On resolutions, and ghosts of holiday dinners past

With the new year upon us, most seniors are looking forward to making positive changes in their lives.

For many, the same resolutions have resurfaced every 12 months for a very long time, like a well-intentioned Feng Shui life cycle of annually getting your act together. Lose weight. Eat healthfully. Have regular check-ups. Get off your fanny and out into nature more often. Scale down on those possessions. Visit friends and loved ones more frequently (Text less, talk more.) Be a nicer, more grateful, more mindful and vibrant human being.

Another (potential) resolution — one that starts to marinate between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s, and may come as a shock to your relatives — is to never again put on another grand holiday mega-meal, the ones you so lovingly labored over for decades.

Why?

Because by the time many folks (especially matriarchs) reach senior citizen status, they’re tired of all the work that goes into creating (and cleaning up from) these elaborate banquets.

Yet, the notion of saying “I’m not doing this anymore” makes you feel guilty and sad. Hanging up your apron is a lot like surrendering the car keys. Your identity has forever been tied to these deeply gratifying activities.

Should you? Could you? But, oh, those Norman Rockwell memories (some real, some perceived): Come holiday-time, your big and clamorous aroma-filled house brimmed with happy, hungry people. There was the spouse or partner who caringly helped you and nibbled on your neck as you basted the bird. The excited, adorable kids (sometimes several generations) who relentlessly asked, “Mommy/Nana, when are we gonna eat?” Beautiful holiday music and decorations filled the home with cheer and wonder. All the “oohs” and ahhs” over the lavish spreads you provided — it’s changed now. And as with other chapters in your life book, adaptation is key.

Many mates are no longer present. Kids have grown up and cultivated their own families and in-laws. Some have moved away and cannot always return to the roost for these dinners. Your own ailments may make the labor-intensive culinary process difficult.

As you reminisce on these good old days, you may self-protectively rationalize that they weren’t so magical after all. This helps mitigate wistful thoughts of the past.

Looking back on your younger years, you reflect on the holiday dinners that you frequently swore you’d never do again, because they were essentially gluttonous gatherings for your Mixed Nuts Brigade of family members: the ravenous (“thrifty”) ones who predictably walked in with one bottle of booze intended solely for their own consumption; the folks who could never resist bringing up delicate ancient history, like whose deceased father cheated his deceased brother in business back in 1950; the no-filter cousin who droned on about how last year she made the juiciest turkey ever eaten — as she’s loudly masticating your expensive organic brined bird (that “came out a tad dry”); the wintry uncle who told grisly World War II stories to the horrified kiddies; and that sister-in-law with a fresh manicure who sat like a queen when dinnerware for 20 was being cleared away. Oy, there was also your elderly ex-smoker aunt who hocked up mucus plugs as everyone tried to eat. Understandably, those holiday meals often felt more like chow-time in Hades.

All that aside, a new realization emerges with “senior-ity”: When you get older and life quiets down, and guest lists have shortened, and those big exhausting gatherings have morphed into dinners for five from within your senior apartment, or you go to a local restaurant, or bring in Whole Foods take-out, or maybe you’re not even with family but instead dining at a senior center – you may realize that you viscerally long for all that work…the noise, the muss, the fuss, the expense, the clean-up performed on aching, swollen tootsies, and yes, even (most of) the Mixed Nuts Brigade!

Life is like that. Situations that rattled our nerves as younger people — including guests who occasionally made us not want to even answer the door bell — we will wind up missing. That continuity of family rituals and myriad of unique personalities and shared history, a keener appreciation of time, the softening of gripes through matured reflection of our own issues that magnified others’ imperfections, it all comes back to bite us in the ass — and kiss our consciousness, as we age, if we’re lucky.

Whether you have a hillside mansion or reside in a 55-and over mini-abode, think twice before giving up on the honor of knocking yourself out once or twice a year.

It’s not about the size of your kitchen but the love in your heart and around the table. For while New Year’s resolutions come back annually, the opportunity to show others that we care won’t always be there.

Diana Sevanian is a longtime Signal features writer and columnist. A Valencia resident, she is a mother, grandmother, dog-mother and kitchen-woman who still does it all with occasional kvetching, but maximum gratitude.

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