Family Traditions

Odom cousins - Thanksgiving 2014 - on Mimi's swing in Jasper, AL.

Odom cousins – Thanksgiving 2014 – on Mimi’s swing in Jasper, AL.

Family…like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.  I love this quote…

This time of year, I start thinking a lot about family traditions.  I’ve often thought that some day I would write them all down from what I remember doing as a child and add all things we did when my own children were little.  The one constant though all this is family.  Whether the tradition remains today or has morphed into something different…we do these things because we want to connect as a family and make it a part of our story.

Family traditions can bring you comfort and strengthen the bond you have with your family.  They teach you the value of immediate and extended family and how to take the time to be together.  Creating and maintaining traditions is easier when your children are young.  It becomes a little more challenging when they get older and get married or move away.  It definitely becomes a juggling act at that point!  Some traditions run their course…like breakfast with Santa and going to the annual lighting ceremony at the local mall.  These traditions are driven by age.  Others change because the dynamics of your family change.

For my Zuniga family, Thanksgiving has always been the major holiday to celebrate.  Before my parents moved to Alabama, I would make the  trip to Chicago every Thanksgiving to spend the week with my sisters and parents and do so many of the things we always did together over the 10 years that I lived there.  Traditional activities ranged from shopping at Oak Brook Mall and hoping there would be a little snow, getting up to watch the Macy’s Day Parade while the turkey was still cooking, then fighting to get the first taste of stuffing from the turkey.  This was always a battle with my youngest sister.  I would sneak into the oven with a spoon and sample the dressing when no one was looking – beating my sister to the punch – although I’m sure my mother knew!  At some point during the visit, we would watch WGN’s family classic movies.  Those movies were the staple of every Sunday afternoon in the Zuniga household when I was in high school.  Certain sounds and smells bring it all back.  Certain music does too as we would gather around the piano and play and sing along.  All the Zuniga sisters were in choir and we all knew the same music.  My grandmother used to say we could have been the Lennon Sisters – she and my grandfather loved Lawrence Welk!

My husband (Eddie) has always been adamant about attending the traditional Odom family Christmas lunch each year.  It was the one time of the year we got to see his father’s extended family all at once.  The lunch was originally pulled together for his grandmother (Mama Odom), and when she passed away, the Aunts decided to continue the tradition.  Eddie made sure we were represented each year.  If one of the kids had a conflict due to sports or scouting activities, he would take the kids available and make the trip to the lunch and see everyone.  Now so many of the children are married with children of their own – a whole new generation of Odoms are enjoying the gathering.  I do hope it continues…

My sister Kanista with my girls, Emily and Anna Marie – Thanksgiving 2004 in Birmingham, AL – having a girls lunch at Cantina at Pepper Place.

On the Zuniga side, when all my sisters used to travel to Alabama for Thanksgiving with their young children, we would spend Wednesday before Thanksgiving having lunch and shopping and then come home to get things ready for our big dinner.  The husbands would take the kids to a movie and spend the day with them and give he moms a break.  As the nieces and nephews got older my sisters began staying home – they all live out-of-state.  Soon it was just me, my mother and my aunt (mom’s sis) and my girls having lunch and doing a little shopping.  When my Aunt passed away, we just stopped going.  It just didn’t feel the same.  In recent years, my mother has mentioned missing the “old days” when we all used to spend that day together.  I understand her longing for something that held such great memories.  It’s hard to move on sometimes, especially when something was so enjoyable.  We resurrected the tradition a bit these past few years with mom and my girls and added something new.  We’d come back to my house and get turkey preparing lessons from mom.  It’s been fun for my girls and I know my mother has been thrilled to pass along her turkey making expertise to all of us!

Making Thanksgiving turkey with Nana! My girls learn how to make stuffing!

Making Thanksgiving turkey with Nana! My girls learn how to make stuffing!

One of the first Mimi Swing Photos I took of the Odom cousins...

One of the first Mimi Swing Photos I took of the Odom cousins…

When my youngest child Emily was just a year old,  a major tradition emerged with the Odom children.  I began taking pictures of my three children (Charlie, Anna Marie and Emily) and my twin nieces (Kate and TJ) on their grandmother’s outside swing.  We would take “the Mimi’s swing” picture at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas – any holiday when we’d all get together.  But for some reason, Thanksgiving was the one holiday that really stuck.  Over the years, we’ve added the older Odom grandchildren, great-grandchildren and significant others to the photos.  This year at Easter, we even added my niece TJ via iPad when she couldn’t make it home.  It was that important for the kids to have everyone present and accounted for on the swing no matter what the holiday.  I love this swing tradition so much and especially at Thanksgiving!  Seeing the way the family has changed and grown over the past 21 years is priceless to me and I know it is to my brothers-in-law too, as we all get older and look back.

The Odom cousins in Mimi's swing - Thanksgiving 2014 - TJ, Kate, Anna Marie and Emily - Charlie always standing in the back!

The Odom cousins in Mimi’s swing – Thanksgiving 2014 – TJ, Kate, Anna Marie and Emily – Charlie always standing in the back!

One thing is for sure, family traditions evolve and change, that is a given.  But I have a feeling we will always be taking a swing picture of the Odom kids at Thanksgiving.  And for that, I will always be thankful…

Ten years of swing photos - I had this framed for my mother-in-law (Mimi) and it hung into her house until she passed away in 2011.

Ten years of swing photos – I had this framed for my mother-in-law (Mimi) and it hung into her house until she passed away in 2011.

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Leaning how to make mom’s Thanksgiving turkey with my girls in 2013. Mom and I had just finished stuffing the turkey!

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Thanksgiving turkey making shenanigans with Nana…although I don’t think my mom knew what they were doing in the background!

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