Monday, December 31, 2012

The Wishbone

Clearing off the kitchen counter to rid it of the stack of empty cookie containers, morning coffee cups and breakfast cereal bowls, I noticed something resting on the lid of the small green atlas jar setting behind the double sink. It took me just a second to recognize its familiar bony shape. There it was, hideous and dried up; the wishbone from last Thursdays Christmas eve dinner. 

"How could it have gone un-noticed by me for that long?", I pondered as I stared at it for the moment. After all  my OCD has never allowed anything to be out of place for much more than a minute. But never-the-less it was there, left where I had set it to dry. I thought perhaps my husband and my daughter would later that day share in the tradition of each grabbing an end and pulling quickly to break the bone apart so that the one of them who ended up with the largest of the broken piece could tease that they had won and their wish would come true. 

But somehow that day had come and gone so quickly now that I could hardly remember setting the wishbone aside. As I reached for the thing to toss it into the trash, something came to mind and I found myself unable to grasp it. Instead I continued to stare at it as if I was seeing it for the first time. I must've been about seven as I stood in Grandma's kitchen inhaling the delightful aromas' of well seasoned homemade stuffing, fresh baked banana bread and apple pie. Grandpa had been picking off the last remnants of what Grandma proclaimed was the "Biggest Bird" we had ever had. Of course every year the turkeys seemed to get bigger and Grandma always fussed about how she would fit each one into her old black granite roaster. As the last few pieces were plucked off, the carcus was exposed to leave ones imagination as to what the turkey once had looked like and then the process of removing the wishbone without destroying its integrity was all that remained. I watched as my Grandpa carefully separated the thin piece from its points of connection. "Now we need to set it in the kitchen window so it can dry before we get to use it!" he warned. "How long?" I asked, hoping it would be sooner than later. "Time will tell." he stated as he left it in it's place on the window ledge and went about gathering the remaining carcus to be carried out to the trash. 

Grandpa wasn't one to sit for very long and in some ways I had always been able to relate. He spent much of his time helping out with any chore that needed to be done and definitely wasn't the type to procrastinate. Even as he sat back in his rotatable rocking chair to enjoy a good Wrestling match or The Red Skelton Show on tv, if he spied a speck of dust on the carpet, he would quickly leave his comfort zone and whisk it away to the trash can in the garage. But Grandpa also had plenty of patience and the understanding that good things always come to those who wait patiently. 

Finally by supper time the taste of leftover cold turkey sandwiches in buttered white bread would remind me that there were wishes to be made and the "snap" of a small, thin bone to be heard. From it's place on the window ledge to my anxiously waiting fingers, Grandpa had finally retrieved the wishbone and asked, "Well which side do you want?". I carefully looked over each bony side and after deciding which looked the sturdiest to grab hold of, I made my choice. Grandpa reminded me that first the wish and cautioned never to tell or it would not come true. Then as he held tightly to the other end, we closed our eyes, he counted to three and the breaking of the bone commenced. I can still remember the feeling of victory as I held up the larger piece tightly between my thumb and pointer finger for everyone in the room to see. I know I probably wished for something like a pony or another unobtainable thing that I had wanted, but that part I don't think mattered to me as much as the actual tradition of breaking the wishbone. 

In my family, most of our traditions would be considered fairly "normal" American traditions. Some of them were based on our family's religious background and some were a matter of repeated behavior. The celebration of Christmas was of course from our religious belief. There would be the live manger scene at our church on Christmas Eve and all the little girls wished they had been chosen to be an angel so they could wear the wings. I can remember a time when even our grade school had a Christmas program and "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" was one of many songs we would collectively carol together in the school gym. Boy have times changed! I had always known that we celebrated Christmas because of the birth of the baby Jesus. Away in the Manger was probably the very first song I had ever learned to sing. During the Christmas holiday, there was always a small manger scene decorating a side table in our home as well as the manger scene snow globes that had once been given out at Sunday school. One year while living in Holland, I had sent my Grandparents a lovely manger scene. It was so large that they decided to proudly display it by setting it on a glittered cotton cloth atop the console tv set in the living room. I think it took them a while before they realized that the little light hanging over the baby Jesus actually lit up if you added a battery to the plastic casing in the back. Grandpa wouldn't let it be lit long anyway since he couldn't see wasting the battery. It had a music box hidden in the roof that when played, chimed a lovely Christmas tune but sadly I have forgotten which one. 

Music was abundant around our home and at Christmas time even more than normal. Joy To The World, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Good King Wenceslas, Oh Christmas Tree and countless other songs came from our voices, radios and endless Christmas programs. One year at a church Christmas program where my older sister Kathy was to be singing in the acapella choir, I wore new white tights and saddle shoes with my Christmas dress. I remember the thrill that came from seeing my sister among the choir and hearing their beautiful Christmas cantata. I remember thinking that maybe someday it would be me up there singing. 

Some of our Christmas traditions involved eating special things. The yummy spritz and sugar cookies decorated with those little silver and gold balls, (I'm pretty sure I read sometime back that those little balls caused cancer in laboratory rats); the ice cream Santa's and Christmas Trees that came in a package of only 6 and were so expensive but somehow we always managed to have them; the assortment of fruit pies that Grandma baked, putting such care and love into each one that it made even the most simple of pie recipes taste incredible, and of course the turkey. There was one food tradition that Grandma held dear from her Swedish roots and even Grandpa seemed to enjoy, but I'm not sure if the taste for it resonated much farther down the family tree. The stinky Swedish dish, "Lutefisk"! Lutefisk is a traditional Scandinavian dish of lye-cured cod, usually served at Christmas (by and to those who can stomach the stuff). It's served with boiled potatoes, a white sauce, lots of melted butter, and pepper. I can still remember the awful smell of the thing as it sat on a table in the garage where it had been quarantined so as not to stink up the whole house. 

Grandma used to tell me the stories of when she was young and the men in the family would bring home a cedar tree from some nearby farm pasture and then her and her sister would decorate it with candles. I had always known that sometime after Thanksgiving my Grandparents would go down to the Christmas tree sales on the sidewalk in front of Boogarts grocery store and pick out an inexpensive Douglas Fir. The tree was never too big since the trunk had to fit into the small opening of the metal stand and be framed by the large picture window in the living room. It couldn't be too tall because the living room ceilings were not that high and also Grandpa being the main person to decorate it was only five foot himself. The decorations were mostly of fragile, painted glass and of many various shapes and sizes. I recognized a few from the trips I had gone on with my Grandparents each year to a local greenhouse that would sell beautiful and sometimes very expensive ornaments during the Christmas season. Grandma would delight in picking out just one or maybe two "new" ornaments to adorn her tree. One year a bubble light ornament caught her fancy and became one our favorites to watch as it did it's thing once plugged in and heated up. The brightly colored large screw in light bulbs, angel hair carefully draped across each limb and homemade felt tree skirt made the tree feel like an old friend returning each year for a visit. 

I have read different stories about the origin of the Christmas tree over my lifetime; everything from it being part of a pagan ritual in the 7th century where a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, went to Germany to teach the Word of God to some Druids, to a sappy story of how it was a small, ignored tree growing in a forest among many tall and beautiful trees but was glorified by a family who cut it down for their Christmas celebration. I never questioned why we chose the tradition of having a Christmas tree in our home but rather accepted it as just something we had always done, just as I accepted many years ago the story of the baby named Jesus and why we celebrated his birth on December 25th each year. 

The tradition of the wishbone for me started with Grandpa. I never thought to ask him why we did it or if his Grandpa had done this with him. Looking back now I can see where that was a mistake but many things are a mistake in retrospect. Things like not telling someone you have loved, how much they mean to you or setting aside the time just to share a moment or a memory. We all have done that and knowing we have, we still lead ourselves to believe that there will yet be another chance, another tomorrow. The world is always changing and so many things that are coming our way seem to be getting in the way of what matters the most. 

This years Christmas wishbone is still sitting on the lid of the green atlas jar on my kitchen counter. As grotesque as a bone may become, I cannot bring myself to throw it away. It needs to be wished upon! It needs to be broken! It needs to be held up high in joyful exclamation! If it were to be thrown away without being shared, I fear that in some ways the closeness, the enjoyment and even the love that comes from the simple pastime of making a wish over a funny shaped turkey bone, may become one more lost tradition. 

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