5 January 2002
There was one thing wrong with the scene out on the patio. In other respects it looked
very, very familar. There was a colorful pinata swinging gently from a tree branch. There
was a stick to hit it with. There was a blindfold. What there wasn't was a line of
kids waiting to take a turn. In fact the only "kid" there was 32 or 33 and he
was in charge, working with his girlfriend on the rigging and getting the kerchief ready
to tie around people's eyes.
The rest of us were lining up. Middle aged people. Retired people. The older
generation. We were all getting ready to hit the pinata, hoping to smash it and send candy
cascading down onto the concrete.
The pinata tradition is a long one in our lives. I think it probably dates back to
1967, Jeri's first holiday season. The previous year our friends Char and Mike were coming
back from Alaska for a visit, bringing with them their two daughters, Tavie and Dana. Dana
was a toddler. Tavie was just a little bit older.
We got our group together: five couples. We had all gone to UC Berkeley, joined the
Newman Club (the Catholic center on campus), dated, paired off, and married in the
beautiful old wooden building which they tore down later to erect a concrete parking
The four other couples came so we could all visit with Char and Mike. I was pregnant
with Jeri at the time. My goddaughter Colleen was nearly a year old. The other two
toddlers were Eric and Mike. It was a Kodak moment and we gathered all five children on
the couch to take a group picture.
A year later, Char and Mike had moved back home again, now with baby Jenny as well. The
five families got together and this year there were ten children--it was the only
year we doubled in size.
By the time we all had finished procreating, in about 1972 or so, the five families had
produced 22 children.
Only 17 here--we weren't finished birthin' yet
We lived near each other, so we saw each other frequently, but we always got together
on New Year's day for a party (since we all had little children and wanted to include them
in the partying, we never did New Year's Eve parties).
The pinatas began in that second year: 1967. We thought it would be fun for the kids to
have a pinata to break, though most of them were too little to understand the principle and too little to give it more than a gentle tap.
It was a chicken, as I recall. One of the mothers in the group had made it and filled
it with little candies, toys and the other sorts of things that one puts in a pinata. The
kids had a great time swinging at it. The little ones were held up by parents so they, too,
could take a whack at it.
The problem was that the damn thing was as strong as concrete and it just wasn't going
to crack, much less break. I have, somewhere, a marvelous movie of one of the dads taking
a hammer to the thing--and still having trouble getting it to break.
We learned a lesson about pinata making that year, and subsequent pinatas were more
breakable. Every New Year's day, there was a party and a pinata. It all got very
organized. The kids lined up by age, youngest to oldest and after a few years we didn't
even have to tell them--they just knew instinctively to line up.
Poor Tavie had the hardest time. As the oldest, she was last in line, but Eric was a
real powerhouse and many was the year when Eric would manage to break the pinata before
Tavie ever got her turn.
I'm not sure how many years we kept the pinata tradition going, but even after the kids
were grown up, whenever the group got together, someone would bring a pinata--I
think I remember a pinata at a baby shower one time, filled with goodies for the expected
Most of the "first generation" parents were there at the party today. There
has been one divorce so one mother comes by herself, and someone who shall remain nameless
(but you know who you are) somehow thought a Cal-Stanford
contest was more important than a party. But the rest of us were there.
And there was a pinata.
Dutifully the adults all took their turn lining up, being blindfolded, spun around, and
attempting to hit the pinata. (They told us we didn't have to line up by age.) I don't
know that I ever did that before. I managed to land a couple of solid hits, but didn't
break the thing. By the time we all had our turns, it was still hanging. I'm not sure, but
I think I saw the kid in charge looking for a hammer.