As I sat around the table yesterday, eating, talking, and laughing with my own family, I thought hard about the holiday we now celebrate on this day and how others aren’t so lucky as to have the kind of support and love my family and I share.
As we sat around, all of us, we were displayed as our family’s three generations: Mom and Dad, my siblings and I, and the newest generation of my niece and nephews. This made me think about the present and the future, with this family and the ones who are no longer with us. What would they make of yesterday’s scene?
As we talked, at times, the conversation would inevitably bring up these loved ones whom some of us will never forget and of whom others will never meet. As my brother cut up apple to add to the fruit tray, discussion began about how Oma would always cut us up a tray of apple slices, but she would never leave the peals on. Apparently this is a very common European thing to do. It is believed that the apple skin is bad or dirty and contaminated. Oma was strict about this belief. You could try telling her just how healthy the red, yellow, or green peal truly was or just how many nutrients can be found there, but it would do no good to waste your breath.
Then the discussion moved on to the name our grandma gave for the slices of apple when she’d cut them. Again, European, the name she gave to the apple slices: an apple schnitz. This was her German word for a slice of apple, meaning a small bit, as in schnitzel, a small bit of meat. These words all connected for me as a child: schnitz, schnitzel, Witzel (my mom’s maiden name). This memory came to us easily and pleasantly at the table, with all of us sitting there. I was left to wonder more about family, and the generations: past, present, and future.
February always reminds me of Oma, now that she is gone. We gather together to celebrate the multiple birthdays this month in my family, and I can’t help but think of her. She would sit proudly around the table with us, as we sang to her, Paul, myself, and more recently with the addition of my sister’s husband. It was and still is a stretch to get in all those names when singing. The candles are blown by whomever: this year by my niece, who loves blowing out birthday candles, even when they aren’t her own. The excitement of a birthday cake with candles takes on a whole new semblance as we teach the little ones the meaning and tradition of a birthday.
As I sat listening with everyone else to my three-year-old niece’s very own creation, (Happy Valentine’s Day, I Love You) to the tune of happy birthday, I smiled at this new generation and its sweet innocence.
I remembered my Oma’s grin as we would sing and as I often was given the job of blowing out the candles. I could always see each spot of light; it was just sometimes a challenge to know where to blow. My Oma always made a big deal about my birthday, and the tradition goes on without her, even as I feel her presence all around us. The hard reality then hits me that this day isn’t how it will always be because of the evidence already given above; that it is no longer how it used to be.
Our conversation then somehow got into the question of which one of us and our perspective partners would be the optimist or the pessimist. We debated this for several minutes: me and Bryan, Paul and Sue, Kim and Steve, Mom and Dad. Well now, that last one is easy enough to answer.
My father is well-known for his negative (glass is half empty or even less attitude), but with the others it wasn’t so easy to declare. I have a balance of my mother’s positivity and my father’s negativity. One minute I am thankful for what I have right now, the loved ones sitting right in front of me, and the next I think of the ones I loved and lost and the future inevitability of life, love, and loss. All I’ve ever wanted was to be loved and to be part of a family. I know how lucky I’ve been and continue to be. Others don’t have what I have.
The theory we came up with yesterday is that people who are generally more negative are doing this is a coping mechanism; if you prepare and plan for the worst, maybe you won’t be quite as hurt and disappointed if and when the worst does happen. Of course I realize just how philosophical our conversation got yesterday, but that’s how we often are.
I love my family for everything they are and for the individuality and beauty they radiate. My brother just got accepted into the Music Industry Arts program at Fanshawe. This happened so fast, that the only obvious answer (in my opinion) is that they spotted his brilliance right off the bat. He can and will do great things in this program.
I feel a sense of rightness so strong when I hear my father, brother, and boyfriend talk about the Olympics, hockey, or baseball. His place in my family is clear when he refers to my parents as his own. In such moments I want to hold onto the feelings I feel and never let go.
It is the sweetest thing to watch my older brother and his children. He takes care of his six-month-old son with such pride and love and their interactions, to engage a baby still discovering language and his voice, is amazing to behold. This same love is clearly evident in the special father/daughter relationship he has with my niece: whether they are conspiring (just the two of them) or she’s pouting and throwing one of her temper tantrums, he speaks to her with an understanding and a bond that the two of them alone share. He is clearly her hero like my father is mine and like all fathers should be to their daughters.
My niece loves pink and shows pride in everything she does: whether its helping her mom decorate Valentine’s Day cupcakes or showing off her songs and performances. She is precise (according to her mother), a drama queen at times, and a bit of a perfectionist, even at such a young age.
There is a deep love and sense of pride in my sister’s voice when she prepares to take family photos of her, her husband, and their one-and-a-half year old son, wanting to capture a moment in time to be forever cherished and remembered.
Once again my mother made too much food, fearing, as mothers often do, that there would not be enough. After being sick all week she recovered and made, not one, but three kinds of meat for dinner. She is always making sure there’s enough for everyone, taking care of others.
While my father is indeed, at times, full of all things negative, his outlook on his family is the strongest I have yet seen. He is the head of our family now and is the strength we all count on. His negativity toward the hopes for Canada in the Olympics does not spread to his family. We can feel his love for us all. It is clear when he’s playing with his grandchildren or when he’s interacting with us around the table. Seeing my parents take on the roles of Grandma and Grandpa so seamlessly makes me happy beyond words, so natural and so perfect a role there never before has been.
I held my newest nephew in my arms, watched my brother and my other nephew speak gibberish together and then laugh, and spun my niece round and around in the office chair on wheels in the front room as she demanded, “Spin me again Auntie Kerry! Faster!”. This is the newest generation and they have so much life in them. It fills me with an indescribable joy as I witness these things.
I hope it is possible for everyone to feel pride in their family, as I do in mine, however unrealistic that may be. Take pride in them and their individual gifts and traits. It won’t always be this way. I’ve learned to value every moment of time with loved ones because it passes in a heartbeat. All you can do is live in the now, remember the past fondly, and look to the future with a positive attitude. This is my motto and I try to live up to its message every day. I hope you all do too.
Happy Family Day