had a little mop that looked just like a big cotton floor mop, but in miniature. He sopped up the vinegar mixture and doused the beast regularly for what seemed like an eternity. Now that I look back on it, the slow cooking time was likely a factor of the number of cocktails he could consume.

When the meat was mostly cooked, and the beers were nearly finished, it was time for the sauce. The same mop made a great slosher of sauce. He put on sauce, cooked it for a bit, turned it over, and put on more sauce. Like lather, rinse, repeat, he went through this routine several times, so that the sauce’s flavor was totally IN the beast. If infused had been a trendy cooking term back then, Ed would have coined the phrase. Once the beast was fully barbecued, he’d stack it on a big tray, covered with (you guessed it) heavy duty tin foil, and carry it into the house.

There was nothing finer than Dad’s barbecue. And hanging out with him for the whole ritual was even better than the beast. My brother and I would spend that time watching, joking around, and just having fun with Dad. He never really let us help too much…it was his baby. But just that time with him, inhaling the smoke from the grill, watching Dad down those beers, sweating in the Illinois sun, and laughing, was priceless. 

Hotel Belle

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I remember my brother and I staying overnight at my grandma’s house when I was pretty young. There were so many things that were special about staying there. Even though I was strongly attached to my mom, I was able to break away for these overnights, and always remember it as an adventure. My brother and I each had our own “grip” or little suitcase to take for these overnights. Mine was wonderful! It was ROUND, and made of flocked white cardboard, with a pink pair of ballet slippers on it, I think. And it had a strap handle attached to it. I think my brother’s was just the boring rectangular type suitcase, but a classic, I’m sure.

Grams had things that we didn’t have at our house. She had a big metal tub in the garage, filled with sand, and we got to use the old metal scoops from the grocery store she had run long before to play in the sand. She had a cardboard stand-up store-front, complete with a toy cash register and toy money, and old receipt books, and rubber stamps, so we could play store. She had lots of old office supplies, so we could play office. We also played a lot of cards at grams’s house…canasta, rummy, and poker. I loved her poker chips! I still have the set made of different colored plastic in a nice wooden rack. I used to play with those chips, designing the floor plan of rooms in a house on the carpet, each room in a different color of chips.

The accommodations were pretty nice. She had a sort of trundle bed/sofa that pulled out into two twin beds for us to sleep on. I remember there were green and blue striped sheets that she’d put on for us, fresh and clean. She also had towels of different colors, so you could pick the color you wanted for your bath. And I can still smell the Camay perfumed soap she used. It made it feel like a hotel – and her name was Belle, hence the Hotel Belle title.

I don’t remember so much what we had for lunch or dinner when we stayed there, but I remember she’d get those single-serving sized boxes of assorted cereals to have on hand when we were there for breakfast. I thought it was pretty cool getting to choose your own cereal. I do remember we’d have picnic lunches in the summer. She had an old tablecloth that we’d spread on the lawn. We’d get to make Kool Aid in a copper pitcher, and she had those colored aluminum glasses that were popular in the 50’s, and you could pick your favorite color glass. I remember stirring the sugar into the Kool Aid, and cracking ice cubes out of the aluminum tray, and how cold the Kool Aid got in that pitcher.

I remember one time we washed her car, using the hose and a bucket of soapy water. I remember stepping back, running into the bucket, losing my balance, and sitting down into the bucket, soaking my seersucker shorts. My brother and grams laughed at me, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t find it so funny, and started crying. I remember playing croquet in the yard. And she had this big, white goose planter that I was sort of fond of. And I remember my brother running into the corner of the open crank-out window once, and I think he needed stitches. I also remember she’d have us pick up sticks in the yard and then she’d use the push mower to cut the grass. Sometimes we got to push the mower some. We thought that was big fun!

It wasn’t that our own house wasn’t fun…we had lots of stuff to play with, but it was just different at Hotel Belle, and a really special deal to me.