The other day while house cleaning, I came upon a cardboard box, the type that holds reams of copy paper. Re-purposed by my granddaughters, it now houses “props” from one of their “plays.” Over the holidays, our 7 and 5 year-old granddaughters regaled us with their latest musical production. Those of us kind enough to honor these little thespians watched attentively as they pranced and sang their way around the room. They try to perform as often as possible, but at the very least on important family occasions or holidays. The days on which they do may change, but the “plot” is almost always the same, and, as of this writing, none of us have been able to figure it out. Ella, the older and more reserved, attempts to direct her younger and much less sophisticated cousin, Anna, in a series of songs and prose that are sure to delight their audience. Anna, possessing all of my gregariousness and then some, finds it difficult to follow the script and often strays from it, frustrating her cousin. Of course, they are still young. I know that time and practice will make them better and easier to understand.
It wasn’t so very long ago that our daughter, Amy, and my niece, Jessica, took their turns with family entertaining. They had years to hone their skills, and by the ages of about 12 and 10, they were delighting us with puppet shows, “ballets” and other dances and one-act skits. I think I even remember our oldest, Julie and a friend’s daughter taking their turns during our summer camping trips to the Adirondacks.
Confession: I am the innovator of this family tradition. Every Christmas during my childhood years, I would attempt to shepherd all my younger cousins (about six of them) into my Grandma’s bedroom so that we could practice our own version of the Nativity story. I didn’t have to do much explaining because we all knew the story. I did, however, really enjoy being in charge. I spent a part of my early years believing I wanted to join the convent, and the Christmas play confirmed my feelings.
My Grandma was pretty special as I think back on those days. She would let us kids invade her bedroom where we would waste no time searching for costumes and props. We rifled through her dressers in search of the perfect robes and head pieces. We did our best to make things when we couldn’t find the right item for, say, a shepherd’s staff or a crown for the wise men. At the time I did not and could not appreciate my Grandma’s extraordinary patience and love. In our childish ways, we made chaos of her orderly bedroom. She never raised her voice to us and she never told us to stop. She waited, with the other grownups, for us to emerge triumphantly from the back hallway stairs.
So every year we continued the tradition until adolescent angst and embarrassment made such practices out of the question. And, every year, the grownups who attempted to honor us, would find themselves yelling at my brother and my older cousins to stop making fun of us. My Grandma let her 17 grandchildren take over her house at the holidays. It was during the late fifties and early sixties that I remember my extended family making such memories.
Sadly, none of my cousins took up the acting torch I left. Maybe it was the merciless teasing they saw me receiving that scared them or maybe it was that other traditions replaced it. It would be many years until that tradition would be re-born. When my daughters, and now my granddaughters took up the torch, it made me very happy. When I see them making a mess in my house, I remember my Grandma’s patient and loving ways. I can clean the house when they leave, but while they are here, I do my best to inhale as much of the magic that surrounds me as I possibly can.
We have other granddaughters who are too young now to take part in their cousins’ plays. But we have lots more family time together to make sure they all have an opportunity to hold the torch.