Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What is there to be thankful for?

And so begins another holiday season to get through. That used to be a recurring thought in my head every year while growing up. Don't misunderstand, I loved Thanksgiving, it was the rest of the holiday season I could live without.

As a child growing up in a household with an alcoholic, Christmas seemed to be an especially painful time of the year for my father. When the Miller lite ran out, my father turned to Black Velvet. Thanksgiving was the onset of 6 weeks of trying to dodge my father, which was pretty hard in a smaller ranch house, with 7 people, one living room, and only one bathroom.

The day would start out fine enough with my Mom making everybody's favorite side dishes and two turkeys to feed my four brothers and miscellaneous relatives. I loved the smell of turkey cooking and the warmth of the home. My brothers all joking around and watching whichever sports game or war movie was on one of the three television stations available. Dinner would be fun with lots of laughter and good natured ribbing, but as the day progressed, so too did my fathers imbibement. The downward spiral continued with the start of the Christmas Music marathon.

We used to have a stackable phonograph stereo. For those of you under 35, this thing was a piece of furniture and took up one whole wall. The cover lifted up on one side (sort of like a coffin), and inside was the turntable with record stacking capabilities. We were able to put 12 records on the spindle, and it would drop a new record automatically as the preceding record ended. We could change it from 78, 45 or 33 rpm if needed. So for all the Christmas music freaks out there, you could have up to 6 hours of listening torture before having to flip the stack of records over. We had everything from boy's choirs to Philharmonics to oldies but goodies singers. Heck, we even had Clancy Brothers and Bobby Vinton. It was too bad they didn't make the "A Very Special Christmas" records back then, it would have been nice to listen to something remotely modern. Even though it was the primarily the 70's, all the music in the house was show tunes or music atleast 20 years old.

But I digress, the point is as the music continued to play each day towards Christmas, my fathers drinking increased a tension in the household that was hard for children to rationalize. And if anyone has gone through a winter in central New York, one knows the weather tends to keep one isolated within the house. It got to the point that as a teenager, I would be on pins and needles until one of my friends could pick me up to get me out of the house- THANK YOU TERRY QUILL. I still loved Thanksgiving, but hated the day after. And then hated each day through to New Years. I would stay in my room as much as possible and read a book a day just to hide.

I never understood the demons that my father battled. I know he had a very troubling childhood and have heard some stories... his father died when he was 2; he was the youngest of 8 kids I think, (they were fairly older and some died before I was born); my Babci spoke only polish which created cultural issus in trying to be American; he had his legs broken twice by force as a child; he dropped out of school to join the Air Force in WWII, and when he got home, his mom threw away his military stuff; and until the day he married, every paycheck he earned was handed over to his mother for the family expenses. That's some of the stuff I know, I am sure there is much more I have never learned about. Some may say others have gone through worse, but this was enough to affect him for the entirety of his life.

It wasn't until I was a junior in college that we truly bonded. And as I learned to accept him as a person, my love for him as a father grew. I could never overcome the hurt of growing up through those Cristmas seasons. But I did learn to enjoy Christmas again. He died in 1994, and I am so glad we had six years together where we could actually talk to each other and spend time enjoying each other's company.

So this Thanksgiving, like every other, I am thankful for a myriad of things, like my children, my husband, health, a home, good friends, etc. But I am very thankful to have had an alcoholic father. It's not something I would wish on anyone, however, having my Dad in my life taught me compassion, patience, understanding and forgiveness. And with those lessons, I have learned to enjoy the whole holiday season, Christmas included.

My hope for all of you is that you each have something or someone to be thankful for. That you each have a reason to make it through the holiday season emotionally intact. And if you are still waiting for the reason to be thankful for something, I hope that this is the year that you find what you are looking for.


Anonymous said...


Estellye said...

This is such a beautiful post. It really made me tear up. I was so glad you had a chance to have a relationship with your Dad before the end. A few precious years.

There is something about Christmas that makes people who celebrate it nostalgic for their perfect happy childhood, even though it is at least partially fictional for pretty much everyone. I think that is really healthy. I believe it connects us with the perfect symbolism of the holy family and helps us create a positive beginning for each new year.

I know it is hard for a lot of people to get beyond a painful past and it colors their experience of Christmas, but I think it's worth it to surrender to the hype. It's like letting children believe in Santa. We all know it isn't true, usually the kids know it too on some level, but it is part of the magic we create for ourselves. Anyway, that's my take on it.