Holidays Covid-style may not be good, but they’ll be memorable

Dear Family and Friends,

As you recall, the big concern at Thanksgiving last year was someone blowing up the holiday by talking politics. This year, the big concern is breathing.

We’re weighing our options and welcome your input. From a distance.

If we opt for a small indoor gathering, per our state guidelines, we must trim the number of you invited. After painful and lengthy deliberation (60 seconds), we have decided to issue invitations based on the food you bring.

You cheeseball, pecan pie and homemade crescent roll people are in. Perhaps we could see you overcooked broccoli and gummy stuffing people another time. Easter, maybe?

Naturally, if we do go with an indoor gathering, it will be B.Y.O. B.  Bring Your Own Blanket. To improve ventilation, we will cut the furnace and open all the doors and windows. The first one to whine will be put on disinfectant wipe duty responsible for wiping down light switches, bathroom faucets and toilet handles as well as stray cell phones.

There will be no ambiance with flickering pumpkin spice votives as the smell of bleach will overpower everything this Thanksgiving. Perhaps even the rest of the year.

I’ll be simplifying things, including the centerpiece.  In lieu of pine cones, adorable acorns and white pumpkins on a bed of pine branches, I’m going with a large pump bottle of hand sanitizer with turkey feathers hot glued to the back. No, it’s not on Pinterest. But it should be.

Yes, you can play board games after the meal, but with modifications. Each player will isolate in a separate room, take a turn, sanitize the game board and all related game pieces, then deliver them to the next player. Monopoly and Scrabble should wind up sometime mid-December.

Please don’t sulk if you are on the “not invited” list, as we have not ruled out the possibility of an outdoor gathering. Outdoors would mean less food but more people. Decisions, decisions.

We could do a fire pit Thanksgiving, six feet apart, roasting raw turkey and sweet potato kebabs on skewers over an open flame and finish it off with s’mores. It might not be good, but it would be memorable.

If it happens to snow while we’re all outside, so much the better. We all mask, hold our breath, huddle together for two seconds, take a quick group selfie and have this year’s Christmas card. Winner, winner! Turkey dinner!

Yet a third possibility is a progressive dinner and I don’t mean dinner at Bernie’s. Why not go from house to house and leave courses on the front step?

Appetizers at the first stop, main course at the next, sides in two different counties, and dessert at the last stop. It lacks the togetherness component, but when we’re finished going door-to-door, eating cold food in cold cars, we can all go home, join up for a massive Zoom call and watch one another nap.

Just throwing out ideas. Hope to hear from you soon.

Love,

Mom

P.S. Who’s excited about Christmas?

Thanksgiving may be closer than you think

“I want a baby brother for Christmas!” she shrieked, lunging from her chair. She’d made her desire known. It was a demand really.

“Yes! We all want a baby brother for Christmas!” her sisters joined in, jumping up and down, eyes dancing with anticipation.

“You have two boy cousins,” someone dead panned.

Right. The first obstacle would be catching them. The boys are 7 and 9, run fast, shinny up trees, roll in the mud and have a thing for animal bones they find in the woods. The second obstacle would be pretending they smelled fresh, were completely helpless and wanted to be spoon fed pureed vegetables.

They were momentarily quiet, then resumed pleading for a baby brother.

“You don’t always get what you want,” I said. “That’s Rule No. 38 of Life.”

Silence. They were stunned. They never knew there were rules for life, let alone 38 of them and possibly more. What else had the grown-ups been hiding?

“Rule No. 1,” their dad said, “is to be content with what you have.”

Score one for Dad. He has introduced the basic structure of thankfulness—contentment.

Contentment is not the same as complacency or resignation; those can be the fast track to despondency. Contentment does not mean you never yearn for things to be different or better. God forbid we should ever destroy the seeds of hopes and dreams.

Contentment is comprehending and appreciating the goodness that surrounds us even now. Living in a materialistic culture, we think of blessings as things like a roof overhead and a working furnace—and those are wonderful blessings. But blessings are also essence, gratitude for another day of life, the joy of hearing a loved one’s voice, the comfort of friendship, the beauty of sunrise and the colors of fall.

Plato called contentment “natural wealth.” It may be natural for some, but for others it must be learned. In a well-known Bible verse, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am.”

The man had been shipwrecked, chased out of town, beaten, in poor health, imprisoned and in chains. Yet he had learned contentment. That doesn’t sound like a course most of us would want to sign up for. Life sends odd teachers.

Contentment and gratitude are habits of the heart. Twenty-one days was once considered the standard for the time it takes to form a new habit. That figure has been updated to 66 days. Good things require time and fortitude.

It is amazing how people who suffer much in this world are often among the most cheerful and thankful. They are the ones who have learned well, the ones who have acquired the “natural wealth” of contentment and thanksgiving.

An old hymn says it well:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged thinking all is lost.

Count your blessings, name them one by one.

Count your blessings, see what God has done.

 

Take a seat and protect your legs

Despite pandemic restrictions on gatherings, we are still able to enjoy attending live performances. They are family productions that are affordable (free), convenient (in our own home or backyard) and we don’t have to dress up (slouching clothes are fine).

One among the brood excels at the violin and goes to town on her fiddle playing songs about dogs chasing raccoons and lonesome train whistles. Her brother may begin strumming his guitar, others strap on tap shoes and display some fancy shuffle, shuffle, step, ball change.


Still others begin singing or reciting poems and the overall scene looks like a three-ring circus and feels like a migraine, but who would stifle creativity?

Recently, I was invited to a dance performance presented by the eldest and youngest of three siblings. The middle sibling and I were instructed to sit on the sofa.

Then came the second directive, the likes of which I had never heard before. I’m familiar with, “silence your cell phone” and “no photography during the performance,” but this was new: “You’ll probably want to protect your legs.”

The child next to me was told to pull her legs up onto the sofa. “You probably can’t do that like she can, Grandma,” said one of the performers, “so you better watch out.”

Who doesn’t anticipate a performance that begins with “you better watch out.”

It was a fine dance performance, with a lot of running and leaping and twirling along the lines of ballets they have attended. They danced the length of the room, parallel to one another, intersecting one another and sideswiping one another.

The child next to me leaned over to explain there would be a pause in the music, but it was momentary and would not be the time to applaud. I am thankful for coaching that prevents me from social blunders.

The music paused, the dancers squared off at opposite ends of the room and nodded, indicating the grand finish was about to commence. The dancers were not well-matched physically. One is tall, lanky and built like a reed. The other is healthy and fit but looks like a rectangle next to the reed. We all look like rectangles next to the reed.

The Rectangle backed into the kitchen to get a better run at the Reed, who apparently planned on catching the Rectangle and doing an overhead lift. Yet the laws of physics dictated that should the Rectangle slam into the Reed with such force the Reed toppled backward onto the tile floor, we would all be jumping and leaping to the nearest emergency room.

The Rectangle flew past in a blur. The Reed, sensing the potential of speed compounded by mass, abandoned the overhead lift, wrapped the Rectangle in a bear hold and spun the Rectangle wildly, her legs flying outstretched through the air.

The grand finale was more Sumo wrestling than ballet, but skill is skill and no one was bleeding. Another marvelous time spent enjoying the performing arts and best of all, our legs were safe.

Linking a vet with a face on the Wall of Faces

Seems I see them more often these days, caps and jackets that say Vietnam Veteran. What always surprises me is how old the people wearing them look. I remember the guys going to Vietnam as being in their late teens and early 20s.

Then I catch my reflection in a window and am surprised at how old I look.

I was in high school when I slipped a small check into an envelope and sent away for a bracelet with the name of a POW or MIA.  I wore MIA Maj. Vladimir Bacik’s bracelet for many years.


I prayed for him regularly. I never had many details about him or knew what he looked like. Until now.

I found him on the Wall of Faces on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website (vvmf.org). There’s a great picture of him with his wife.

My brother-in-law, marking the 50th anniversary of when he was in Vietnam, told me about the site. On the Wall of Faces, each page is dedicated to someone who didn’t make it home: name, date of birth, location and date of casualty, hometown, branch of service, rank.  There are wedding pictures and family pictures, a father with his small son. They have the same eyes.

Many of them look young.

So very, very young.

My brother-in-law often scrolls through the Wall of Faces.  He could have been on the wall, too.

Some 2.7 million American military members served in Vietnam and some 58,000 died there. A lot of them, now in their 60s and 70s, are marking anniversaries of service there.

During the Vietnam War the U.S. dropped millions of gallons of Agent Orange. It was a highly toxic herbicide that defoliated forests providing cover for enemy troops. At the time, our troops were told it was safe. Decades later, Agent Orange was acknowledged to be responsible for serious medical conditions to those exposed, and even to their children and grandchildren.

My brother-in-law is close to five veterans made ill by exposure to Agent Orange. One, who died this summer, was best man at his wedding and a friend of 50 years. Another was an elementary school classmate now battling esophageal cancer and brain cancer. Two others were high school buddies. One has cancer and cardiac problems, the other has multiple myeloma. My brother-in-law has dealt with prostate cancer and heart problems in the past few years.

Vietnam is far behind us, but lingering battles remain in play.

I have an elderly uncle still living who was career Air Force and served in Vietnam. Mom read one of his letters from overseas at dinner one night. He described the sounds of bombs and explosions as he operated radio equipment in an underground bunker. I watched my dad’s reaction, as he was a World War II vet. He didn’t say anything. He was just quiet.

Mom tucked the letter behind a clock on the kitchen counter, where odds and ends sat until they made their way to the trash. When we closed out the house, we found that letter in a box with newspaper clippings about Dad’s brother who was killed in WWII. Some things we should never forget. Service and sacrifice are among them.

I’ve been hesitant before, but the next time I see someone wearing a Vietnam Vet hat or jacket, I plan on saying thanks.

 

Wall of Faces https://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/