By Julie Freestone and Rudi Raab
We both like rituals and we’ve created any number of them in our 30 years together. As the shelter-in-place continues, many of those once taken-for-granted rituals are either falling by the wayside or being drastically altered.
Rudi’s 75th birthday was May 16. Julie had already suggested that they have a party. He didn’t want one. In fact, Rudi grew up without having birthday parties and until we got together 30 years ago, he didn’t expect and wasn’t used to a celebration. Over the years, we’ve had all kinds of rituals, especially for milestone events like 65 and 70, when Rudi’ son Kai made a surprise visit from Ohio.
Anyway, he didn’t want a party. Nor did he want a dinner. He wanted barbequed steak and baked potatoes and carrots. And that was before the shelter-in-place. However, he did accede to having a short Zoom event. That happened Saturday, May 16. . Julie was intent upon preserving some sort of birthday ritual: cake, candles, happy birthday singing, presents. It was a little chaotic, but it worked out and Rudi loved it. People attended from Montana, Ohio, Nevada, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, New York, Germany and all over the Bay area.
Memorial Day weekend
This is not about patriotism, the flag and marching bands. Rudi has a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere in the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California. There are 20 cabins on National Forest Service land and every Memorial Day week-end the cabin owners have their annual meeting. Federal staff come to update everyone on new initiatives, food is shared (some of it ritual things like Rudi’s potato salad) and decisions are made about cabin tract improvements.
Last year, it snowed on Memorial Day weekend and we left before the meeting, which was held inside and limited to one person from each cabin. It was a sad year anyway, because most of the forest had burned, although all of the cabins had been saved. This year, we got an email from the cabin association president asking what we wanted to do about the meeting. He said he was pretty sure no one wanted to share food and maybe no one wanted to meet face-to-face. We don’t, although we would be happy to see everyone on Zoom. The federal staff won’t be coming in any case.
For a number of years, Julie’s son Michael and his wife Janette have cooked Julie a special dinner or taken a hike or done something on Mother’s Day. Often flowers were involved. We all knew that wasn’t’ going to happened this year. Instead, they brought Julie a latte—the first she’d had since before the lockdown. We four sat spaced in our front yard the appropriate distance apart. And even though the wind was blowing furiously and the temperature was low enough to require heavy jackets or blankets at 9:30 a.m., we had a lovely visit before Julie went off to her yoga class (in the computer room) and the kids went off to their day’s adventure.
It was especially appropriate to do this event on our front “lawn”, which looked like a meadow. A day later, work began on converting the dead space to a drought resistant garden so it was a way to say goodbye. (more about that in a blog to come)
We wrote about our virtual Passover Seder before, but there are a few retrospective things to add. Our friend Laurie remarked that she had the biggest Seder this year that she had ever had. Because it was virtual, relatives from all over the area and from other states were able to come. That was true for us as well. We usually can only have 12 people because of the size of our house. This year we had 27. No food preparation, no furniture rearrangement, no Haggadah to take to the copy center. It was a lot easier.
But ease is not necessarily a criterion for a ritual. And we did miss having live people and sharing a very ritual-based meal. One plus with the food: we discovered an absolutely wonderful “Seder” chicken that would not suit for a large group but was perfect for the two of us. We’ll go back to our regular recipe when we’re back to “normal” but it was an unexpected find.
When we first got together 30 years ago, we made a half-hearted effort to celebrate Easter. We had some pretty eggs that we’d hang on a branch and sometimes we’d make a special meal. When son Michael got married, his wife Janette assumed responsibility for that holiday; often it was the one time of year that both sets of parents would get together. Janette would conduct an Easter egg hunt for her nieces while the adults stood by with encouraging words. And she often gave us an Easter basket. No egg hunt this year but we did get a basket with four dyed eggs! A treasure right now when the egg supply is iffy. And some jelly beans.
Yes, it’s way too early to be thinking about this except for an odd ritual we have, especially when foreign visitors come. We usually buy an extra turkey when they are on sale in November. This year, we knew that Rudi’s nephew and his family were coming for a summer visit and we planned to stage a “faux” Thanksgiving dinner as we’ve done in the past. We invite people who don’t typically join us for the real Thanksgiving because of other family obligations. We were also planning to include people who speak German because the family doesn’t speak English. Matthias speaks fluent English but the kids are just learning. (They did make a sign in English for Rudi’s birthday). Except they aren’t coming. The trip has been cancelled. Maybe they’ll come next year but we will have to cook the turkey before then. Will we be released from our shelter-in-place so we can share the dinner with others? We’ll see.
Julie Freestone and Rudi Raab wrote Stumbling Stone. They had a big party to celebrate the publication of the novel and to launch it. That was in 2015 before we knew anything about CorVid-19. The event was at a restaurant that is now closed.