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Firetalking and Sunday dinners

April 7, 2008

by Jenni Sebora

A short while ago, I was reading a story with a class of children. The story centered on the childhood memories of the author. She (the author and storyteller) told of how each Sunday afternoon her family would share a chicken dinner with all the fixings, and then sit around the fireplace listening to stories told by the elders in the family – firetalking they called it.

This Sunday afternoon gathering was a weekly tradition, one which the author looks back at with such fondness. Traditions shared are about just that, sharing, togetherness, safety, security and bonding.

I proceeded to ask the group of children if they too shared Sunday dinners or other weekly dinners together on a regular basis.

No one responded, but some excitedly told of other traditions their families shared together. Annual Christmas dinners. Turkey dinner at Thanksgiving. Decorating eggs with grandparents. When the students shared these rituals they did it with much excitement. One could tell these shared traditions were greatly anticipated by them.

I, too, shared a childhood tradition with the children. When I was growing up, each Friday evening we would traverse to my grandparents house, usually with some of my nieces and nephews coming along as well. A major part of this weekly get-together was an evening (about 8 p.m.) “lunch” together in my grandma’s kitchen.

The table was extended to accommodate all of us. The meal almost always consisted of homemade jelly, many times chokecherry, and summer sausage sandwiches, and of course, other homemade treats that my grandma lovingly baked or cooked.

Conversation was also a large part of this weekly gathering. As children, we usually didn’t contribute much in words to the conversation – we listened to the adults talking, usually about a church activity or some happenings with a neighbor or other family members – “firetalking.”

Grandma also always had her candy jar stocked with the hard ribbon candy, peppermint candies (red, green, white) and many times, angel candy, which was my favorite.

I so vividly remember these visits with such fondness, just as the author recalled her weekly Sunday tradition. The smell of my grandparents’ house; the sausage and jelly sandwiches, which I still eat today (although it’s hard to find chokecherry jelly, and when I do, it is a definite treat); the candy, which remain my favorites; and most of all, the love and warmth I felt sitting around the table with people I loved and who loved me.

There is so much security in these traditions and shared times.

Now, my grandparents and my father are no longer living, and someone else occupies my grandparents’ house.

The exterior stucco of the house is painted a light tan instead of the light green. The large evergreen trees which created a wonderful place of hide-and-seek for us have been removed, but the memories will always remain.

Although I, myself, am a parent now, and changes inevitably occur, when I drive past the house, it still evokes such warm feelings. I still envision the wonderful flowers my grandma and grandpa planted in the front of the house; the enclosed front porch cupboard filled with containers my grandma saved, which we played make-believe store. And, of course, the kitchen with the wonderful scents and aromas that filled it each week.

I wonder sometimes as I drive past the house that was filled with such love if the family now living there shares some of the same type of traditions and memories with their own family. I hope so.

My hope as I listened to the class of students share some of their beloved family traditions and as I think of my own, that all children grow up with traditions, shared that surround them with such intense warmth, safety and love.

I, too, want my own children to have these same feelings so as they continue to grow they can hold these traditions close to their hearts – so that the thoughts of these family traditions will also evoke such warm feelings of being loved for them.

I think if everyone had such memories shared, our world would be a yet a little nicer place. If you get a chance, take the time to also share with your own children some childhood memories of “firetalking” or “chicken dinners” or whatever it may have been that you experienced.

This, too, further connects our children to us. And hopefully as our children grow up into adults they will form their own traditions with their own families.

“All the wisdom in the world cannot, by itself, replace intimate human ties, family ties, as the center of human development.”

– Selma H. Fraiberg,author of “Magic Years”