Fuzzy Skies: Family memories and traditions

Jim and Karen Russell's daughter-in-law Sheri and daughters Lynne and Pamela prepare Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen of their rental at Seabrook. (Jim Russell photo)

Jim and Karen Russell’s daughter-in-law Sheri and daughters Lynne and Pamela prepare Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen of their rental at Seabrook. (Jim Russell photo)

By Jim Russell

Isn’t it funny that a family can have fun sharing memories linked to failure and separation?

Our family has had unpleasant battles in our kitchens over who’s in charge of the holiday turkey and trimmings, but we’ve learned to let our son and his wife prepare the turkey and the adults prepare the trimmings. That was easy for me, I take pictures. Karen’s happy because she doesn’t like to cook.

We retold folktales of the family’s nervous cooks whose gravy never measured up to what Karen’s mother made. Karen often called her mother for help with the gravy when she didn’t visit us and dreaded making it  when she did visit.

When our son’s wife-to-be first hosted us for Thanksgiving, her gravy was a disaster. As I recall it had too much flour but I never tasted it.

But our kids celebrated her gravy immediately and declared her a perfect fit for the family. We’ve retold the story every holiday.

For a while I thought I’d taken an unusually long nap, because suddenly everybody was discussing Christmas traditions.

Our children recalled the Christmas stockings with our names in them. My sister knit them large enough to fit Santa’s feet and calves, so everybody anticipated the surprises tucked in the end of them.

I thought Karen had bought them at a bazaar or knit them. Karen said she couldn’t knit those stockings and told a story I didn’t recall.

Our youngest daughter’s cat liked her stocking so much he tore it to shreds. She was married by then so she asked Karen to knit matching ones for her and her husband.

Karen panicked but agreed. She had to learn how to knit them, but knew she couldn’t knit the names into them. She bought a pattern with a soldier for him and another with an angel for her. They hang them at home every Christmas and bring them to our house.

Karen remembered reading Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to our twin grandsons until they recited it word-for-word as she turned the pages. They turned 17 the day after Thanksgiving, but this year one of them worked in Seattle over the holidays. What a treat it would have been to hear them help each other recall the story in unison.

It was the first time they hadn’t shared their birthday or Thanksgiving together. The twin with us didn’t want to celebrate “…because it felt funny,” he said.

These are the same brothers who have fought in what seemed like life-and-death struggles.

My brother sent me an email for Thanksgiving. I was pleased to share it with the family without thinking of the fights we’d had.

With all the Christmas songs and my regular naps, I wondered if we’d made plans for Christmas. Could they have gotten confused with all the Christmas stories and thought we already celebrated it?

I said, “We didn’t talk about plans for Christmas.”

My son wondered why I’d asked because it was firm in his mind. “Your house on the 26th,” he said.

Our family’s worked hard to have fun together at our holiday get-togethers and we’re blessed we all plan to continue the traditions.