Tuesday, April 12, 2011

GIFTS part 2

The Gift of Family

I am an only child because a major obstetrical disaster, directly related to physician blunder, prevented my mother from having more children. For the first 18 years of my life ours was a family of three plus, the plus being the occasional aunt, uncle, or cousin who lived with us for several months or more in the farmhouse that my grandfather built. Between my many cousins and the large family on the farm down the road I was unaware of being sibling-less during my early childhood. It was experiencing the relationships my parents had with their siblings that instilled in me an appreciation for the bonds of family, bonds of love that withstood the unavoidable conflicts and separations by time and distance. These same bonds now connect me to my many first cousins and their children.

I remember clearly a time during my high school years when there was a rift between my father and one of his sisters; it lasted about a year and later no one could remember what it was about. During that time my father always insisted that I go visit my aunt, and never uttered a disparaging word about her in my presence. Family was everything and I find it very difficult to understand how some families can be so torn apart…bonds severed or perhaps never developed. However, as an only child I suppose I cannot understand the issues and tensions that can develop between members of the same family.

I am grateful for the family I had, and still have.

The gifts of respect and hospitality

I never heard my parents utter a disparaging word about others...unless it was in a heated political discussion in which my father loved to engage. Everyone who came into our home was treated with the same warmth and hospitality, regardless of who they were, the banker who held our mortgage or the man helping my father on the farm. There were no airs, no pretensions, and certainly no signs of either inferiority or superiority; if they were there, they were well hidden from me.
Everyone gathered in the kitchen where they were always offered coffee or wine, and if the time was right, food, and I mean ALWAYS. We did have a front door that opened on to the sun porch and living room, but it was never used. Everyone knew to come to the back door and into the kitchen. On special gatherings we would move into the dining room, but for the most part it was the kitchen.

My parents made everyone feel welcomed and at home. I don’t know how many times I was told by friends I brought home how wonderful my parents were and how they loved visiting them. They made people feel good! There are few things that disappoint me more than learning that someone I admire and respect has double standards in their treatment of and behavior towards people of different socio-economic status or position. I will judge someone by the way they treat the lowest person of socio-economic standing.

I enjoy cooking, nothing fancy, just 101 ways of serving pasta. Even more, I love to share our meals with friends and neighbors. The evenings begin in the kitchen where we can comfortably seat 5 people around our island, and enjoy wine, cheese, and whatever else I can find in the pantry or refrigerator, while I prepare the dinner. More often than not we remain in the kitchen for the rest of the meal. We can be more formal, and on some occasions we move our gathering to the dining room, but always the spirit is easy and light with no effort to impress anyone. I love the food and wine, the conversation and the laughter, and I want our guests to feel good, to be glad that they were with us.

I know that through these experiences I am paying homage to my mother and father.

The Gifts of Compassion and Caring

In the years following the end of WW II there was a influx of eastern European Jewish immigrants into our region of south Jersey, many of them choosing to get into poultry farming which provided a modest income in those days before the mega farms. Through his activities in the local farmers coop by father became acquainted with many of them, and friends of several of families. Chaim, a small wiry man with a face that reflected the pain of losing his wife and son to the concentration camps from which he escaped purchased a small farm near ours. He knew little about the business and turned to my father for help and guidance, working on our farm as he started his own. Chaim and Riffka, his second wife, became family, and I remember my mother serving him hot tea for lunch in glass cups. My parents had a similar relationship with another family several miles from our farm. When their new baby was discovered to have a congenital heart condition my father made several emergency visits to the hospital in Philadelphia, often in the middle of the night. Those two families adored my parents who gave to them unconditional caring and support. I witnessed all of this during the second 6 years of my life.

I suppose this one gift that can only be given by living it.

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