When I was young, I never wanted to learn to play pinochle. Like most kids, I loved playing games. I still do. Competing is my greatest thrill in life. If no one was around to play with me when I was a kid, I would invent solitaire rules for Monopoly, Risk, et al. But I would not play pinochle.
Pinochle was my family’s card game. During family gatherings for Sunday dinner, or on holidays, at some point a quartet of Caines would sit at the living room table and play double deck, auction bid pinochle. I never asked to play. Allow me to tell you why.
I spent most of my youth being raised by my paternal grandparents. While my grandmother was an incredibly loving woman, my grandfather was…(how I can say this with respect for the dead on a family news website?)…well, he was a mean bastard. He didn’t like me much. I am fortunate his seething disdain for my existence has not effected me in my middle age. (SARCASM ALERT)
Back then, his mother was still alive. My great-grandmother was a rather harsh German woman who was almost completely deaf. As such, whenever she played pinochle, my grandfather was always saddled with her as his partner. My grandfather had a forceful voice that could make inanimate objects jump in terror. It has been over two decades since he died and I still live in fear of him. As such, he used that menacing voice to scream at her so she could hear what the bid was and which suit was named trump.
Why the heck would I want to learn to play a game that would give my grandfather another excuse to yell in my face and scare me half to death? Pass.
When I turned 13 years old I finally decided to learn the game. I loved it. I looked forward to family gatherings knowing the odds were high that four of us would convene at a table after we ate to play the game. When I think back at my long-ago past, it is sitting with my family playing this magnificent card game that I remember most fondly.
I have no specific reason for sharing this anecdote from my life. Sometimes in this column I like to reveal a little about who I am. The irony of this is that I barely know who I am. Like many of you, I identify myself by the things I do out of habit. Traditions. They mark time. They honor those who came before us. We pass them on to our children and hope they will keep it as a part of who they are as we do so reverently.
When I moved my young family to Utah in 2004, I knew that any family traditions that I held lovingly in my heart would have to be passed down on a decidedly smaller scale. I think about this more now that my children are older and we have developed some traditions of our own.
This is what Thanksgiving is—or at least should be—all about. As years go by, something from our past should always be present for us on the fourth Thursday in November.
I am quite fortunate that my children have, for the most part, adopted their father’s sentimentality when it comes to traditions, especially on Thanksgiving. It helps that my two oldest kids have their birthdays during Thanksgiving week. My older son’s birthday is on the 22nd; my daughter, the 25th.
When they were young, there were two stories by Dr. Seuss that I would read to them every Thanksgiving. The easy choice was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The second, lesser known entry is “Happy Birthday To You!.
If you are unfamiliar with this slightly obscure entry in the Seuss Pantheon, “Happy Birthday” is to speaking what Rachmaninoff is to piano playing. I think my kids wanted me to recite this story just to watch me have a mental breakdown.
My kids are older now. They do not want to sit on the couch and watch me fumble through this story worse than Ben Carson answering a question about foreign policy. Happily, we have other traditions that have been sustained.
Cannolis. I brought that with me from Philly. When my daughter was born we brought her home the day before Thanksgiving. Before she ever stepped in the door of our home, my firstborn went to the legendary Termini Brothers bakery. We had to pick up our stash for the next day. Cannolis have actually been with my eldest kid since the beginning.
Christmas music. I really do not understand the mentality of people who listen to Christmas music whilst simultaneously raiding their children’s Halloween bag. Overkill! Not one Christmas song should be enjoyed until Thanksgiving night. My kids and I usually start off our Christmas song cache with “The Twelve Days of Christmas” before moving on to “Feliz Navidad.” We sing both songs badly.
And then there is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” This gem from 1987 is John Hughes’s masterpiece. The story of two guys desperately trying to make it home for Thanksgiving dinner is a must watch. Those of you who do not appreciate vulgarity might have a problem with one scene where Steve Martin launches into an f-bomb tirade against a less-than-helpful receptionist. Outside of that hilariously crude interlude, the film is unquestionably on the top of my list of the rather new-yet-promising genre of “Thanksgiving movies.”
I am getting old. My kids are getting older. The day may come, sooner than I want to admit, that they will move on from Utah and out into the real world. I try to find solace in the promise that they will hold on to the things that kept us close during holidays.
It is a pity that most people now associate Thanksgiving with sitting on a folding chair in a parking lot waiting for a box store to open so they can spend too much money on gifts for people who really do not need gifts.
Is that going to be the next generation’s idea of traditions? Those wonderful mental memoirs of running noses and thrown elbows trying to get inside of Walmart as if they were in a “Mad Max” film?
I hope my lamentations about the death of Thanksgiving are hyperbolic. It would be the best thing in the world if each of us used this serene time of year to connect to those we love. And as I grow older, I would hope that a little part of my youth should be passed on to my children’s children. So long as traditions are passed down and held dear by those who come after us, then a part of who we are lives on long after we die.
I find that very comforting.