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Holiday Time, Family Time

Celebration and Communication

My sisters and I joked for years that, in our family as we were growing up, our mother made the minor decisions that affected all of us, and Dad made the major decisions. For example, it was Mom who decided where the family went on vacation, when it was time to paint the house and what color, when we traded the old car in for a new one, etc. The major decisions? Dad decided whether China should be admitted into the United Nations, whether or not presidents after Roosevelt should be limited to two terms, and whether the St. Lawrence Seaway was good for Michigan.

What we realized in our serious recollections was that the system worked because our parents communicated with each other. My earliest and my last memories of them when I left home for the seminary at the age of 18 was their talking, planning and decision-making at the end of the day after we kids went to bed. In the summer one could hear them talking on the porch swing, the rest of the year they could be heard in the living room or behind the closed door of their bedroom. Once they agreed on a matter, they supported one another all the way; and as they grew older they seemed to be able to know what one another thought without discussion.

Life in our house moved through the year according to the rhythms of the typical Polish-American-Catholic household with the feasts and the fasts, the customs and traditions we learned from our immigrant grandparents. The mid-morning Sunday Mass started the week off, and we all attended it together. I remember that Dad always parked the car in the alley beside the rectory, and we always took a pew on the south side of the main aisle, the “epistle side” in those days. It wasn’t because of the reading but because the river divided Alpena into the North Side and the South Side, and there was rivalry between the two. Dad would stand in the aisle rather than sit with the North Siders for Mass.

I was a disappointment to Dad because I was so unlike him. He played sports in high school and was third baseman for a county baseball league team when I was growing up. He was a small-game hunter and a fisherman both in summer and through the ice. While my cousins were getting letters in football, basketball and baseball in high school, my three letters were in high school debating; and my favorite haunt as a teenager was the public library. But Dad never once showed his disappointment or any disapproval, and he proudly backed his children in all that they achieved. Four guys in our block got drivers’ licenses in the spring of my junior year, but my father was the only one who insisted that I drive our 1940 Plymouth sedan whenever I was going somewhere and the car was idle.

My three younger sisters and I have always agreed that our parents made our home a good place to be, a good place to bring our friends, and a good place to come back to. They were not as demonstrative as some parents, the reserve being a Slavic trait. But we knew that they loved one another and loved us. At this Thanksgiving-to-Christmas holiday time that is approaching, I pray that all the children and teens growing up in FAITH territory have parents or stepparents like mine – couples who communicate loyally and give the highest priority to their young ones.