She raised three sets of kids; her younger brothers and sisters, her own children, and her sister's children. Her early years straddled two World Wars. One brother died in World War I; another (one that she had helped to raise) died in World War II. His death was such an extra-ordinary parachuting/sniper incident that his story made all the stateside newspapers. One other stepped on a landmine and lost both legs below the knees.
I saw a photo of her sitting sidesaddle on a motorcycle in her housedress, holding a beer in one hand, the other on the handlebar. Her eyes glinted with the smirk of "I dare you."
Her brother (one of the younger ones), John, left home at age 16 and went to Cuba. By himself! (No helicopter parents!) He became a training jockey for race horses. Cuba was in all its glory as a haven for U.S. high rollers. When he returned to the U.S., he became a master carpenter.
He was a small man, with twinkling deep blue eyes and a lip-level mustache that accentuated his quiet chuckling grins.
She was about 14 years old, sitting astride a motorcycle. She wore the trousers of the 1940's and the heavy lumberjack plaid shirt often seen in the Pacific Northwest. Her eyes showed a complexity of fear, anger, rebellion, and a painful aching desire for something "better".
Physically, she resembled one of her future granddaughters.
He looked like John Wayne, He walked like John Wayne. Except John Wayne never had Elvis Presley sideburns. How did that happen?
Oh yeah...he let the women in his family convince him the sideburns would make him cool, hip, current. The sideburns were...so...NOT him!
She is wearing a bouncy, taffeta dress with a Peter Pan collar and a red ribbon bow at her neck. White anklet socks with lace edging stand over black patent Mary Janes. Her blond hair curls into a recalcitrant "wannabe Shirley Temple". She perches on her knees on the dining chair. The table holds the birthday cake with four candles. (That was probably her last birthday cake. She already knew what she liked - and it wasn't birthday cake.)
Her face beams with the joyous glow of innocence found in a chubby cheeked cherub. She is the"Turkey Baby".
The Turkey Baby
Every few years my birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day, hence, the name "Turkey Baby".
Each birthday gives me more opportunity to look back, to see where I've come from, to bless and thank all those family members who preceded me. Their stories helped build my story; my Grandmother Hazel, Uncle John, Mom, Dad...and all the others!
I come from determined, resilient and adventurous stock.
And let's not forget the circus performers! (One could say my grandmother ran away to join the circus. The man she loved just happened to be a circus performer. Really, isn't that just the coolest love story ever?)
I know these stories because I have seen them in the old photos. I have heard them around the holiday dining tables.
What is sad to me, though, is some of these photos and stories never came out until the person had passed on. When my sister and I learned of our Uncle John's time in Cuba we were astounded. We could only say, over and over, and over, with incredulity...
We had only know him as the quiet master carpenter and as Grandma Hazel's brother!
And every year, on my birthday, I say a prayer of gratitude to all those who came before me.
Turkey Baby Traditions
My Dad would always fix my favorite meal for my birthday; spaghetti with his home made sauce and meatballs. No birthday cake for me! Nope, I am a die-hard "birthday pumpkin pie" girl.
This tradition carries on to this day. Okay, I'll give into turkey, and all the fixin's on Thanksgiving Day as long as I have my pumpkin pie.
And when my folks were alive, and I was mature enough to appreciate them, I would send them flowers on my birthday - thanking them for bringing me into this glorious world. Which was probably very hard work for two kids who skipped a day of high school to run off and get married.
But, you see, here's the thing...everytime I eat that fresh spaghetti, sauce and meatballs and eat that pumpkin pie...I feel my Dad and my Mom right there with me.
Is this the purpose of tradition? To remember? To feel? To honor? Or is the purpose of tradition to build, and anchor our own space, our own place, in the world?
Maybe, sometimes, tradition gets a bad rap for being stultifying. Maybe, there has to be a deeply felt personal attachment in order for tradition to serve as a remembrance and honoring.
If we neglect tradition do we weaken our own sense of place in the world?
Wow! There's a thought for some deep contemplation!
How about you and yours? Are there stories you can tell or hear in the old photos of your family?
Do you have special traditions for your holiday? Or your birthday? How do you make your own, personal traditions that have meaning to you?
Oh, I do hope there is a camera involved for future generations to tell stories, to hear your stories, to see your stories.
Your stories, your photos, and even your traditions, are gifts to those who follow. Your stories, your photos, and your traditions help them to understand their family history, the strengths, the resilience, the adventures.
Your stories, your photos, and your traditions provide the starting point for their place in the world.
Happy Birthday month from me to you!
Expect the best. Anything else is an adventure!
If you enjoyed this, please share to your social media. Tell us about your traditions in the comment section below. How do they make your place in the world?