Jottings From Fifth and G: Holidays with the in-laws
Soon after Harold and I married on Oct. 15, 1950, we were faced with the decision of whose family to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with. Harold's parents lived in Grand Island, Nebraska, and mine were near us in Waterloo, Iowa. The distance of 400 miles ruled out time with both families for the same holiday, so the plan was to alternate.
My birthday is close to, and sometimes on, Thanksgiving, and that year was my 20th which I wanted to celebrate with my family. Christmas was a difficult decision as we both wanted to spend our first Christmas together in our first home. Compensating for not being with his family for Christmas, we left a few days after to celebrate New Year's in Nebraska.
This event was an enlightening experience for me. My only trip to Grand Island was that July to meet his parents and his older sister and brother's families who also resided there. His parents' house was spacious and they were cordial and gracious, hosting a bridal shower, family dinners and taking us to various events. They all attended our wedding, and we and my parents hosted them during their stay, so I felt I knew them fairly well. But I was about to see another side of the Townsend clan as we ushered in the New Year together.
It was evening when we arrived and were joyously welcomed by the whole family who had assembled to greet us. A sister I had not yet met had come from Oregon with her 3-year-old son, and a younger brother was also home for the holidays. The house was in disarray with the aftermath of Christmas, everyone was talking at once, laughter and gaiety overflowed, food and drink was served, games played, stories told … and I, with the 3-year-old sitting close beside me, realized what future holidays in Grand Island would be like.
His mother loved cooking for large groups and there was always an abundance of food. The table in the large dining room extended forever and extra chairs were brought over by Uncle Ralph and Aunt Ozella who lived next door and were included in all family events. Ozella worked in a dress shop and both she and I enjoyed my shopping time there during the after-holiday sales.
The card table was always up in the living room, ready for whoever wanted to play whatever card or board game. With the advent of television in the early 1950s, the set was turned on early in the day and played nonstop until channels signed off with the National Anthem, the popular programs being sports and game shows.
The whole chaotic scene was in contrast to what I, as an only child, had grown up with, and what Harold, with four siblings, had always known. I was accustomed to one-day events with my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins — but this was a week of never-ending festivities.
While it could be overwhelming, it was always a fun time.
We continued alternating holidays for several years with a few exceptions. In 1957, I was pregnant with our second child and we decided not to make the 8-hour trip. But just a few days after Christmas, Harold's father died and we hurriedly packed and left with our 3-year-old daughter, to be with the family and attend his funeral. That New Year's together was more somber. Adding to our sadness, we came home to find our Christmas tree bare of all its needles which laid in a heap beneath it, along with many broken ornaments.
As my parents aged, it became more difficult for me to be absent for either holiday. One year we took them with us for Thanksgiving. It was the year his mom had purchased an organ and was taking lessons, prompting her to perform numerous recitals.
Traveling conditions could be treacherous and a storm was always forecast either coming or going. We spent many anxious hours driving in blinding snow falls and icy roads.
Before the Interstate Highway, we traveled Highway 30 and loved driving through all the small towns we knew so well which had magically become holiday wonderlands.
In the 1960s, his mother moved to a smaller house, grandchildren grew up, and our holiday trips became fewer. I remember one last time when we all gathered in the small house, but it just wasn't the same. From then on, we made our usual summer trips, attended the weddings of the Nebraska nieces and nephews, and his mother's funeral in 1981.
Traditions eventually come to an end, but the memories linger on.
Jo Ann Parsons is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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