| Our Heritage
She stepped up to the edge of the table, the grandma with the freshly-permed curls of silver. She wore a floral pinafore with a silver locket broach pinned to it. The locket contained the faded picture of her husband, long since gone. Her stature small, her shoulders stooped, and her skin weathered, Grandma Spiess came to do the task expected of her. At the age of eighty-eight, she had been the official toaster for the breaking of bread with her family, more years then she could remember. Her hands shook, from the riggers of age, as she lifted the glass and began to speak. Her lips quivered and she spat out a mixture of words of her old tongue and the newly learned English. She was the portrait of heritage and long standing traditions. It was her last year of life.
Each year our large family gathers around the baked poultry, warm German potato salad, and fried yams. For twenty plus years, I have been designated as the broccoli casserole queen. Creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, homemade mashed potatoes with two kinds of gravy are a delight. There are two types of stuffing to fit any fancy, one with raisins and one without the squishy fruit. The odyssey of the two types of stuffing began with my first Thanksgiving. To my new mother-in-law, I mentioned never having had stuffing with raisins. Being the gracious woman that she was, from there on out our table was blessed with a variety to suit us all. My favorite thing, about this family that I married into, is we don't get so lost in tradition that we forget the blessings sitting next to us. The most important tradition is the warm welcome, the tender embrace, and the smiles of loved ones.
Some thirty years ago, I embarked on a new life with my husband. He hailed from a traditional Catholic family with a mother and father and ten siblings. Gatherings were quite extraordinary and populous. There were younger siblings still living at home and older ones with kids of their own. We willingly gathered together in celebration of each other. One year, I managed to count fifty relatives celebrating their blessings at the table.. It was all accomplished in a three bedroom ranch filled with love.
The part of this family's heritage that I will always hold close to my heart is the story of Grandma Spiess. I think she was probably seventy-five years old when I met her. She was a fire-spit of a woman. It is her recipe for German potato salad that created the tradition we enjoy today. I can still picture her standing by the stove either cooking or supervising the melding of its tasty ingredients. It wasn't right until she said it was.
Grandma Spiess was responsible for the toast that kicked off the meal on Thanksgiving. She would raise a glass in honor of our family. Children and adults, alike, would lift their goblets as the lady spoke. She would begin with a review of how the year had gone for the family. Good or bad, she managed to flip the coin toward the blessing side of life. If a loved one was lost, she talked of the wonderful gift of having had them in our lives. She cheered the bounty of all the children born and the goodness she saw in them. She thanked God for every minute she was allowed to walk this beautiful earth. There were tears for the friends that she missed and the memories long past. By her words, this beautiful woman taught us to sip from the cup we were given, feel thankful for a legacy, and to always toast the moment. Her simple toast of wine showed us the importance of family and its heritage. If we allow it, time's passage will remind us to say I love you before it is too late. Traditions, such as Grandma taught us, will keep memories alive, loved ones near us, and our hearts filled.
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