By Barb Arland-Fye
Relatives filled my parents’ condo for Dad’s 83rd birthday last Saturday. I plunked down in a chair beside Dad and listened as he and his brother Jack reminisced about their mom’s extraordinary cooking skills.
Dad prefers white cake with chocolate frosting while Jack prefers chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Their childhood occurred during a time of shortages due to the Depression, the death of their dad and then World War II. But their widowed mom, Irene, always managed to make time to bake a cake for each of her nine children’s birthdays — even though she had to work outside the home to feed them.
She also baked pies and dinner rolls that were the best-tasting this side of heaven. “Remember her banana cream?” Jack asked Dad, smiling at the memory. The look in my dad’s eyes radiated fond memories. “I remember her rolling out pie crust,” Dad said. “I’d be watching her and she’d look at me and then roll out a little pie crust for me.”
I volunteered my own memory of a Sunday afternoon when our families were at Grandma’s for dinner, which featured her famous fluffy, powdered dinner rolls. One of the brothers – Dad or Jack, I can’t remember which one – asked the other to pass the rolls. One brother tossed a dinner roll across the table to the other. Perfect catch! All of us kids thought that was so funny!
Grandma Irene died nearly 38 years ago, but her warm, loving personality filled the alcove off of the kitchen where Dad, Jack and my aunt Mary (Jack’s wife) and I reminisced. What a blessing to feel Grandma’s presence one more time in a place filled with joy and laughter reminiscent of visits to her house in my childhood.
Two of my siblings and aunts and uncles from both sides of my parents’ families attended the birthday party. Being together again reminded me of the preciousness of family get-togethers. We missed the ones who weren’t able to attend. We shared memories. We go back a long way, and know of the joys and sorrows we’ve each experienced. There’s got to be something therapeutic in the hugs we shared.
We talked about everything that bonds us, mostly memories, and nothing that might divide us. It wasn’t as if we deliberately avoided sensitive topics. Our focus was on enjoying the present moment and one another’s company. The aunts and uncles raved about my husband Steve’s banana bread, feasted on deli sandwiches, and still had room for white cake with frosting and vanilla ice cream. They joked about not putting 83 candles on the birthday cake for fear of starting a fire.
In his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis observes that “The nuclear family needs to interact with the wider family made up of parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and even neighbors. This greater family may have members who require assistance, or at least companionship and affection, or consolation amid suffering (No. 187).”
Two months ago, we celebrated my mom’s 80th birthday with a party like the one Dad had last week. She claims she didn’t want him to feel left out. But really, it’s about celebrating family, the whole kit and caboodle. She and Pope Francis are on to something.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)