storyrainthejournal: (dogwantbone)
 
For the last bunch of years, I’ve observed Halloween and Dio de Los Muertos as a time to honor the ancestors, specifically my grands and greats who’ve died. By honor I mean, mostly, remember.
 
Apparently I look most like the Carlson side of my family, which would be my maternal grandmother Beverly’s family. They came from Schleswig Holstein, the northern part, I think, as they’re more of Danish than German descent. Danish Jews, dontchya know. The Carlsons owned a big department store, and apparently had money. And a Carlson ancestor is said to have come over to the states in the 1700s and been a trapper-trader. That's early for the Jews, dude.
 
My Grandmother Beverly was not the easiest person. She never thought my father was ‘good enough.’ After both my siblings married goyim, she whispered to me, once, loud enough to be heard by them, that she certainly hoped I was going to marry a Jewish boy. I’m told that at my brother’s wedding she shoved my father’s third wife (a goy) aside.
 
But she was the first person in my family to take me seriously as a writer, at a young age, when everyone else just said ‘that’s nice, sweetie.’ She gave me useful feedback and encouraged me--she was also instrumental in getting me to go to college after I'd dropped out of highschool. My grandfather Abe was a writer, with several YA fiction books about boys at camp to his authorial credit (though I’ve read one, and, well, um…sorry Grandpa, not so much), and Beverly was, until the end of her life, a dedicated and voracious reader.
 
Three things I associate strongly with Beverly and Abe: swimming—she swam every day until almost the end of her life—root beer floats (summer nights in Maine, a treat they had rather religiously), and Scrabble. My grandfather generally kicked everyone’s ass, getting a couple of seven letter words in each game.
 
*
 
Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck… Today I found a penny on my bus seat, only it’s a Netherlands penny, not a U.S. one. It’s tiny and has a woman’s head on it, surrounded by stars, with the words (teeny tiny) Beatrix Koningin Der Nederlanden circling her.
 
*
 
Tonight after work I will go to a bon(e)fire at N&C&co’s; there will be s’mores and sparklers, but no actual bones.
 
In Japan, large fires called bon-bi are set to welcome the return of the spirits of the ancestors. Though the two terms are not etymologically or historically related, they serve similar purposes and indicate the universal importance of large fires.
storyrainthejournal: (contemplative)
Talking to my father this morning, he let slip a bit of family history he'd never shared before. He said on Easter Sunday he always remembers that if his father hadn't been so terrified every Easter Sunday in the Ukraine, we wouldn't be here. In 1912 he'd had one pogrom too many and left their village  for the U.S.

I shudder to think what must have gone through my father's mind when I happily made Easter hats and marched in the parade at school as a kid. We also had a great aunt on his mother's side who had been a public school teacher and had the habit, so always made us kids Easter baskets. We'd have Passover Seder, then go to her house the following Sunday for Easter chocolate. He never made any fuss about it, but clearly he had some issues.
storyrainthejournal: (cookieofdoom)
Various holiday postings, particularly about Christmas cookies, have made think of one of my fonder childhood memories. Before she left to go live on a beach in Jamaica, my mom made Christmas cookies with us (these would be pre-six year old memories for me). Of course, we were nominally Jewish, but only my sister and brother even went to Hebrew school; I only went to Sunday School (consequently learning only what to eat, what to sing, and how to dance for Jewish holidays). My mother is extremely iconoclastic (she also taught me to read tarot cards when I was twelve) and my father is more intellectually Jewish than religiously so. Between his objections and her laissez-faire, some mainstream Christmas stuff snuck in; I personally was most impressed with glitter and festivity--like the beautiful displays with the huge lions at Wannamaker's in downtown Philadelphia. Hanukkah candles were great by me, but so were garlands and tinsel and lights and all the miniature wonderlands in downstore department stores like Wannamaker's.

So, the cookies. She always made a basic refrigerator dough, then rolled it out and we took cookie cutters in the shapes of trees, gingerbread men and women, reindeer, stars, and snowmen to the dough. She baked them and mixed up an artist's pallete of colored powdered-sugar icing which we then decorated the cookies with. Some silver ball sprinkles and colored sugars completed the materials. I was always most focused on color combinations and designs, and on mixing shades of icing to come up with new ones...and on planning the next star, next gingerbread person, next reindeer. The cookies were always really really good.

Another thing I always remember is that, again, Jewishness and Hanukkah observance despite, on Christmas morning my sister, brother, and I gathered on my sister's bed in the early early, waiting until it was late enough to get mom and dad up. Then we all went down to the living room, which was sans tree, but had stockings on the fireplace mantle, and opened our modest piles of presents. And the two years that stand out most (again, pre-six years old, cause it all went south after that) are the ones when I was given exactly what I asked for: once, my first pets, two white mice--I was beyond excited when I saw the bars and their little feet under the edge of the wrapping paper; and the other time when they found me a beautiful marionette in answer to my newly born (and life-long) love of marionettes and puppets.

The last thing is evenings all winter sitting in front of the fire with my mom. I was fascinated with and comforted by fire, and could watch it (somewhat autistically--I was similarly mesmerized by light on water) for hours, until the last embers finally stopped coalescing like live things every time I blew on them.

Nothing material from that time of my life remains, except a couple of photos, cause mom went off to find herself--and never had much care for material things anyway--and dad just never had a clue, so when that house was sold, nothing but a few big pieces of valuable furniture were kept. The mice only lived for a year (and I almost drowned them in a Barbie boat once, much to my mother's disgust and chagrin), but I do miss that marionette sometimes.
storyrainthejournal: (doingart)
When I was four and five my parents took us all to Wannamakers in downtown Philadelphia at this time of year. My memory impression is of a huge, cavernous place, grand with sculpture and architectural detailing, wonderous beyond that with lights, a tree the size of a house, garlands of richness and color, and, best of all, miniature otherworlds, landscapes and towns, snow, trees, people, sleds, all smaller, much smaller than me. This was, to me, the very definition of magic and possibility.

Around the same age, one of my favorite going-to-sleep daydreams was that there was a secret room off one my windows, small, but big enough for me and for a whole entire village in miniature--but real, all the people real and living their little people lives, and the whole town and all the people in it were mine, all mine. I was a benevolent ruler, of course, but they were still mine. I found this imagined village in a room far more compelling than any dollhouse could ever be.

Does this make me a scary person?

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