And then grandma did what?

thanksgiving tableThe best part of Thanksgiving isn’t the turkey or the mashed potatoes or the pie. It isn’t the cranberry sauce or the Pilgrim crafts or the sweet potato salad–or even the gravy.

Okay, maybe it is partly the gravy. But the other best thing about Thanksgiving is this: I get to use my good dinner plates.

The dishes, saucers, and cups came from my great-grandmother, my mom’s dad’s mother. So did my name. She died before my own mother was even born, and I often wonder whether the multi-generational name link was a way of connecting my mom with the grandmother she’d never met. It certainly connects me with the past in a way that feels surreal, almost spiritual.

Either way, though, I love my name story. And I love my china dishes, because once, 60 or 70 years ago, they belonged to that other Christina.

When I take them out every holiday, it’s a wonderful opportunity not just to indulge in some personal nostalgia but also to show the dinnerware to the Maiden–and share a little of the family history along the way.

I’d often thought of “oral tradition” as something old-fashioned, or more suited to a cultural group without a written language. After all, in today’s world literacy is higher than ever, and the communications revolution allows us to share and store information so quickly that it sometimes seems as though oral tradition is no longer really needed.

But now that the Maiden is older and has started showing an interest in where we came from, I’ve realized that oral tradition is more important than ever. There’s a certain aura that surrounds the oral sharing of family history and experiences. It feels so momentous, so connected, that somehow it’s not surprising that many cultures held oral historians in high esteem.

For some time now the Maiden’s been fascinated by accounts of what I was like as a little girl, and how Nonna–my mom–interacted with me. Now she’s beginning to reach a bit further back into the past for stories as well. And since she’s started developing a keen interest in culture and history (thanks, American Girl!), we can add in a bit of background to our stories. Wow, so-and-so lived at the same time as Molly, during World War II? Did he go to war like her daddy? It opens up whole worlds–and all kinds of family stories.

The Maiden and I talk a lot normally, but somehow the big family histories only come out with the plates, during the holidays. And maybe that’s as it should be. After all, the story about Meme sliding down the roof and getting her behind all full of prickles, and the one about the housekeeper who threw dirty diapers into the stove to avoid cleaning them, and the tale of the brother who disappeared–these are far too unique to relegate to the everyday.

So once or twice every year we’ll break out the dinnerware and the tales, and with every table setting and story telling it will all become more and more a part of the Maiden’s own reality. Old memories and histories will merge with new memories in a way that I hope makes them a part of the Maiden herself, rather than just an unrelated anecdote.

A part that someday I hope she’ll share with my grandchildren.

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