I sat down to write another blog today, and as usual...writer's block set in. I went back to my old posts for some inspiration, and realized that I have written several "stories" about different Holidays - Thanksgiving, a Birthday, and Fathers Day popped out at me from a quick glance.
We just had a terrific Christmas so I decided to append the Holiday Theme, and go with a little Christmas "story".
The Back Story
I rarely discuss religion as for me - it is a very private matter; but for those of you who may not know it I am Jewish… and am VERY proud of it. I was Bar Mitzvahed when I was 13, but I have never been very religious. In fact, except for a few funerals and weddings - I never go to Synagogue, and am even known to work on the High Holidays. You see my unusual career has me only working about 6 months a year, but my busiest time is in September, and I “need” to be traveling during this important time despite the fact that it conflicts with the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My bosses seem to be OK with it - I certainly hope so.
All of this being said, Carol is NOT Jewish, and an important decision needed to be made 38 years ago as to how to “handle” our wedding, plus we did plan on starting a family soon (although she never told me we were going to have 4 sons!). We settled on the first part of the “plan” - we would be married in her Church in a dual ceremony with her minister and a rabbi, and it really was a very nice service… Yes, I stomped on the glass at the end. In those days most rabbis were not very "liberal" but we found Rabbi Selichman who was very friendly with Reverend Moore; they worked out all of the details and the rest is history. But that was the easy part – what were we to do about the children (and our new "home")?
I am not an atheist (although I believe strongly in secularism - especially in regards to our government), and I certainly don't believe that any one religion is "better" than any other. I'm all about being a decent human being and being compassionate and loving to my fellow human beings, and to me… the "details" are very un-important. In this regard I believe that all of the "major" religions are equally qualified for my basic tenants. I do however believe that some sort of organized religion is important in a family, particularly as it pertains to raising children. In a very early moment of introspection, I decided that Carol was better "equipped" to instill her Christianity into our family than I would be in instilling my Judaism into it… and thus began the Grass household.
I became the Jewish patriarch of a Christian home. The boys were baptized (and circumcised), went to church occasionally on Sunday with their Mother, and I never felt like I was living in a Jewish “closet". Carol and I have been to many a Passover Seder at my sister Karen's, and my sons and their families join us to this day. If one of them has an epiphany tomorrow that they would like to explore their Jewish heritage - we would encourage it wholeheartedly. The bottom line is that they ended up the way that we had hoped - they are 4 of the most morally decent and compassionate people you could ever meet, and I don't for one minute minimize the effect that religion had towards that end.
A Christmas Tradition
But what to do about Christmas? I could have watched the family from afar, and gone out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas like many Jews do - but I don't much like Chinese food and I haven’t been to a movie theatre in 30 years. So instead I "helped" in the forging of our own special brand of Christmas tradition, which has remained pretty consistent for about 38 years now. We've bought all 38 Christmas Trees from the same place in Chester County, and what was for many years a "battle" between 4 young boys as to which one was the perfect tree… has morphed into Carol and I (and sometimes Michael who is the only one left at home) still going to the same place and choosing our tree. It gets trimmed each year with a variety of ornaments, some were on Carol's tree when she was a child, some were made by the kids at school, and many were just acquired over the years as happens in most families. The highlight of the tree trimming is the hassling that goes on to this day between the boys about some of the “classic” ornaments. Each one has a story, and the best ones usually have an old photo worthy of teasing attached, or the 4 "Ice Hockey Ornaments". I even have an ornament with OBX sand and sea glass in it (see my 8-31-15 Blog post “My Happy Place”), which is one of my favorites. We’ve also had an Advent Calendar hanging on our kitchen door for 38 years, which was handmade by Carol's Aunt Betty about 60 years ago. Last year Carol made 4 "duplicate" Calendars - one for each son, and we hope that Devy Leigh, Maddie, and Sully will have years of excitement about putting "today’s" felt ornament on the tree - as our boys did for all of those years. Over the past 5 or so years, we've even added the Grass Boys Christmas Dinner to the tradition, where the 4 boys and I go to a different restaurant each year a week or so before Christmas; just the 5 of us - no females. Someone asked at this year's dinner when Sullivan was going to start being invited; it was a GREAT question for which I had no answer. Carol and the girls do something similar as well.
I imagine Justin and Andrew have already started their own forms of the “Grass Christmas Tradition” – I know the “Elf on the Shelf” has been added which wasn’t around when they were growing up… but I selfishly hope that some of the “old stuff” remains.
Christmas Eve 2015
Fast forward to December 24th, 2015… tomorrow would be another "normal" Grass Christmas - or would it? Just like most households there was WAY too much food being prepared for tomorrow's Christmas Dinner. There were going to be 25 people here but still?!?! The original 4 stockings (complete with fireplace burn marks) were stuffed as they'd been "forever" - only now they had things like shaving cartridges and Home Depot Gift Cards to go along with the clementine (that no-one eats), the bag of chocolate coins, and the candy canes. My wife’s old habits are hard to break! There wasn't a thread of carpet visible under the tree - what with all of the presents for Sons, Daughters-in-law, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews - and of course the grandkids. And my least favorite part of our tradition... Carol was still wrapping presents till 3AM while I was sound asleep - just as it always was.
Christmas Day 2015
By noon the house was full, and we all gathered in the family room to deal with the stockings. My sister's family and Carol's brother weren't expected till around 2PM, but we were still 16 people, including The Potters - Lindsay's Mom, Dad, and Sister. The Potters are an extension of The Grass Family (you "acquire" extensions of your family as your sons get married), and the Potters have become a part of the Grass Family Tradition, having spent Christmas Day with us every year since Andrew and Lindsay got married. While we were all in the same room right before we "did" the stockings, Michael announced that he and Kelsey had just gotten engaged, and Kelsey proudly showed everyone her beautiful ring and there were hugs and kisses and congratulations everywhere. We then proceeded to the living room (and the tree) where it turned into a "gift orgy" - mostly for the grandchildren as it should be. My sister's family and Carol's brother arrived mid afternoon, which led to plenty of wine, some more gift exchanging, laughter and good conversation, and a great meal topped off with some quality time with my grandchildren. There was even time for Sullivan's first lesson on the proper technique for eating ice cream cake from his PopPop. It was a GREAT day!
Under any circumstances, this was an amazing Holiday, and a great Christmas topped off with a newly engaged son was more than enough to confirm how blessed the Grass Family is.
The Day after Christmas (The rest of the story)
I mentioned the Potters earlier, but there is a little more to my story that I need to share. Without going into too much detail out of respect for their privacy, I will say that as great of a year as it has been for the Grasses in 2015, it’s been a rough year for Lindsay's Family - specifically for her mother Linda. She’s had some serious health issues this year, and it’s been a very tough 6 months for the Potter Family.
We really weren't sure whether they were going to even make the trip to Andrew's for Christmas Eve - never mind to our house for Christmas Day. But much to our delight, they all walked in the door together. Carol visited with Linda a lot, and we all did our best to make them feel comfortable. I thought she was awfully brave for even coming, and it really did seem like she had a good time - I certainly hope so.
On Saturday the Potters were planning on leaving Andrew's after lunch to head back to Huntington, and we had so much food left over that we decided to stop by to see them and drop off a care package for them to take home with them. Carol visited with Linda for a while, and when it was time to say goodbye, Mike pulled us aside to thank us for everything. He told us that “Christmas Day was the first time in many months that he’s felt normal”, and that he appreciated everything more than we could know.