Note to my readers: It’s November and Thanksgiving Day and I feel the pull of my mother most during this time of year. A few weeks ago I finished client work, closed up my laptop and packed my car with my garden gloves, shears, a plastic trash bag or two and headed out to the countryside in search of bittersweet. When I was small, my father was at the wheel of our old Pontiac and I rode “shotgun” on the passenger side of the commodious bench seat and the mission was to collect bittersweet for my mother. A bushel basket bounced and swayed in the back seat as we traversed the rolling roads along Cayuga Lake. More often than not the skies would be heavy with gray clouds and the chilly gusts of wind that swept off the lake whistled outside of the heavy vehicle.
Now I am behind the wheel of the car and my sidekick is an audio book of a favorite novel and my iPhone. The skies over my Pennsylvania home are gray with scudding November clouds. The wind sweeps across the country side and rocks my much lighter Japanese made car. The mission is the same. Bittersweet.
The holidays are here and memories are as much a part of this time of year as are the current plans for celebrating with friends and family. I have a genetically installed advent calendar of my very own. If you are a north-easterner like I am, the first cold snap in the air begins the circadian shift. I guess I am of a generation where no amount of crass marketing can affect when my holiday spirit kicks in. Blast away, Zales. Keep it coming, Macy’s. Pour it on, Walmart. I am immune and probably a marketing agency’s worst nightmare. I don’t belong to a holiday shopping target statistic. It isn’t about merchandise for me. Never was. It was and is about my family.
It starts with the annual ritual of rummaging through the caps and gloves and mittens…pairing them up neatly in the coat closet…readying them for the season. It isn’t long before the thought of a fall forage in search of bittersweet sneaks into my consciousness. Shrugging into my cozy jacket with my cap and gloves snicked into the deep pockets and a quick snatch of the car keys…I am country road bound. It made my mother happy. It makes me happy. Did it make my grandmothers happy, too? Did my grandfathers trudge into the wooded hills and dales along Cayuga Lake in search of an armful of bittersweet to bring delight into hearth and home? Did the children gambol alongside lifting their tongues to the first dusting of falling snow? Triumphant with their bounty, did they burst through the door stomping their feet and shedding their coats and mittens? Was the warm home filled with the enticing aromas of turkey roasting in the oven and a mince meat pie cooling on a kitchen counter? Did their mother smile? I think she did. No. I KNOW she did. When does tradition become so engrained that it is in the marrow?
As the family historian, I started thinking outside of myself long ago. Why do I like this…or dislike that? Why do I do…what I do? As much as I wonder where I inherited my blue eyes, I am more deeply intrigued by how my character has been shaped by the lives of my ancestors. And why I am trudging around the countryside…in the blustery and biting wind in search of bittersweet.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
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