Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 604 Holidays

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

Holidays have changed for many of us throughout our lifetime. And as this holiday season approaches it pulls my mind back to another time and then forward to this very year.

“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go”. Oh those were the good ol’ days. Did they ever exist? Yes, they did exist but I’m not sure they were so good. We did go over the river and through the woods on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and many other holidays. My grandparents lived on a farm and the Iowa River ran right through one of their pastures. Iowa is a state with four seasons. The leaves were yellow and red when they were supposed to be. Snow was on the ground when it was supposed to be and Iowa sun and humidity provided summer days with the traditional temperatures

My father came from a family with ten children. We had aunts and uncles and cousins that numbered higher than I could count as a youngster. Remembering names was a challenge. The house was full, every room roared with conversation, laughter and babies screaming. Cigarette smoke changed the light and engulfed the lungs from first breath to last. And not sissy cigarettes, these were Camels, Lucky Strikes, Pall Malls, Chesterfields – none of which were filtered.

There must have been at least twenty-five to thirty grandchildren running about. Into the house and out; into the barn and out; up to the hay mow and down, into the machine shed and out. CHAOS– all in big letters.

These were always potlucks. Everyone brought food. Women prepared all the food and then laid it out on multiple tables. Trays were used to transport plates to any open space throughout the house for sitting – chairs, couches, stairs, or floors. After the meal, the kids would scatter; the men would sprawl about the living room furniture and floor, smoke cigarettes, and tell stories. The women would do the dishes. Again as soon as the dishes were done, the women  would lay out desert along with big pots of coffee. Then more dirty dishes which the women would do. By then it would be time to clean up and go home. Oh what fun we had. Well, maybe some had fun, but I don’t think it was the women. Although the level of chatter in the kitchen was always at a fevered pitch. All work was done by the women.

Holidays can be trying times. We are supposed to enjoy them. We are supposed to even be happy. And sometimes we are. But, many times we do not enjoy them; we are not happy. What we really do is work our way through them.

In these times, we rarely hear of large families gathering at the grandparents for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, or any other holiday. Modern societal demands have moved children far away from parents, cousins away from cousins, and sometimes, brothers and sisters away from each other. The nuclear family is not an exaggeration in any way. Family gatherings on holidays have been one of the casualties.

What to do? That is the question. My son still doesn’t like to talk about Thanksgiving his freshman year in college. This much I have gathered. He was in college about 2000 miles from home. His roommates all dispersed for feast and family day. He – alone – stayed in the dorm. The campus was empty. No food was being served. He had no car to get to a restaurant. He went to the vending machines. He had no change. The machines were out of order. Lots of things went wrong. I still haven’t gotten the full story. I know that he sounded very lonely on the phone. The next time Thanksgiving rolled around he accepted an invitation to go home with a local friend. Plans made all the difference. I think that is still the key to these mandatory days of happiness. One has to have a plan; something; almost anything will do.

Family members live far apart and travel has become so difficult today. Personally, we will be spending our holidays at home. We have a few friends over for dinner a week or two before the holiday when everyone drifts to family gatherings if they can. Men as well as women prepare some of the main dishes. And I know I prepared and served the coffee. And the cleanup also included myself and my wife. I told her to take a break and go sit down but she just had to help. [We go for a walk on the celebratory day. The car doesn’t move. We talk to our children on the phone or video phone.  We don’t deal with crowded airports and sardine packed airlines. They both seem like combat zones. Holidays are not family days for us – not we actually sit down at the same table.

Our real family days come during other days of the year. They are very special but they are not tied to national holidays. They are our own holidays. For some reason, this works for us. I’m not sure it will work for you. But it might. I think the key, as my son learned ago, is to make a plan. Don’t get caught empty handed – standing in front of a vending machine.

This is Retirement Talk.

Dec.23, 2007



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