“You need to teach me how to make a fire,” said my middle daughter as we enjoyed the warmth of the fire on a shared New Year’s Day evening. But it was more than that. It was about learning to use kindling, soft pine logs and finally larger more solid oak logs to bring a glow to the room, to provide warmth and ambiance. It was about sharing a space that felt like family. I know, because it is the way I felt when I learned to make a fire back in my 20’s when Gary taught me. My dad occasionally lit a fire, but it was Gary who loved fires and I still crave the warmth and the glow.
The holidays have passed and the memories have joined the others now. The image and scent of sweet potatoes adorned with marshmallows, the corn flake topped string beans, the simmering latkes, the sweet crumble-topped cranberry-pears, bakery goods from Bea’s Bakery and the pot roast recipe created by my Auntie Joyce and made a million times by my mom, complete with carrots, onions and potatoes in gravy, requested and deliciously remembered now. The holidays trigger emotions too and longing for the holidays of the past when everyone was here, but we go on and create new and different traditions that bring the cozy joy of sharing with family and friends.
How do we pass on our traditions to our children? It’s more than telling them about how we celebrate; it’s about embedding the sights, sounds and smells associated with family. The house is decorated with relics of the past, preschool painted dreidels, menorahs made of felt, elementary school laminated holiday poems, holiday lights and the three little Hanukkah mice my mother gave me, one for each daughter. The smell of burning candles, the anticipation of small, secretly selected gifts opened together, eliciting small tears of joy. What makes the holidays real is the togetherness we share.
My job as a mother began more than 32 years ago, but as a mother, once you sign on, that’s it. I’ve taken it seriously from the start feeling that as a mother, my primary jobs were to take care of my daughters, pass on everything I know to them, pass on all family traditions and of course keep them alive. My daughters appreciate their handmade (by dad) dollhouses, the quilts I made for each of them when they turned nine and the special quilts made of all of the sweatshirts collected from ballet, music and theater performances over the years.
Making a fire. Beginning with the kindling, then the soft pine and finally the solid oak. This is what it takes, and the reward is so great. The warmth, the glow, and a place called family.