Holidays Past and Now, Memories of Italian Songs by
50
(99 Stories)

Prompted By Pandemic Holidays

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Author’s note:  The way holidays were, will be this year, and how I’d like them to be, are vastly different, and so I’m presenting three narratives in one. You can search my previous pandemic stories for how I channel Cassandra. Also note that the Eagle Café pictured in the featured image is the one described in the story. It was later restored and moved to Pier 39, resulting in nothing remotely like the original.

Each year, everyone complained that we were not spending enough time with them.

Holiday Fatigue

Growing up, I really enjoyed Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and New Year’s Eve and Day in all the happy holiday ways and with occasional unusual adventures. About 20 years ago this began to change. In the fall of 2001, my father was seriously ill and we had a scaled back Thanksgiving dinner with immediate family. Between that time and Hanukkah, we cared for him 24/7 until he died on the first night of Hanukkah. As part of a more intimate Hanukkah ritual, each year I add a Yahrzeit candle to the one for the first night.

The next year I met Dick, who comes from a much larger and more interactive family than mine. Two daughters and two of the grandsons live in Auburn, a 2-1/2 hour drive under the best of circumstances, and close to 4 on holidays. Their holiday gatherings are huge celebrations, often lasting multiple days, further enhanced by Dick’s birthday being on New Year’s Eve, entailing more presents and cake.

After a couple of years of celebrations, the novelty began to wear off, especially preparing food to bring, picking up my mother in Oakland, and somehow incorporating a visit to my brother and sister-in-law, who live on the way to Auburn. Each year, everyone complained that we were not spending enough time with them. I’ve repeatedly invited the entire clans to our home, but they refuse, claiming they don’t want to drive that far (huh?) and that we are the geographical outliers (which is true).

The holidays have become Groundhog Days, feeling like a series of unsatisfying drive-by stops. By the time we return home from a long weekend, I’m exhausted and already dreading next year. Does this sound whiny and ungrateful? Yes, absolutely, but alas, it’s true. It doesn’t help that after the time change in November my “seasonal blahs,” just below the level of full-blown seasonal affective disorder, kick in. I’ll write more about that for an upcoming prompt.

Cassandra Visits Again

So, this fall is different, and it’s the virus’ fault! Cassandra was visiting me in full force, and I knew what was going to happen. Despite the horrific trending of the virus, I felt rescued from the holidays. It was clear that a Thanksgiving get-together would be too risky. No one else in the family seemed to be listening, though. In October we received emails from one of Dick’s daughters “Looking forward to Thanksgiving.” Later: “Noah [youngest grandson] really wants to see you.”

Dick was already planning the drive up and the extra warm clothing we’d need. “I’m very hesitant about this,” I told him. Cassandra was looking over my shoulder and hissed in my ear, “Tell them no!” “You’re right Cassandra,” I thought, “but let’s wait it out. I’m already the skunk at the picnic often enough.”

“Dick, why don’t we wait to make a decision for another couple of weeks and see what the trends are?” I suggested. Dick, being a computer science PhD, is big on trends and data, so this appeal worked. After the election, it became clear that the virus would keep exploding and there would be more restrictions. “Tell them now,” Cassandra urged. “Not yet,” I whispered. “The data shows that family gatherings are responsible for so much of the spread,” I told Dick, “and we don’t know the contacts of all the folks who’ll be in Auburn.” I stopped there.

A week ago, I received a copy of Dick’s email to his kids, saying we weren’t coming for Thanksgiving. It was too risky. They replied that they understood. “Noah will really miss you,” Dick’s daughter replied. One of the other daughters indicated that we could have a Zoom like we did for Passover. I replied that I was all for it, and to please invite their dogs so we could see them, too!

After our Zoom on Thanksgiving day, we will have a quiet meal, with gratitude for all we have and thanks that we have stayed healthy through this pandemic.

My Favorite New Year

The year 1976 would turn into 1977 the next day. I was answering phones in an advertising agency in San Francisco and dating Peter. We’d met in my office building’s elevator when we were on our way to the agency’s office. He worked for a supplier of slides (remember them?) and was delivering some to the art department. Peter had said “Entrez-vous, mademoiselle,” and I chattered away in French in reply. He blanched, as I found out later, because those were the only French words he knew.

Peter was the only human being I knew personally at the time who had less money than I did. He lived in a studio flat on Pine Street in the Tenderloin. He would call me from his office because he didn’t have a phone. On weekends I’d leave my studio apartment in Oakland and drive to his place because he didn’t have a car. Peter moonlighted as a stage technician at the San Francisco Opera with the goal of getting a job in lighting design. He had fun stories about Kurt Herbert Adler, the director, who would check the stage for tacks and debris after each performance.

Finances made our dates very simple, and New Year’s Eve must have been no exception. I don’t remember a thing about what we did—possibly because of the influence of alcohol and marijuana. But as dawn broke for the New Year, we made our way to the waterfront piers to a run-down shack that housed the Eagle Café. There, sitting on wooden benches and gazing out the windows at the waves, you could have breakfast and unlimited cups of coffee for about $2.

The rest of the café was taken up by a group of Italian American dock workers, longshoremen who’d just gone off duty, who were having drinks. One began to sing. Soon another, and another, burst into Italian songs. We didn’t understand the words, but the message was so joyful, we couldn’t help but try to join in. The whole place was singing in the New Year, and we relished it. We stayed for hours, drinking coffee and never wanting that day to end.

I’ve had more elegant New Year’s celebrations since, but nothing as warm and fun as that early morning with Peter, at the Eagle Café, with the New Year at its happiest, and 1977 filled with promise.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I’m glad that Cassandra whispered in your ear, Marian. WAY to dangerous for families to gather in these virus-laden times. Zoom is the method of choice.

    Your New Year’s Eve celebration sounds truly joyous; warm and wonderful. Elegance can’t compete with true joy. I once went with a date to the Detroit airport, just watching people come and go. I don’t remember it being the most fun, but it was interesting.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Three terrific stories, Marian. I totally empathize with your holiday fatigue, although for me that changed several years ago as families became too large and had to sub-divide. I love how you managed the Cassandra approach so wisely. Sometimes, it’s best to wait until people reach their own conclusions, even when you know what their decisions will be. And your favorite New Year was really fun.

  3. Wonderful memory and story Marian.
    Your uninhibited Italian longshoremen seemed to have embodied the joy that is sometimes lacking in us cerebral, sophisticated, professional types!

    Happy T-day!

  4. Suzy says:

    I love your trifecta of holiday stories, Marian! The first one, about holiday fatigue where you say they have become like Groundhog Day (love that movie!) is so refreshingly honest! And your second one, channeling our old friend Cassandra, shows us how cleverly you steered Dick into making the right decision himself. Finally, your New Year’s Eve at the Eagle Cafe is such a sweet memory. I’ve been to the Eagle Cafe on Pier 39, and yeah, it’s nothing like that, and not at all charming.

    • Marian says:

      I’ve often been politically incorrect about holidays, Suzy, but now I’m more accepting of my point of view. The new Eagle Cafe was so disappointing when I saw it. What a letdown after my wonderful holiday there.

  5. Your New year’s Day breakfast with the dockworkers sounds truly divine!
    I’m also impressed that you and Peter met in an elevator; how many floors did you share before one of you asked for the other’s number? (I still recall with pride giving someone my number in a building that had only 3 floors, so I had to be really quick on that elevator ride!).

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Dale. We had about 10 or 12 floors on the elevator journey, so that helped. And, the other clerical worker in the agency met a guy on the elevator as well! The odds are better than I would have thought.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    Great idea to blend these three stories together, Marian. They really create a cohesive and fulfilling narrative, with highs as well as lows. And yes; sadly, Cassandra is the priestess to be evoked and listened to in this year of pandemic. I hope she is much more optimistic about next year.

  7. What a treat these stories are, Mare! The first narrative is one I can certainly relate to…trying to please everyone in good faith but at our own expense with all the traveling and myriad details to attend to. Your second narrative is the perfect segue as we had the perfect excuse this year, but it was sure daunting to realize how many people just don’t see it our way and continue to urge us to come despite the obvious. And the third narrative is so romantic…that’s a story I can imagine on the big screen…the meet cute, the quirky dates, something so many of us can relate too. Thanks for an uplifting contribution, and warmest wishes for an intimate and satisfying Thanksgiving this year! Big hug!!

  8. Loved this triptych, Marian! Really caught your holiday blues, an admirable admission and celebration of a phenomenon we all have felt, I’m sure. Bravo for bad-ass Cassandra’s visit, and your wonderful portrait of two people and a time and a place, Marian! You caught it all — your sketch of Peter and your own active narrator, that time in San Francisco, the money (and lack of it), the Eagle Cafe, the Italian longshoreman. I was right there, then. I lived right up the hill (Bernal Hill), busy being a theater artist and musician. Enjoy the quiet. We live in unique times.

    P.S. We have so many duet stories this year, we should all celebrate our awareness of each others’ lives. We have quite a community here!

    • Marian says:

      Thank you, Charles, I second your feelings about our community. It’s been a priceless source of support this year. Also had a feeling you’d know about the Eagle Cafe given your time in the city. Maybe I’m being nostalgic, but that time was sooo much fun despite not having much materially.

  9. Joe Lowry says:

    First, I like that using data trends, it convinced you to have a limited celebration this year. Too bad everyone doesn’t look at the data.

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