Holiday Traditions

Just one more day before the holiday season is officially begun. For most of us, at least in the United States, Thanksgiving Day is to the winter holiday season as Memorial Day is to the summer vacation season. That is, the traditional “opening day.” What are your family’s Thanksgiving traditions? Is it a time for feasting yourself into a food coma? (That happened a lot in our family over the years.)  Do you get together or reconnect somehow with family? Do you put up your Christmas decorations?  Do you gather around the TV to watch football, or some other favorite show? Do you carry on traditions passed down through generations? Do you know how they began, or by whom? How have your celebrations changed as your family has grown? Is it time to begin a new tradition?

For many years growing up, then as a mother myself, Thanksgiving was always about family and feasting. I have so many wonderful memories of those special days. Even though our family doesn’t get together as often, and the Thanksgiving feast has become much smaller, I have kept my most favorite traditions to bring in the holiday spirit. They include, making a special holiday breakfast and dinner, watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, listening to Christmas music, calling to speak with as many family members as possible, and watching my copy of the original Miracle on 34th Street. One of my favorite quotes from that movie is, “Yeah, there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it’s the same – don’t care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck, make a buck.”  Some things never change.

Since family doesn’t come to our house for Christmas, I have stopped putting up a Christmas tree. A door wreath is decorated with a few select ornaments, instead. Then,  I begin setting out my collection of nativity sets, about forty now, I think. They remind me of the true meaning of Christmas and fill our home with hope, beauty, love, and peace. Each one has its own story to tell of how and why I acquired it, or where it came from, bringing back memories of events and people in my life. I am filled with the same mixed feelings of reverence and excitement that I used to get putting up our tree. Different, yet the same.

We all have Thanksgiving tales. Listen to the elders in your family tell some of theirs. Record their stories, as well as your own. Show your tale to the younger generation around you. Help them understand that while some things may change, many things stay the same.


Pete & Grace

Pete & Grace Brinkman, my parents, were married on this day in 1938 in Worthington, Nobles County, Minnesota. Peter turned 24 that April, and Grace would turn 19 the following January. They were married in Grace’s parents’ home by a minister from the Church of Christ at about 2:20 in the the afternoon. Grace’s sister Dorothy was matron of honor, and Dorothy’s husband Melvin stood as Pete’s best man.

Newspaper clippings describing the ceremony, saved in my mother’s scrapbook, referred to the groom as Peter Ennenga, not Peter Brinkman. (Ennenga was the surname of Dad’s step-father.) However, he is recorded by his birth name on their marriage certificate and in the Nobles County marriage record book. They were still living in Worthington, Minnesota, at the time of the 1940 census, listed as Pete and Grace Ennenga once again. They moved to California by 1942, when their first daughter was born, leaving behind family and friends to make a new life for themselves. They would have two more daughters over the next ten years.

Together, they worked to bring up their three daughters in a stable and loving home–Dad an expert mechanic, Mom a proficient homemaker. Life was full of ups and downs, but they stayed together through it all, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Pete and Grace lived together in this life for over 64 years, until my mother passed away in July, 2003, at the age of 83. He would follow her in death almost a year later, almost to the day. He was 90 years old.

Photocopy of a page from Grace Brinkman’s scrapbook. The original scrapbook is currently in my possession.

A Lifetime of Music

How important is music in your life? Does it help you get through your day? Does it inspire you? Does it make you smile? Or, does it help you cry when you really need to let it go? Does it bring back special memories? Does it take you places you have never been? Music can do all of that, and more.

I am sort of a music addict. I have to hear music wherever I go, whatever I do. And, since I love to sing along, lyrics are important to me. When there is no music playing, then I can always turn to the music in my head. I have quite a playlist. Everything I have heard since I was born–big bands, Sing-Along-With-Mitch (Miller), pop, country/western, folk, American classics, Broadway, rock (not too electric, though), Disney, Christmas/holiday, easy listening,  rock opera (not so much classic opera), new age, hymns, jazz, gospel, and more. Every kind of music imaginable.

I used to break into song when I taught middle school, much to the chagrin of my students, I am sure. “There is a song for everything,” I would tell them. It got to be sort of a game–they would challenge me with a word or an idea, and I would search my memory bank for just the right tune and lyrics. Mr. Holland’s Opus came out about that time. I used the theme from that movie, “a lifetime of music,” to teach history, music appreciation, writing, and more. I used music in my classroom to teach relaxation and superlearning back in the ’80s. One year, my high school calculus class, mostly guys who were big into sports, picked the music from Disney’s Mulan, especially “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” as our theme music for that year. All their own idea! It was great!!

Music is in my soul. It is an inseparable part of my being. It came from my parents, who probably got it from their parents, and on and on back through many generations and cultures. I have passed this love of music on to our daughter, who I see has passed it on to her daughters.

We can show our tale, the story of our life, in so many ways. What is the music of your lifetime?

Peter J., Part 2

It was 1993, maybe ’94, when I found the first records of my Brinkman ancestors. My daughter attended BYU tennis camp that summer, so I spent four days at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It was my first trip there, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I spent hours, days even, poring over microfilm, combing through census and vital records, searching bookshelves. The dead ends were definitely frustrating, but every new bit of information I found quickly refueled my enthusiasm to keep on searching. The genealogy bug had bit me big time.

I returned from that trip loaded with documents and new information, eager to share it all with my father. Among the items were his grandfather Kobus Brinkman’s naturalization document, pages from a volume of Germans to America showing Kobus Brinkman as a passenger from Bremen with his siblings and his father arriving in New York in 1873, and an entry for Kobus Brinkman in a Sibley, Iowa death register. I was so excited to have found such treasures, but wasn’t sure whether Dad would share my enthusiasm. As it turned out, he was moderately interested, more than I expected. As I recall, these records caused him to open up a little bit. If only I had written down what he told me that day, but alas…