Monday, October 11, 2010

Fall Is for Thanksgiving

In kindergarten, the calendar takes on special significance.  My daughter knows that there are seven days in a week and 12 months in a year; yet somehow, when fall rolled around, she felt sure that it would instantly be Halloween.  We have been engaged in a countdown since approximately September 1st (my daughter, taking after her mother,  is exceptionally fond of candy), but as October progresses, her excitement seems strangely to be building toward Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, I must admit, was always my least favorite holiday.  As a child, I did not like to eat (hard to imagine now), and in my half-Italian family I was expected to stuff myself with manicotti and turkey, scrapelles and sweet potatoes..  As a grown-up, I do not like to cook, to say nothing of cleaning up.  After dismal high school and college teams and years living in team-less Baltimore and LA, I'm not a football fan.  Thus one of my very favorite Thanksgivings was spent alone in LA, snuggled under a quilt with a book, a TV dinner, and a Mrs. Smith's pumpkin pie.

Lest you should feel sorry for me, please don't.  I was most thankful for a roof over my head, for heat and warmth, for pumpkin pie, and most of all (of course) for my faraway family.

When I moved back to the East Coast shortly therafter, my parents quickly made up for lost time by asking my great-aunt, my grandmother, and my great-uncle to move in with them.  I thought they were slightly insane, but I had no idea how blessed I would be as a result. 

My great-uncle Dutt (yes, that is his real name -- not Dutch, not Duck, not Butt) served in India during World War II at the ripe old age of 28.  His wife, Ruby, was in the first professional women's softball league (reference A League of Their Own) and was also, he told me, a seasoned dirt biker circa 1930.  I never meant Aunt Ruby, but I can imagine that she and Uncle Dutt were the perfect pair.

At age 85, Uncle Dutt insisted on carrying my suitcase atop his head.  In his 90s, he ran the Swiffer daily, made his famous no-bake apple pie, cleaned grapefruits by the jar for my husband and mother, and dispensed Mardi Gras beads to strangers.  At the age of 94, he had outlived his siblings and his contemporaries.  His hearing and memory began to fail.  Yet he rarely stopped smiling.

Like his sister before him, his memories of his childhood were the most keen, the most present, and he told the stories many times over -- his time in the one-room schoolhouse when he spelled 'to got she' instead of 'together'; his older brother getting locked in the coat room overnight when he misbehaved and his teacher forgot him; his father secretly feeding families during the Great Depression.

As we get older, as everything fades away, we become like children again; and so it is childhood that we never, ever forget.  Those stories are precious to us, and telling them helps us to feel human, to feel important, to feel alive.

Uncle Dutt had a stroke this week, and he can no longer tell his stories.  I give thanks that I can hold them in my heart, and I will never forget.  -- Jeanne Marie

Writing Workout
Interview a relative or a neighbor about a favorite childhood memory.  Ask the basic questions: Who, what, when, where, how?  Follow up and find out what you need to know to make the story complete in your own mind -- setting, background information (number of siblings, historical context, etc.), and especially a sense of why this event is so important to the person relating the memory. 

Finally, go home and write your story.  Make sure to share it with your subject when you're finished.  Did you relate the details accurately? 

Don't forget to enter our latest contest to win an autorgraphed book from author Candace Ryan.  See April's post for details.

1 comment:

Carmela Martino said...

Uncle Dutt sounds like a wonderful person. Thanks so much for sharing about him, JM. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.