Sunday, September 16, 2007

Stay healthy!

My grandfather was a real patriarch. I remember him standing at the head of the table, a big man, cutting the meat for the family. Eating at my grandparents was a major event in our family.

I still cherish the memories of these occasions, mostly on Sundays, where the whole family gathered. The men smoked big Willem II cigars, filling the room with a visible layer of smoke, the women drank egg-nog with whipped cream and the television was always on the sport channel. No matter if it was a major league game or some obscure clubs playing, when it was soccer it was watched. My cousin and I, somewhere in our early teens, were playing waiter and waitress, taking orders what everybody wanted to drink. The table was stuffed with all sorts of sweets and cakes (the cakes baked by my grandfather).

While the men where in the front room watching television (black and white of course - my grandparents bought their first color television in 1974 - I remember coming special to watch the miracle of colors on tv and at that particular evening in the news there was a story on the musical "Oh Calcutta" where the actors were nude.... and color it was. The wonder machine wasn't working well yet and what I saw was purple naked people dancing on the screen and the news' anchorman's head was orange) anyway... while the men where in the front room watching tv or playing klaverjassen (an old Dutch card game), the women made big salads or as they called it "hors d'oeuvres" and prepared the meal, cooking all dishes except the meat. To prepare the meat was my grandfather's task.

The diner started, and some 16 people enjoyed a copious meal ending it with loads of ice cream. Then my grandfather would say a blessing in a sort of Dutch/Yiddish dialect ... I don't remember exactly anymore what he said or who he addressed it to but it was something like:

"Ich habe gegessen
Ich lüste nicht mehr
Ich danke lieber Herrn am deze keer
alle jiddische kinderen op slobkousen
omein wir omein
blijf gezond"

Which translation is something as:

"I have eaten
I don't want anymore
I thank the dear Lord for this time
all Yiddish kids on gaiters
amen and amen
stay healthy"

Then the table was emptied, a newspaper was spread out in the center and a big pile of peanuts was dumped on it. When the table was emptied for the second time we all would play a card game called "negenmalen". Some simple gambling game and we would play for money... cents of course. The day, no, the week, no even the month was great if I won half a guilder.

Now being parent myself I want to create such atmosphere for my kids too. Our house is an open house, people are always welcome and at least once a year we have a big family gathering in our house in the style of my grandparents with warmth, joy and lots of food of course. And to keep the tradition alive I bless my kids every Friday night, not exact in the same words as opa but still....

What matters is that I wish them to stay healthy.

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