This feeling of reflection is hard to shake this time of year.
Allow me another remembrance I hope resonates with others who come from big, boisterous families.
Christmas often — not every year, mind you — brought the Kanelis side of my family together for Christmas dinner and revelry at my grandparents’ house at 703 N.E. Beech Street in Portland, Ore. It was a wondrous time, made possible by a very matriarchal grandmother who was the glue that held our family together.
She and my grandfather produced seven children. My father was the oldest of their brood. Of those seven kids, five of them produced children of their own. They totaled 12 first cousins. One of my aunts married a man with three children, so we acquired three more cousins via marriage, making 15 all together.
One of my uncles was away most of our time growing up, serving in the Army, where he retired eventually in 1970 as a full-bird colonel. Every so often, he and my aunt would make an appearance at one of these family gatherings.
And on rare occasions, my maternal grandmother — my mother’s mother, my “Yiayia,” about whom I’ve written on this blog — would attend one of these events. Now that was a treat, as she would regale my paternal grandfather with off-color stories and have him and our aunts and uncles in stitches.
My Grandma Kanelis — Katina was her name — was an old-country cook of the first order. She was a Greek immigrant who cooked everything from scratch. Easter dinners always included a lamb, as in the entire animal, butchered and hanging from tenterhooks in the basement. Turkey was the main course at Christmas.
We’d laugh until we hurt. The cousins would run through the house, and around the yard (weather permitting, of course) and we would gather around a very large table in the dining room to enjoy the meal my grandmother had prepared.
My aunts would sing Christmas carols — loudly and mostly pretty well.
We’d all tell other that we needed to do a better job of staying in touch. But as with most large families, sometimes you did and sometimes, well, things got in the way and you wouldn’t see each other until Grandma invited us all over for the next big family gathering.
We didn’t do this every Christmas, but often enough to leave a lasting impression at least on me — and I’ll presume on other members of my family. I know my sisters remember those times.
That all came to an end in September 1968. Grandma suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. She was set to come home after being treated — and then her heart quit. She was just 72 years of age when she died and as I tell folks today, 72 is “sounding younger all the time.”
The glue had been peeled away.
Ours was like many families that featured strong women. Indeed, my maternal grandmother — who I’ve mentioned already here — also filled that role. She would live another 10 years after Grandma Kanelis died.
Christmas has this way of bringing back memories such as these. I will cherish them forever.
My advice for others who have similar memories is to do the same. Believe me, they’ll make you smile.