Tete-a-tete Archives

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Tete-a-tete: Holidays, especially with Grandma, are always colorful

Nothing adds color to the holidays like spending them with your extended family. We recently made the 12-hour round-trip journey by car to celebrate a holiday double-header (Grandma’s 80th birthday and Easter) with Dad’s side of the family.

Grandma is, in a word, spirited. As a younger woman, she used to run for the downtown bus in high heels and leave the young men of the neighborhood in her dust. The years haven’t slowed her down much.

At her birthday party, Grandma politely inquired of Youngest Male Cousin, who was coming down the stairs, if the upstairs bathroom was free. Getting a straight answer out of anyone in my family is like trying to get a cork out of a wine bottle without a corkscrew. It can be done, but it’s not really worth the trouble.

Youngest Male Cousin informed Grandma that the upstairs was off-limits to anyone 80 years old or older. He came the rest of the way downstairs and walked past Grandma, who was not amused. She feinted as though to grab him, but he easily dodged her and kept walking.

Things might have gone differently if he had walked toward the kitchen, where the rest of the family was, but he walked through the foyer (where I was hunting for my coat) instead.

I watched in gleeful amazement as Grandma chased Youngest Male Cousin (a college baseball player, mind you) across the foyer, out the front door and across the indoor porch. She caught up with him at the door to the outside and gave him a satisfied bop on the shoulder.

Youngest Male Cousin kept a respectful distance from Grandma for the rest of the evening, and perhaps realized afresh where in the family his athletic abilities come from.

We had asked Grandma well in advance what she wanted as a gift to celebrate her birthday milestone, planning to pool funds if needed to get her something really nice. Her request was simple. She wanted us to celebrate Easter at her church, as this would be the first time in 30 years that the majority of the family was together for Easter.

And so, we piled into cars and headed out to Easter Vigil Mass at Grandma’s church.

Many years ago, Grandma’s parents helped found the city’s only Slovak Catholic church. Grandma and Grandpa even staked out their own family pew. There’s no need for a plaque to mark it, though, since no one else ever chooses to sit there. It’s probably something to do with the large concrete pillar that blocks one end of the pew.

If you think about it, though, it makes sense for a family with five mischievous boys to choose this pew. Grandma and Grandpa only had to worry about them running out into the aisle and tripping the priest from one direction instead of two.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Youngest Brother, who amused himself by scraping wax off his vigil candle with his fingernail, filling the candle’s plastic-cup holder with wax shavings. I would have done a better job of keeping him in check, but I literally had my hands full.

In my right hand was my lit candle. In my left, an open missalette so I could follow along with the Mass. I should also mention I did not inherit Grandma’s extraordinary sense of balance in high heels. I was just getting the hang of things when the priest began to walk down the aisle, pausing at each pew to sprinkle holy water on the congregation.

As the priest passed by, the other parishioners would make the sign of the cross. I had a real “What Would Jesus Do?” moment there, as blessing myself with my left hand would result in a mild bludgeoning and multiple paper cuts and blessing myself with my right hand would set my hair on fire.

I managed what I hoped was a reverent head bob and resolved to try again during the next Easter Vigil Mass I attended, providing we could sit closer to the baptismal font.

After Mass had ended, I told Youngest Uncle and Aunt, with whom we were staying, that I had enjoyed the Mass in spite of my coordination complications.

“I thought it was really cool how it began in total darkness and then the lights gradually came on, you know, symbolizing how Jesus is the light of the world. I could do without the holy smoke, though.”

“The what?”

“The holy smoke. That’s what Dad … always said … they called the incense … .”

As has been established in previous columns, I should really know better than to trust the man who almost convinced me that “Maine” was a two-syllable word.

If we could find our family crest, I can think of no better motto to accompany it than Grandma’s assessment of the weekend: “We’re not perfect, but we always have a good time.”

I couldn’t agree more. We have two weddings coming up this summer and who knows what might happen? My money’s definitely on Grandma, though, when it comes to who will catch the bouquet.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published April 23, 2009.

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