When I was a senior in college, I spent hours with my maternal grandmother Ceil–Grammy–at her Great Neck apartment, madly writing as she told me her “life story.” Here’s what she said about her wedding day, which was also Thanksgiving:
Our dear friend Mr. Blummer was a caterer at the Ocean Parkway Jewish Center. His gift to us was the Center, food and music, at no charge! Yes! We succeeded and fulfilled our dream day, and we were married on November 22, 1932. What a joyous wedding day. The weather was cool, but sunny and balmy. All the fraternity brothers and their gals were their, all our loving relatives, my dear sisters and their glorious spouses. A delightful, gay afternoon was followed by our honeymoon at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. And how I sported my first fur collar on my first new coat–a gift from the Miller Family. Joy! Joy!
She went on to tell me that the early years of their marriage were a “daily struggle,” as she and my Grandfather, Ben, both worked as substitute teachers during the years of the Depression, earning $6 a day.
Yesterday morning, sitting in a hotel room with my mom, I learned that every year, to celebrate both occasions, Grammy held a dessert party for the entire extended family, a vast network of first-generation aunts, uncles, and cousins.
By the time my generation of babies came along between the late ’60s and early ’80s–five of us between my mom and her three sisters–the Thanksgiving tradition that meant so much to Grammy continued.
I lay in bed at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Waltham two nights ago telling my girls about Thanksgiving when I was their age, how my sisters and cousins would descend on a hotel, greeted by notes in Grammy’s fanciful handwriting on each door, gumdrop trees and other small gifts awaiting us in the rooms. She helped pay for the hotel, so that no matter who was doing what for work, who had more money and who less, everyone would be able to spend one night. We’d run the halls and attack the ice machine and jump in the pool if there was one, and gather at one of my aunt’s and uncle’s homes, going around the table for anyone who wanted to share–this year, my dad read a limerick for each member of the family–followed by the the actual Thanksgiving meal. Then a brisk walk or touch-football game while others dozed in a tryptophan-induced state in front of a game. In the evening, back in the hotel, the leftovers would come out and everyone would wander into someone’s room to eat again and sit and watch a movie.
There are now first-cousins and second-cousins and second-cousins once removed at the table. Grandpa Ben passed away in 1978, Grammy in 2002. My Aunt Nancy died in 1998. New girlfriends or boyfriends, marriages, moves, pregnant bellies, new babies, cherished friends, divorce, illness, death–change is a constant and many are forever folded into this family’s traditions and stories.
Running to the elevator to go to breakfast yesterday morning, Aviva exclaimed, “What?! It’s already 8:30?! Hotel time goes too fast when this is the BEST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE.” The night of Thanksgiving this year, we watched “Brave” in my hotel room, eating my mom’s nut and date bread and popcorn and m&m’s from the lobby’s free snacks. My mom gave the girls little shoulder rubs; I glanced over and saw my dad laughing at the Scottish king and pulled Pearlie in a little closer.
Lying in bed with them that night, I told them the story, of how we used to be the kids, how this tradition began 80 years ago, and in just 20 more–when they and their cousins have babies of their own, when my sisters and cousins have stepped onto the next generational rung–it will be one hundred years of Thanksgiving. Aviva very much liked this idea, and said, “Well, it has already been eighty. Twenty more is not very much!”
I am grateful that my kids are anchored by this connection to the past as they imagine their own futures. Thank you, Grammy and Grandpa Ben. For all of the inevitable ups and downs and ins and outs that are simply life itself, this family is a gift. And I love each and every one of you.