Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 853  Holidays

This is Retirement Talk.I'm Del Lowery.

The holidays are upon us. It is time to reflect. It is a time for coming together: eating too much, drinking too much and telling stories about the old days. It is a time to collect our thoughts.

My mind jumps to an old song we sang somewhere: schools or churches or homes. I do not remember which. “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go. da da da de da. I don't recall the other words.   Oh, those were the good ol’ days.  Did they ever exist? Yes, they did exist but I’m not sure they were so good: certainly not for everyone.

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. 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 laid out the dinner 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. As soon as the dishes were done, dessert would be laid out with big pots of coffee. Then more dirty dishes. 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. It was a sexist event.

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.

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.

We need to make plans for sure. 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 so far apart and travel has become so difficult today. We will be spending our holidays at home. We have some friends over for dinner. Everyone brings some food and a bottle of wine. We light a fire. We talk. We tell stories and sometimes read some poetry. It is always a delight. There are exceptions. This year our Alaskan family will join us for Thanksgiving. And by Christmas our daughter will be living with us and her children will join us while on college break. 

The following day we usually go for a walk. The car doesn’t move. We talk to our children on the phone. We even have a video phone type of deal so we can see the grandchildren. We reach out to siblings on the phone, We don’t deal with crowded airports and sardine packed airlines.  They both seem like combat zones. Holidays are not usually family days for us – not where 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 coordinated with national holidays. They are our own holidays. This works for us. I’m not sure it will work for you. But it might. I think the key, as my son learned long ago, is to make a plan. Don’t get caught empty handed – standing in front of a vending machine.

This is Retirement Talk with something to think about.

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