This is a holiday photo taken at one of our family gatherings. Circa 1982ish? One of the greatest memories I have growing up in a large family. (can you tell which one I am? blondie, front row center, possibly the milkman’s daughter, I don’t know.) This was taken at my aunt’s house, and it isn’t even the entire family.
The holidays. A time for rejoicing, merriment, feasting, and of course…family! In my past experiences, the holidays have always been a mixed bag of people crammed into a small apartment with me and my army of cousins running around, while the adults chain smoked in the kitchen. Bless my mother for wanting to host the holidays in our small second floor apartment in the Silver Lake section of Providence, but with the size of the family being rather large, it would have been nice if they could have rented a hall! We did on occasion spend the holidays at others’ homes, but my my mom loved to entertain and still does. Most of my mom’s side of the family lived in Rhode Island, minus a couple of aunts and uncles that lived down south. My mom comes from a family of eight. My dad’s entire family( which is even bigger than my mom’s) lived in Texas, and we shared holidays with them at times, but not as much as I would have liked.
At one point in time, there would be roughly 14 of us kids together, and we had to entertain ourselves. Sometimes we would go outside, so we could avoid the secondhand smoke which wasn’t “dangerous” back then, and go deaf from the loudness of the adults talking over each other. As mentioned, I grew up in the city, and there wasn’t much of an area for us to play. Triple decker family homes, lined up side by each. (For those of you who are not from Rhode Island, a triple decker is a three story home with a separate apartment on each floor) We didn’t have Nintendo DS, Ipods, or Playstations to keep us occupied. We had an alleyway outside where we played tag, or hide and seek. Or if it was too cold, as sometimes the harsh New England weather could be, we would cram into either mine or my brother’s bedrooms and listen to the radio while we told jokes, or swapped punches while the parents had no care in the world. Every now and then one of the adults would catch wind of it, and I remember getting a slap from my grandmother for teasing my younger cousin Charlie! I will never forget that. My grandma was one tough cookie! (C’mon, we all have one of those cousins!) We would sneak the “spiked” punch when no one was looking and one year my older cousin Sheri (who was probably 15 at the time) was sick from sneaking too much! She learned her lesson and never went for the punch again! I remember having to sit at the kiddie table when I really wanted to sit with the adults, and at gift time, we would all sit around the tree, while our aunts and uncles passed around presents to each of us! They must have hated having to buy for all their nieces and nephews, but we didn’t mind.
As I got older, most of the family slowly migrated south, my cousins had families of their own, my dad has since passed and family gatherings just haven’t been the same. I miss the loudness, the packed house, playing outside in the cold, even the secondhand smoke! (ok, maybe not that, but you know what I mean!) We don’t have big Christmas eve gatherings, or Christmas dinners, but we still get together in a smaller and more intimate setting since it is just me and my nuclear family, my mom and her boyfriend, my brother and maybe an aunt and uncle or two.
However, my 5 year old son is an only child, and also an only grandchild to my mom. Which means on my side of the family he doesn’t have the cousins to beat up and play tag with. We can’t kick him out of the house to play by himself in the cold, and he doesn’t have a kiddie table to sit at. Many people are not having the big families that they used to. Times have changed. Both parents are forced to go to work just to pay the bills, and more women are focusing on their careers.(Well at least this is my situation) We try to do everything we can to make sure our son has memorable holidays. He has an advent calendar, a bell with links attached that he rips off each day to countdown to Christmas, a calendar from Toys R Us that he uses to color in each day as they pass. (And he thinks it’s time to do all of these while we are rushing out of the house in the morning!) We write a Christmas list, which one day he saw it and I had crossed off items that I bought and he yelped “why are things crossed off my Christmas list??” Oops. Sometimes I feel bad that he is all alone, and it makes me spend extra money on him so that his gifts from Santa are overflowing from under the tree onto the living room floor, but I know that isn’t the answer, and I guess he doesn’t really know what I had as a child and what he is missing. My husband and I are forced to be young again, because we have to play with him on Christmas morning with all the exciting things he got from Santa. (We don’t mind though) I guess we are creating our own memories with him, and I hope that he will look back on them and it will bring a smile to his face.
As Christmas is only less than a week away, I can celebrate happily knowing that my son has two parents that love him, and the family that is here and afar that care deeply about him. I wish I could go back in time, and just have one more big family holiday because I sure do miss those days. Things could be worse. I know that there are many people out there who don’t have anyone to share the holidays with, so please be kind to everyone you encounter, even if it’s just a smile. And most of all, appreciate the family you have, because you never know when they are going to be gone. Happy holidays everyone, (and don’t drink too much punch!)