Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Remember ...

I enjoy sitting in the quiet time like this morning, and watching the snow fall. It helps me feel that everything is all right, and that the things bothered me even a few minutes ago are not that important. And they’re not! And especially at this time of year, it makes me remember.

I remember the snowball fights as a kid. Usually it was one group of 5 or 6 boys against a similar group from the neighborhood. Once, it was even boys against the girls! We slaughtered them. We built snow forts which sometimes took most of the morning; there was an understood competition there too, to see who could build the biggest and strongest, although in the end they were always smashed down. But that was ok, and there were never any hard feelings between the snowball fight winners and losers. Neither we nor our parents worried about injuries, physical or psychological; we were just being kids. It was great fun.

I remember Christmas lights. Most houses on our street had some lights. None had garish displays, and a few had none. It was somewhat indicative of the financial well-being, or age, of the inhabitants. We liked them all. At least one night before Christmas dad packed the family in the car and we rode up and down neighborhood streets admiring the displays, and we always traveled a bit to the one or two houses which were decorated like the North Pole; the owners were usually outside, handing out candy and hot cider. That was great. When I was older and working my way through college, I sometimes got off work in the early hours of the morning and drove to those neighborhood streets, still all lit up but empty of cars, and took my foot off the gas and just slowly drifted down the streets, looking at the lights, and remembering.

I remember my friends, the guys I went through elementary school and high school with. We weren’t twixting or emailing or Facebooking, we were meeting to get together to do things. We played ball, we bowled, we talked about growing up, but it seemed that we never talked about anything competitive. It didn’t matter who hit the ball farther, scored higher, or got better grades, it was about being with each other. Friends. I remember when I turned 21, and we bought a racecar together – for $50 (guaranteed to run until it got off the lot). I was working and never drove it, but the guys came to tell me details after every race, and how they were only three laps behind at the finish, but they waved to all the girls as they slowly crept around the track. We made a bet on who would get married last, and I gave the title to that car to my cousin, the winner, as a wedding present.

I remember Christmas at grandma’s, or Bousa (“boo-sha”) as the Polish people call their grandma’s. Bousa had all the sons and daughters and their kids over for Christmas Eve. And they didn’t come in from the airports or the bus stations, they came from the next block over; the entire family lived in a 5 block area. It was a huge gathering for which the women gathered early and cooked all day. And I can still taste the Polish dinners and deserts. As the families increased in size each of the parents picked names, and each cousin got one present that night. And we all finished up and left in time to attend midnight mass and sing Christmas carols together. And we all loved and looked forward to those times.

Right at this moment, I am looking at 7 birds crowded into a tiny feeder on mom’s front window. Others wait a turn, sitting on the fir bushes below, the snow gently falling on them. They seem to be more of a family than most people have today, than most kids have. Kids don’t live near their parents, and grandparents rarely – if ever – see their grandkids. Peggy Noonan had a great article in the Wall Street Journal this morning. She said Americans aren’t worried about jobs, about the health care bill, about global warming. What Americans are worried about is what our culture has become. I agree, and I think one of the worst things our culture has evolved to is our detachment from family and neighbor. We go from “I” and what “I” want and need, to what should be done for everyone – by the government. There is no family, no neighbor in between. There is no obligation, or desire, to be with family or neighbor.

I remember how it used to be. It used to create memories. I worry about America and our kids. I pray for them.

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