Friday, December 24, 2010


I never knew my dad's father, my namesake. He passed away six years before I was born. My dad's mom I knew mostly from Sunday visits to her New York City nursing home. Long drives in those pre-Turnpike days. We went to see a old woman confined to wheelchair who spoke little English. Today she'd have a hip replacement and be up and about. She passed away when I was thirteen. I remember little more about the funeral day than a dinner afterwards in a Chinatown restaurant, the Golden Dragon (a big table with lots of unrecognizable but tasty food, shared by all).

My paternal grandparents emigrated from Czechoslovakia in the early 1900's, and had their name changed from "Matava" to "Mattan" by the immigration official who probably couldn't understand a word they said. Family history has it that they were quite proud of their new American name. Grandma Mattan spoke mostly Czech, but spoke English when addressing her grandchildren.

My mom's dad came over from England by ship alone when he was fifteen [correction, I was one generation off, as it was my mom's granddad, my great granddad, who did this. We still have the trunk he brought all his possessions in]. I remember him as grouchy, sitting in his chair smoking a pipe watching TV. Living in Philadelphia, I remember long drives through central Jersey farmland to visit them. Houses now grow on much of that farmland. I also remember that despite the grouchiness, he seemed to like having grandkids around. As long as we didn't make too much noise. He passed when I was young. I remember relatives I didn't know I had at a funeral home where we kids played on the lawn.

The Christmas cactus bloom shown is from a cutting from my grandma's plant. A number of grandkids have cuttings. Mine blooms every year. I leave it on my kitchen windowsill, water it from time to time when doing dishes, and otherwise neglect it. It blooms every year at Christmas time.

My mom's mom came to live with us in 1978. She was there to see me graduate high school and through my college years, admonishing me (in a friendly way) to "do my lessons". We'd watch the Saturday baseball game of the week together, she a Phillies fan, me Mets. I remember her Saturday night baths and card games with my great aunt Marion and my pseudo aunt Julia (lots of arguments!). She passed away in 1995.


Every year the cactus reminds me of grandma and Christmas ...

My mom was in the church choir, so we'd all go to midnight mass.

I liked the music. And the smell of incense. And little else. It was overcrowded and way too long. 

All except grandma, as she would go to the 9:00 am mass Christmas morning. After which she'd come home and have breakfast. And we kids would have to wait until grandma was done before we could open our presents. As grandma had no teeth, it took her longer than most to eat.

Actually, she had a set, but preferred not to use them.

So we wouldn't start opening gifts until some time after ten! We couldn't even go downstairs to look until she was ready. Torture!

Our house is on the corner (my parents still live there, 45 years now), two blocks from the church, so my sisters would go up to the third floor, watching out the windows to see her walking home from mass. As soon as they spotted her they'd yell down to mom to start breakfast. And then we'd wait.

I miss those days.

Merry Christmas Grandma.


Anonymous said...

The image is an absolute stunner, the story moreso. Merry Christmas Steve.

Ralph said...

I'm a nostalgist as you are in this post, and I applaud your capture of your memories, especially in the context of Christmas Eve. To have that Christmas Cactus from your Grandma's plant is reaching across time, and it's great.

Vesele Vánoce Pan Matava.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a spectacular bloom, and what beautiful memories this bloom brings to you! That is one special way to remember your mom each Christmas!

Hope your Christmas was merry and bright, wishing you the best in the New Year!

Julie McLeod said...

Some of the sweetest parts of Christmas come from remembering friends and family no longer with us. You've captured some lovely memories of your childhood for us to share. Thanks!

MevetS said...

@ Ron: thanks, merry Christmas to you too.

@ Ralph: It is great. Merry Christmas and Šťastný nový rok!

@ Tammy: thank you, it blooms that way every year, and I do nothing but leave it on the windowsill. Best wishes to you as well.

@ Julie: My pleasure. Merry and happy to you and yours.

Lené Gary said...

What a sweet remembering, Steve. Thank you for sharing it. It sounds like your grandparents, both sides, were very strong and courageous people.

terricreates said...

Glad I went back a few post and read this. What a tear jerker, but beautiful memories. I have similar ones as well, and with my grandmother's plants as well. The bloom is amazing.