Thursday, December 15, 2005

Musings: toys in the attic

With Christmas around the corner (where did the rest of the year go?) I start to wax nostalgic about when I was a little one.

I think it’s because me own little one is the perfect age (6 ½) to get that light-in-her-eyes look as the “big day” gets closer and Santa begins filling up his sleigh and feeding the reindeer. It fills my heart with joy to watch her, and brings me back to a time long ago when I myself was just as wee one.

I recall one very special Christmas, many years ago (can you say 1970?), when my grandparents (my mother’s side who lived in the same house as us) were still alive.

Grandparents, if you still have yours or can recall them, are magical and wonderful people and sometimes you don’t realize that fact until you are much older and they are gone from your life forever.

Let me elaborate a bit.

My grandmother made the most incredible borsch soup – EVER! And it was one of the staples of our household when I was growing up. My mother’s version is “almost” as good as my grandmothers. Maybe it’s just my failing memory, but there was nothing to compare to my grandmother’s version and since her death I have never had a better bowl.

But let me go back to 1970, if you don’t mind, for one Christmas and the special present I was given by my grandparents on my mother’s side.

It was Christmas Eve (1970), and all through the house everybody was stirring – especially the huge aluminum pot of perogies on the stove. Oh, boy. I can’t even begin to describe homemade perogies on Christmas Eve (A tradition) without salivating. The dough, a recipe I have never been able to duplicate despite my grandmother and mother’s best directions -

– goes something like this.

My Mom - you put in about four cups of flour.

Six year old Me – About? Okay.

My Grandmother - Then you crack in an egg.

Six year old Me – Okay.

My Mom - then you add some salt.

Six year old Me - Um, how much?

My Mom - I don’t know, about this much (she tells me pouring some into the palm of her hand then tossing it into the mixture.)

Six year old Me - Okay, I guess.

My Grandmother - Then you put in water, but it can’t be cold or hot just warm.

Six year old Me - Okay, but how much?

My Mom - Well enough so that it gets certain stickiness –

- and so on until I have no idea what they are creating (despite years of the same), but it is damn obvious that there is no official “recipe”, and that it comes from years of experience making them without the aid of measuring cups of any kind and a special instinct for perfect dough stickiness which I have never mastered.

And, sorry for the digression, but that perogie dough was heavenly. No other way to describe it. And when it came to the eating, I was famous (in my six year old way) for being able to eat one dozen – yah, that’s 12 – of them on Christmas Eve. But I’m jumping ahead a bit, so please hit rewind a few minutes to -

The table is set with candles and I would be watching the timer until it would ring. My father would lift that incredibly huge pot and bring it over to the sink where the strainer sat and pour them out. He would then add in a load (like a quarter pound) father butter into the perogies and slosh them around until they glistened. Then, with us all gathered round the table, he would bring the bowl and set it down.

And the feast would begin. And, as a side dish to mix with the perogies (because you just can’t eat them plain) would be a large bowl of fried salt pork/bacon/onion and another bowl of mixed cottage cheese/sour cream.

Oh-My-God! Excuse me while I wipe the drool from my chin.

There, that’s better.

Now how could a six year old not eat twelve of those? If I could have eaten thirteen without actually rupturing my tiny stomach – I would have. They were that unbelievably good. And any more would mean no room for dessert . . .

Anyhow, the dishes would be cleared and desert is presented and consumed (usually a fresh backed blueberry pie using real hand picked fall blueberries – yes worthy of another Oh-My-God drool session).

Then, after the feast - it is time to open one present.

This moment is so exciting for me as a child. It’s Christmas Eve, Santa’s on his way. I have a belly full (okay – stuffed to the maximum) of perogies and pie, the tree is just sparkling with lights and tinsel – even our dog is running around excited, knowing something is up.

We gather in the living room around the tree and I am handed the one present I get to open this evening. This year I choose my grandparent’s present.

At six years old, it takes about .13 seconds to tear open a carefully wrapped gift, and I don’t disappoint.

The colorful box revealed displays some kind of futuristic landscape and, holy cow - robots!

My grandparents have gotten me a robot set!

The tin kind you put batteries in and they perform all kinds of automatic activities, like walk across the floor, rove about in a bright red two-seater moon scooter mobile unit, and on the front of an industrial mechanoid machine are pinchers – used to grab and move the blocks and barrels that come with the set.

That night in 1970 I am over, no – I am “on” the moon – performing delicate operations with highly toxic and volatile substances with my robot units. And I can hardly remember the rest of the night, except I must have been ushered to bed at some time because otherwise Santa would miss our place.

That was twenty five years ago, a memory now – but what a memory.

And as I am an adult now, I look back on those times with a tear in my eye and love in my heart and realize that this is what life is actually all about. Not stocks, not jobs, not what car you drive or what trip you took or what clothes you wear – but memories of loved ones and magical times and belonging and warmth.

The house I grew up in still belongs to my parents, but I get there very infrequently now. (like once ever few years) But it still holds a reservoir of precious memories for me.

And as I watch my own child grow, and look at the Christmas tree lights reflected in her eyes, I wonder what she will recall twenty five years from now. I hope her memories of today are as special as mine from yesterday.

And yes, back at my parents house, there still have my –

- Toys in the attic.

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