With another milestone birthday fast approaching, I find myself waxing nostalgic these days. This is especially so during the month of November, one of my favorites—except for the part about raking leaves—a time to recall and honor the memory of the souls and saints who have gone before us. And above all, as we are reminded at gatherings on Thanksgiving Day, it is the season for expressing gratitude, recognizing and appreciating our treasures, what we have, the favors we have received during our lifetime.
Most especially we remember family and friends, without whom our lives might well have taken a different turn. And then there are traditions, both large and small. I remember on the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas every year how the four Kossmann kids hung socks over the fireplace for good St. Nick’s treats; I always snatched one of my father’s socks from his drawer—it was larger and longer than my own. But that didn’t matter: there were never favorites in our family.
As for birthdays, the person of honor got to choose what kind of cake he or she wanted, which was shared with as many friends as our basement could hold. Ours was a home with wide open doors and wider hearts (in the persons of Mom and Pop). In addition to gifting the honoree, of course, my parents had a small gift for all the siblings. It may have been just a rubber high bouncer, a coloring book, a paddle or some other small item, but each of us received something. (After all, kids don’t like being left out.)
And then there was the annual family vacation at a place called Brandt’s Pleasant View in the Catskill Mountains. My mother packed for an army (the girls wore starched dresses to dinner every night), and a huge trunk was shipped upstate a few days before our arrival. One year we arrived late (I can’t remember why), and the Railway Express Agency at the local train station was closed for the day. We could see the trunk through the window, there in the middle of the room. No problem: there was another family whom we knew well, and they graciously loaned us apparel for that evening.
Our home had only one television, but (miraculously) we seldom argued over viewing choices. My parents instilled in us the importance of sharing. Every Tuesday evening, however, the program choice was clear: “Life Is Worth Living,” with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. My father was a deeply religious man and never missed seeing “Uncle Fultie.” But he never insisted that the kids watch with him. The booming voice and stirring words emanating from the television set were enough to bring us into the living room, where we too got caught up in the cape!
Looking back over the years, I realize the enormous sacrifices both my parents made for our family in so many areas. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. My father was an attorney in private practice, so income fluctuated from week to week. No matter what she was given, my mother was a budget balancer par excellence. Even in lean times, Pop made sure we had gifts under the Christmas tree; sometimes I could see a small tear well up in his eye; no doubt he was offering thanks and praise to the Lord for making it all possible.
Our home, too, was blessed with the gift of laughter. And music. Early on, my Irish great-aunt played the concertina, my oldest brother the accordion, my father the wooden “clappers.” Later came the guitar and organ. But then those in-home concerts during large family gatherings—Thanksgiving Day, for one—were missing a member. My father passed away in 1964 and the younger of my two brothers in 1992.
But the beat goes on…and on. That’s because we hold on to our memories, we re-live them, we cherish them. And because blessings are forever.