Family traditions, like families, require patience. The best rituals are spontaneous, relying more on whimsy than duty. Try to force one -- Come on, everyone, let's join hands and sing! -- and you'll be hooted out of the dining room. Subtlety is key.
Shirley Goodman did it right. Eight years ago, after the Thanksgiving turkey but before the pumpkin pie, the Baltimore woman gently suggested that everyone write down what they were thankful for. Don't sign your name, she said. We'll take turns guessing who wrote what.
Goodman's granddaughter, 10-year-old Michelle Sacks, got right to the point: "I'm thankful for my Mom and Dad because they give me money."
Another granddaughter, Erica Schaffer, 9, who has a twin brother, David, provided a multi-part answer.
"I am thankful for:
"1) Not having Mrs. Bondroff all day long.
"2) Having a nice family.
"3) Not being a triplet."
And that's all it took. A tradition was born. Each year, Shirley Goodman's family -- her husband, two daughters, two sons-in-law and four grandchildren -- write down what they are thankful for. Goodman has saved the notes. The result is like a written home movie, a Thanksgiving documentary.
The year 1992 was a good one.
"I am thankful for all I have, all I had and all I will get!! Shalom." -- Isadore "Goody" Goodman, Shirley's husband.
"I am thankful that I have two great cousins that I can hug in the halls at school and that my sister is going to school in two years and that I did great on my report card. I think.' -- Michelle Sacks, then 12.
"I am thankful that I'm getting an A in history and I passed lifeguarding and also that the Republicans were finally put in their place." -- Karen Sacks, then 16.
"I am thankful that everyone liked the food I fixed. Now do you know who wrote this?" That would be Grandma Shirley.
Who was it that wrote, in 1994, "I'm thankful that my Mom got hormone pills because she is getting on my nerves crying all the time?" Shirley doesn't remember, although she's certain it was granddaughter Erica who came up with the following:
"I am thankful for my healthy family and friends. Also for the fact that I am getting out of Beth Tfiloh next year. I am also thankful and glad that I didn't get suspended for expressing myself in jail." Jail, in case you're not a 13-year-old girl, as Erica Schaffer was in 1994, means school.
Usually the notes are funny, but occasionally they go deeper. When Shirley Goodman's daughter, Marsha Sacks, underwent successful surgery in 1994, this is what her husband Morris said he was thankful for: "Marsha's OK." And Marsha? "My health."
Last year was typical.
"I'm thankful for a lot," Erica wrote. "Let me begin with my good report card. Mom had no faith in me, but I proved her wrong! I am thankful for my good health and my friends' and my family's health. ... I am thankful for having a couple of jobs and making enough $$ to pay for my Chevy."
Her twin brother David, meanwhile, was thankful for his 4.0 grade-point average, "without doing a lick of work," as well as his car, "especially all the many beautiful colors of paint on it."
Their mother, Gloria Davidoff, said she was thankful "for everyone at this table being in good health (again) and for my sweet children who are starting to be sweeter every day, and my husband, who also is sweet."
Michelle Sacks said she was thankful to have Thanksgiving at her grandparents, "so I don't have to eat leftovers for the next five days."
This year, like every other, Grandmother Shirley will be thankful for the same thing -- that her family is together, writing their notes, filling the time between the turkey and pie with laughter and companionship. It's her favorite course.
Pub Date: 11/26/98