When asked to writing stories about the holidays, Thanksgivings or Chanukahs past, I thought, “Oh sure, that would be great. I can whip something up in no time.” So, with a deadline of about eight days, I sat down to gather my thoughts and begin. Initially, I thought I’d do Chanukah.
I thought and I thought and I thought. It soon began to dawn on me that I had few memories. Sure, I had the family Menorah sitting in a proud place among my various Judaica objects, this one taken as my share of family objects while cleaning my mother’s home with my brothers after her death 25 years ago. One of my cousins asked me a short time later if she could have it and I said a stern, “No!” After all, it represented many happy memories of growing up in an intact family who celebrated all the important holidays together with joyous songs and laughter and candle lighting. Right?
I could envision the box of 48 multi-colored candles and the old-fashioned brass Menorah that my mother would polish just before Chanukah began. This after the eight days concluded the year before when she would carefully take it apart, boil away the accumulated wax drippings, polish it and then put it away in a cupboard until it came out when needed the next year. I couldn’t remember anything else, no matter how hard I tried.
I thought of calling my older brother who remembers everything, but realized it would no longer be my story. I similarly thought of calling my twin brother but, of course, came to the same conclusion. He and I share many intertwining memories including one when we were about three or four years old and escaped the eagle eye of our mother. We were in an upstairs bedroom of a house we were visiting. There were two twin beds with a table between and an electric socket on the wall. One of us put our finger in the socket and experienced quite a jolt. We never told anyone else what we had done and to this day, he says he did it while I claim I did it. A twin kind of vivid memory. But I digress. I still couldn’t remember Chanukah.
Well, OK, I’d do Thanksgiving, then. How could I go wrong? There must be family and turkey and football, right? Right? Well, sort of right.
After leaving Los Angeles when I was six months old, we moved to a small town even further south in California called El Centro. We stayed there until the summer I turned eight when we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. My mother’s sister stayed in LA, their parents lived in a farming community along the Colorado River with the entirely misleading name of Blythe and we were approximately equidistant from my Aunt’s family to my grandparents. It was logical that we would always gather together in Blythe and so we did. I do remember that. We were a small family, all on my mother’s side as my father had no siblings, his mother had died when I was about three and he was estranged from his father.
I also remember that my mother and my aunt, born approximately 27 months apart with my mother the older, were always jealous of one another. They constantly quarreled and my grandparents, both controlling types with no apparent warmth towards their daughters or their grandchildren (with the exception of my older brother who was adored by all and around whom their world turned) were always in the middle of it all. In those days in the early 60’s, all the adults were heavy smokers and the consumption of hard alcohol in my family, especially, was heavy. So I do remember lots of smoke in the house, the TV blaring and loud, screaming voices raised in anger.
My grandparents lived near a cemetery and I remember a time when my brothers and I and our oldest cousin (there were actually only six years between the youngest grandchild, one of my cousins, and the oldest, my older brother, but the four of us on top were not about to include those “babies” in any of our adventures) liberated a pack of cigarettes from the kitchen counter and walked over to have a smoke among the tombstones. I remember the sound of walking across the tundra-like crunch of dead grass and huddling together in an effort to keep warm against a frosty wind while we complained about everything young teenagers complain about at that age. I don’t remember returning to the house. I don’t remember eating the turkey dinner. I don’t remember returning home to Phoenix the next day or Saturday or Sunday or whenever it was we returned.
I suspect I’m not alone in that dearth of happy or any memories of Chanukah, Thanksgiving, or any holidays. I don’t feel terribly sad about it. This may be terribly cynical as I remember this time of year as it occurred in my childhood, but it was what it was. My family is spread far apart today with my twin brother in California, my older in Phoenix where my father still lives, me in Tennessee, my aunt in an elder-care high rise in LA, and my cousins split with one in Washington and the other two in the LA area. I am extremely close with one of the “baby” cousins I had no use for as a child and I have a loving husband and many friends with whom to celebrate the holidays today. I have no complaints.