55: Endings and Beginnings

55: Endings and Beginnings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

Endings and Beginnings

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.

~Hal Borland

Every New Year’s Eve, we had breakfast at Aunt Dot’s house. Aunt Dot lived three blocks from us, in a ranch-style home bursting at the seams with shelves of books, photo albums and ceramic trinkets she had collected over the years. Colorful pots of spider plants and philodendron lined her kitchen windowsills and movie posters for classics I had never seen covered the walls in the living room. I remember thinking Gone with the Wind must be a movie about a tornado.

Although the food was delicious, pancakes with bacon and home fries, my most vivid memory of the meal was the centerpiece that Aunt Dot always arranged on her kitchen table — seven sets of ceramic salt and pepper shakers. There was a pair of winged Valentine Cupids, an Easter Bunny with a large pink egg, a leprechaun with his pot of gold, a duo of star-spangled, red, white, and blue Uncle Sam top hats, twin orange jack-o’-lanterns, two turkeys wearing pilgrim hats, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

It wasn’t until years later, when I was home on break my senior year of college, that I finally asked Aunt Dot about the unusual centerpiece. She was now eighty-seven years old and she still invited us to the last breakfast of the year.

I had come over early that morning to help with the meal preparations and Aunt Dot was enthusiastically stirring pancake batter as she replied to my question. “What are you talking about?” she said. “I put those salt and pepper shakers out every single year.”

“I know,” I said, setting plates on the table. “But why? What’s the reason you always put them out on New Year’s Eve morning?”

“Well, my dear,” Aunt Dot said thoughtfully. “It helps to remind me that even though the holidays are over, there’s another whole year of them coming.”

I nodded. “I guess that makes sense.”

“Let me tell you something,” she said. “I have learned over my many years that nothing really stops; every ending in life is really just another new beginning.” She pointed at me with the batter-covered spoon. “Remember that, my dear.”

“I will,” I told her.

In the spring of that year, after a short illness, Aunt Dot passed away. She left her book collection to my mom and the movie posters to my sister, but I was surprised to learn that I got the holiday salt and pepper shakers. I guess Aunt Dot wanted to make sure I remembered her philosophy.

I continued Aunt Dot’s breakfast tradition at my own apartment with the salt and peppers shakers centerpiece in place.

Now, a couple of decades later, every New Year’s Eve morning, my parents, my siblings, their spouses and children still come to my house for the last breakfast of the year. The pancakes are never as good as Aunt Dot’s, but the center of the table is covered with those old salt and pepper shakers, reminding us all that every ending is really just another beginning.

~David Hull

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