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Doyle-Schechtman: Stuffing The Dates

11/25/09 7:55AM By Deborah Doyle-Schechtman
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(HOST) This Friday, people around the country will participate in the second annual National Day of Listening. As part of that effort, commentator Deborah Doyle-Schechtman has the story of a Thanksgiving family tradition everybody loved to hate.

(DOYLE-SCHECHTMAN) Growing up in my house, there were as many traditions as rules, and as many stories as there were people to tell them.  The variations on any given theme, and the nuances of any shared memory are as diverse as each of my siblings.  Now that may sound pretty normal, until I tell you that I am the oldest of 12 children, 8 girls and 4 boys, born to the same two parents, over the course of 15 consecutive years.

Yes, we were raised Irish Catholic, and yes my mother had her hands full, but she always had time to create special holiday-centric moments for us - whether we liked them or not. On Washington's Birthday, for example, we'd have a cherry pie for dessert.  A lamb shaped cake adorned the center of every Easter Sunday dinner table. There were rituals that only the older kids remember, and some that belong exclusively to the younger ones. The most dreaded annual activity, however, one that was a constant throughout all of our childhoods, was stuffing dates.

My mother loved making a major production out of filling a fruit that was already unpopular in our household. All 12 of us were required to participate in this night before Thanksgiving tradition, and no one could leave the house until the process was complete.  That is to say, each pitted Dromedary dates had to be individually removed from its sticky package, opened up, a walnut placed in the center, closed up, rolled in granulated sugar, and arranged neatly on the designated paper doily-draped plate before we could see our friends, watch TV, or believe it or not, do our homework.

Have you ever tried to help a 2 year old get one date out of a clump of 20?  Or entice a teenager to wait patiently while the object in question made its way to her, and the baby brother she was holding, to arrange it on the plate?  Henry Ford would have been out of business before he began with an assembly line like ours!

Decades have passed.  Both of my parents, and a brother have died.  The family of 14 has grown to one of 54 dispersed throughout the country. Although we don't all fit around one table anymore, the story of the god-forsaken dates remains, and it's gleefully shared whenever and wherever that now infamous paper doily-draped plate is passed.


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