Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Today, Baby: Traditions

Today, baby, I want to tell you a little bit about the traditions our family celebrates around the holidays (at least, my side of the family).

Thanksgiving for us is... well... pretty old school white America. Your ancestry can be traced back to Europe, but the family has been here for so many generations that the only thing tying us together is California. The family has been in CA going back to at least your great-grandparents (longer, if you count the tiny speck of Native American Maidu blood you'll claim--they're a California tribe, too). Whatever German, French, Irish, or Ukrainian traditions we had have been shuffled to the side in favor of "American" traditions. So the able-bodied women in the family divvy up and make classic dishes like turkey, stuffing, pies, green beans, etc. It's a pretty Leave It to Beaver table, though no one wears stockings or has perms. We do things buffet-style and there is more (happy, usually) shouting than on that show.

At Christmas we mix things up slightly. Slightly. I still bake a couple of pies, and we do a honeybaked ham. But my aunt and I have begun experimenting with side dishes and desserts, and if your other aunt comes down from LA, she might bring Chinese egg tarts along with healthier things than the usual fare we mack on.

Although I love food so, so much and could write about it for pages, there are other things we do that make the holidays ours.

One is cribbage. After dinner four of us settle around the table and play this card game. My grandfather--deceased two years next week--was in the Navy and this was apparently a big game for Navy types. Not long after my brother and I learned to add, we were taught the game and joined everyone around the table after dinner. I'm not much for card games, but this one is fun, especially because of all the little rituals  and sayings built into it. Your uncle Steve, perceiving the other team lagging behind in points, would sniff the air, a quizzical look on his face. "What's that smell? Oh, I know, a SKUNK." (Getting skunked means losing. Badly.) When someone has a poor hand of four points or less, you might lay it down with a sigh and admit that you've got "The Oklahoma." (Because what's in Oklahoma? Not much.)

It's just a good time.

The other ritual is, well football. Your grandpa was an NFL coach and then a scout for years. I've never been a sports fan, but the grunts and the sound of John Madden's obvious predictions ("Well, it's 3rd and long, so they're going to want to pass") or Chris Collinsworth's literary bungles ("This is such a tough call! It's just like Sophie's Choice") are as familiar as my own family's voices.

When grandpa was alive and still working for the Jets, there would always be talk of how they were doing. "How about those Jets?" someone would inevitably ask. He'd exhale slowly, make a "wheeew" sound and shake his head in a characteristic response. (The Jets almost always disappoint.) The kids, already bored of football talk, would try to turn the conversation to Simpsons jokes, but we'd only succeed when the mostly male adults had exhausted football convo.

That's just a taste of the holiday traditions. You'll notice I wrote mostly about the men in the family. You'll notice that it's the women that do the cooking. In breaking with the LITB trend, the men, at least my father and your future father, take care of the cleanup. Maybe that'll all change someday.

I can't wait to share Thanksgiving with you, baby, next year!

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