December 30, 2008

Passing the torch of hosting the feast

Rafael Alvarez touches on an often unacknowledged but deeply powerful rite of passage in "Keeping the feast" (Dec. 24). It is a moment so ignored that it does not even have a name. But it is moment that all of us know and most of us will experience: the passing of the holiday meal from one home to another.

Some families rotate the honor, or burden, of hosting the clan's ceremonial meals, be they for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Passover. But more often that honor is bestowed on one select home, one matriarch or patriarch, and no one dare seek to wrest it away until its keepers are ready to lay the burden down.

When that moment comes, how that decision is made, who makes it and with what prodding and what arguments can be a tender and complex negotiation. No matter the circumstances, the decision to give up the meal may stir up feelings of sadness, loss, relief, anxiety, dislocation. Even more sensitive can be the choice of successor. Who will pick up, grab or be invested with the new mantle of host?

Mr. Alvarez was gracious in relinquishing his dream, his anticipated birthright as the eldest, of succeeding his parents as holiday host. But not all transitions, especially those that shatter lifelong expectations, go as well.

We need a national ritual to acknowledge this rite of passage so that we can celebrate the elders who are laying down their role, inaugurate the successors who are picking it up and honor all those who come to help, cook, pull up a chair and eat.

Nina Beth Cardin, Baltimore

A chance to rebuild great train system

Let's hope that the new interest in rail travel means Maryland will, at last, have real, efficient rail service to Washington, points north, Annapolis and Ocean City ("All aboard: the rush to rail," Commentary, Dec. 29).

Sixty years ago, we made the mistake of dumping trains in favor of cars and planes for passengers and trucks for freight. Now we should correct that mistake.

Back then, we had the greatest railway system on Earth. Maybe now we can again.

Blaine Taylor, Towson

Mt. Vernon Square has handled worse

The outcry over the proposed Mount Vernon 7-Eleven tickles me ("7-Eleven would sully Mount Vernon Square," letters, Dec. 8). The corner where the store might be located once housed a 24-hour greasy spoon called the Buttery where my friends and I sometimes stopped, half-drunk, for a scrambled egg and a pancake at 3 a.m. Mount Vernon and George Washington's reputation seem to have survived that, and I bet a 7-Eleven wouldn't do them in either.

Mike Willis, Baltimore

O'Malley shows resolve in ordering furloughs

I realize that it was a tough decision for Gov. Martin O'Malley to propose a furlough for state employees and one that was unpopular with public employee unions and their members ("Governor's choices add to budget woes," letters, Dec. 28). However, I believe that Mr. O'Malley made the correct decision.

So far, Mr. O'Malley's term has been plagued by pessimists and slanderers whose negativity has been relentless and, unfortunately, sometimes very personal. But I am very glad that I voted for Mr. O'Malley, and I think he is the best governor Maryland has had in my lifetime.

You can rest assured that there are many others like myself who will continue to support the governor.

Marty A. Silvert, Baltimore

Palin more qualified to hold any office

It's true that the office of vice president requires more experience and "gravitas" than the office of senator ("Office that Palin sought demands more gravitas," letters, Dec. 26).

But it's also true that Sarah Palin has been a mayor and is currently governor of a state that covers a land mass one-seventh the size of the continental United States. And at home in Alaska, she also has an approval rating that is in the stratosphere for the way she has managed her gubernatorial responsibilities.

Caroline Kennedy, on the other hand, has held no public office and has no qualifications for any office.

Mrs. Palin isn't just more qualified than Ms. Kennedy to be a public official, she's eminently more qualified than Ms. Kennedy is to hold any position of authority.

Michael P. DeCicco, Severn

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