As the holidays approach, starting with Thanksgiving (I just don’t consider Ground Hog Day the start of the holiday season), a million tender memories come to mind: making brownies with my children, decorating the trees, their eyes full of wonder as we went downtown to look at the store windows all decorated for Christmas. Christmas is truly my favorite time of year, and always has been. But I know that for many, it brings up other memories too, of family dissent, challenges, and disappointments. No one gets off scott free in life, the bittersweet for my family at holidays now is the absence of my late son Nick. We will always miss him and his crazy antics over the holidays, and at other times. So we all have our tough moments amid the joy.
As the only child of only children, I never had much family until I had my own. My mother avoided the little family she had, and left when I was six, and I had no first cousins, so my only glimpse of family life was through my grandparents. My grandfather was one of six siblings. They were extremely close, all the siblings and their spouses dined together once a week, and my earliest memories of them were of the battles they would have at the dinner table. There was always one brother not speaking to another. And my favorite memory of its kind is of my great uncle complimenting my grandmother on the venison she had served for dinner. When asked how she had gotten it, she mentioned that another of the great uncles had sent it to her. The one inquiring immediately spat out what he was eating, glared at the brother he was angry at, and refused to eat his dinner. For a 6 or 7 year old that was pretty fascinating stuff, and intriguing behaviour: adults behaving like children.
It is possible that no one can annoy us like our own families, because no one knows us better, or where the soft spots are. I never really missed having siblings until I grew up. Now, seeing my own children and powerful bond they share with each other, I wish I had a sister or brother. My kids get along surprisingly well, something I have always encouraged among them. But I can also see how easy it would be to get angry at a sister, or at a parent, or an in law. And how quickly the forest fires start and the chasms widen. I am always saddened to hear people say that they have a brother or a sister whom they haven’t seen in fifteen or twenty years. What a terrible waste of the relationship they could share.
On this Thanksgiving, I am deeply grateful for my many wonderful children and the bond we and they share, and I am grateful too for my otherwise tiny family, the ex husband who attends our holidays, the dear friends who have become like sisters and brothers to me, for lack of real ones. Maybe the thing to remember is that the vendettas just aren’t worth the grief they cause, and maybe if one can resist casting the first stone, or reacting to a slight or affront, it won’t turn into a major war later. I think family relationships are so worth preserving—in the end, what else is there that truly matters? Forgiveness seems such an essential part of human relationships, and no one wants to be the first to give in. Sometimes, in all relationships, for the greater good, you just have to.
I hope that your holidays are feud-free. Family feuds are so stressful for all concerned, even innocent observers. It says something to me all these years later that I still remember how angry my great uncle looked when he spat out the venison, how distressed my grandmother looked, and how saddened my grandfather seemed. Even a 6 year old could see it. I wish you peace during these holidays, not just in the Middle East or among nations, but at home, where it counts most. I hope that your family brings you solace, joy and comfort, during the holidays and always. World peace may just be easier to achieve than peace in some families, but I think peace at home, with our families if far more important, essential to our well being, and dearer to our hearts.
Good luck—-and try not to throw the bread rolls at your sister’s head at dinner, or strangle your annoying brother in law. It’s a challenge….