Publisher’s Corner: Holidays 2021: Bittersweet

J.B. Lester The Healthy Planet

Holidays are all about traditions. That is the way it has been for my family all of my life. Captured in photos and memories, family has always been the center of Thanksgiving and Christmas for the Lesters. The size of the table changes year to year, but not the size of our hearts. I can still remember those holidays at my Uncle Jim’s house with my grandmother, my mother and my aunt all tirelessly creating the most delicious traditional feast. They were the Iron Chefs, long before the Food Network came along. More recently, the gatherings at my brother Bill’s house, or our Thanksgivings and Christmases in our cottage in Webster Groves, created fond family traditions. The hustle, the bustle, the fun and excitement of the holidays, are ingredients for lasting memories. And now as I have gotten older, my family has grown. I now have 4 grandchildren with the recent additions this year of Vivianne Kay Hunt and Cooper Lee Hagar. Yes, a granddaughter to go with my grandsons Cooper (4 months), Joey (2 1/2 years) and Jackson (8 1/2 years). The baton has been passed and the new generation is poised to open their eyes on Christmas morning to the joy of stockings, presents and warm cinnamon rolls. There will be a lot of cuddling this year as I am going to try to hug all four of my grandchildren at the same time for a super-selfie!

As some new family has been added, sadly some family has been lost. This is the first holiday without my son-in-law Matt, my daughter Natalie’s husband and Cooper’s father. He passed earlier this year way too young at 31. He made Natalie so happy and would have made a great father to Cooper. He was a good man and will be missed by all his family and friends. There is a hole in our hearts, but our family is strong, and life will go on, memories in our hearts and tears on our cheeks. My Aunt Janet also passed away this year. She was 91. A nicer person could not be found. She shared my love of writing and we often talked of what books we were thinking about starting. In her later years, my aunt was mostly blind, so it was impossible for her to read. I had been hoping she could read the book series I am working on now, the Jackson James mystery chronicles. I was thinking about how I could make them text to sound so she could hear them, but time ran out. She was a big inspiration to me and my writing. She was a long time 2nd grade teacher and lover of children’s fiction, as am I. I am planning a book in her honor just as soon as my mystery series is finished. The first thing I will write is the dedication and thank her for her sense of wonder and adventure, two things you need to write children’s books.

The holidays will go on with those we have lost so deeply missed but remembered in our hearts. Stockings will still be hung, stories shared, trees trimmed, hugs all around. I have enjoyed 7 decades of family holidays. It is time to make as many memories as I can for my children and my grandchildren. I want them to remember me as more than the tall guy with the white beard and the bald head. I want them to remember me as the world’s best hugger, tickler and face-maker. These are the things kids remember and will cherish for all time. Oh, sure the cinnamon rolls are good, but Grampy making a lizard face is timeless. It was a tough blow finding out that my kids didn’t like my candied yams, but they do love my crockpot green beans. I have to give credit to my mother and my grandmother for that recipe. But I have carried on the tradition and am so glad it has passed the test of time and some picky eaters. I mean, who doesn’t like candied yams? At least they love the traditional turkey and Niki’s stuffing and my handmade mashed potatoes. I still use the same masher my mom used. Oh, and my gravy. For some reason I am the gravy whisperer. My brother is the gourmet cook, and his son is a chef, but I have my own touch in the kitchen. My grandmother and mother taught me to cook some traditional meals that I hope my children and grandchildren will carry on for years to come.

The holidays are all about love, family and traditions. This year in particular, we will remember fondly the family members we have lost while we cherish our new arrivals. And we hope they will build on the traditions we have carried on, while creating a few new recipes and traditions of their own.

Happy Holidays from our family to yours!