Friends make Family Day

It’s after dinner and we’re tidying up the kitchen. I grab an opening to discuss the dilemma I feel about what to do on Family Day. I blurt “Every holiday has a food tradition. Thanksgiving has turkey dinner and pumpkin pie, Christmas has it’s own, but Family Day is so new, we don’t have one.” Taylor questions why I think we need a tradition. I reply “So we can anticipate. That’s the fun of traditions!” I don’t know how much of a rationale that is, but he doesn’t question me.

So I mull my own memories of family, and winter activities, and a vivid memory snaps into my mind’s eye. I’m not sure how old I am- perhaps 8 - 12 yrs old. The sky is a light aqua blue I’ve only seen in northern skies on cold sunny days. The open hillside is blindingly bright white with unbroken snow, except for our snowshoe prints and rabbit and fox prints that cast deep tiny blue shadows. We’re pausing for a rest and are drinking steaming hot chocolate from Thermos’s and sweating lightly in our warm parkas. The skin on my cheeks is cold on the surface, but my hands feel warm against them. My mitts are wet. I’m sure my eyes are shining because they do right now as I picture this day.

My dad had an old blue pick up truck he bought to haul firewood and we had crammed into it and headed out to the bush from the northern Ontario town where we lived at the time. My mom planned the day and it had her signature - active outdoors, with honest food. My mom was wearing her rabbit-skinned jacket. I loved the silky feel of the fur and how cozy and warm the jacket was. I don’t remember much else about that day. I do however know I was fully alive that day.

A more recent memory floods my mind. Our modest bungalow brimming with flushed cheeks, piles of winter boots, skates and coats, the party plates in tall stacks on the table, and friends milling around the kitchen, organizing the potluck. As the kids got older, they’d go out again after supper, the tall flood lights catching the haze of mist from their breath, and the scraping sound of blades on ice barely heard over their shrieks.

Doug toiled for weeks in advance, flooding for hours in the dark and cold, his nose mimicking the dripping hose he dragged it through the house to the bath tub. For weeks, that tub was off limits to showers and no one minded.

I would send an invite with a food theme to our skating party email distribution list and the door would open, and friends would pile in - following directions to drop boots, park coats and skates, and store the food. The screened-in porch doubled as skate change room. The wee kids would sit on the floor in the kitchen waiting patiently to have their skates tied for them then crawl on their knees out to the porch.

I remember the day we did “Build-Your-Own Paninis” in Grill Pans and potato chips became an essential ingredient inside UK-style panini’s [is that even a thing?], or the day we did a Mexican theme with tacos & chili, and we discovered how tasty rice and beans were when added to the wraps, and how complex cinnamon and chocolate are in a moist homemade cake. Or another day when 3 deep fryers arrived to do homemade fries, [sweet potatoes break french fry cutters, did you know?] and American burgers [process cheese food as the key ingredient] and root beer floats for dessert. And another when the deep fryers arrived again to make homemade beaver tails on the Canadian themed day. Kath made practice batches at home before she came, and oh my, they were delicious.

To be transparent, it might not have all been as romantic as it sounds as I write this. As a busy parent in those days, I did second guess myself on how many to invite, was I excluding anyone for fear of lack of space, how plan-ish to be about the potluck, and even how clean the house needed to be, because truth be told, every inch of the house was fair game those days. We simply didn’t have space to entertain and have areas off-limits, so I learned to be okay with what today I might call imperfection and transparency. Learning to delegate in my own kitchen so not to stress was another lesson I learned, not without some angst, and I’m sure not I was as gracious as I might like to be.

Over the years friends have become family. I think my heart is settled on my Family Day tradition: Invite some friends and family for a potluck, get outdoors to breathe some crisp fresh air, notice the colours of the sky and also the nuanced colour of the shadows (they’re likely blue), listen to the crunch of the ground, move enough to work up a sweat under cold cheeks, then come home to a houseful of potluck noise and happiness.

The anticipation makes my eyes shine.