Monday, June 26th, 2017

Holidays seem to remind us of those we?

Holidays seem to remind us of those we’ve loved, but lost

By BETH SCHREIBMAN GEHRING

    It’s that time of year again, when everything seems a bit brighter and just a little warmer, possibly because of the beautiful lights festooned everywhere that you look!  The Festival of Trees at the Cleveland Play House is in full swing, lighting up the night with unabashedly splendid color! Everywhere I go, I am surrounded by the sounds and smells of the season, and even all of this early snow is beautiful to me.
    The holidays are also a time for remembrance and reflection, and I know that I have so much for which to be thankful, even in this year of goodbyes. Sadly, my mother Barbara died in early August, and in that instant my life changed forever.
    The thought has crossed my mind several times, “How do you celebrate in a year such as this, honoring the past yet moving forward with joy?” The holidays were a very special time for my mother, and she loved them with great abandon. Her house was beautifully decorated, and she was the greatest of gift givers, choosing all of our presents with pleasure. She passionately prepared for the annual holiday sale of the Silver Bells, her personal project for the Women’s Committee of the Cleveland Orchestra. After wrapping hundreds of those little bells during my many years at Schreibman’s, you can imagine that I could have been very happy never to see another! My mother was very persuasive, so even in recent years I could always be found by her side at Severance Hall, ringing and selling and still wrapping hundreds of those little bells!
    Although she reluctantly let me cook Christmas dinner, she never relinquished that breakfast! My mother’s Christmas breakfast was delicious, chicken ala king over buttered toast points, brandied fruit, crispy bacon and a beautiful cheese strata. Her Byers Choice carolers, those funny little Christmas statues that have always driven me to distraction, were everywhere, set up in the little family groupings that always made her so happy.
    My parents were married on Christmas day, so the 25th of December always has been special for my family. I thought that this year I should do things differently, to try to make the holidays “mine” by creating new and exciting customs. Yet day after day I find myself returning to her traditions and instead of making me sad, her presence fills me completely with joy.
    I laugh to find myself now in charge of the bell project that she loved so much, enjoying the fabulous team of women that are helping to make it possible to carry on this beloved tradition! I couldn’t bring myself to give up her carolers and even bought another one for this year, which my husband thinks is hysterical. I have her beautiful Herend tureen and her grandmother’s crystal bowl, making me the official keeper of Christmas breakfast. I have purchased Christmas concert tickets for my family and am making her fruitcake to give as gifts.
    I have learned that it’s almost impossible to miss someone whose very essence is coursing through your veins, whose very life created your story. This last thing, the fruitcake, is the part of the story that is different this year. The first year that I was married, we were young, completely broke and my mother spent hours teaching me to make her fruitcake so that I would have gifts for everyone. She stood with me, helping me and cheering me on as each delicious cake came out of the oven. Her fruitcakes were actually wonderful and everyone loved them, but I haven’t made them in 25 years. In this year, my first without her, it somehow seems fitting to bake them again. The recipe has been in her family for well over 150 years, unchanged and always wonderful. Baking them is a reminder to me of that beautiful old saying, “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings.”
    When I wake up on Christmas morning to cook the same breakfast that I have enjoyed every year that I have known, I finally will have learned to spread my wings.



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