Despite time and distance, a tradition of togetherness continues


My family and I had an uplifting and enjoyable holiday season. Despite the dark clouds created by the school shootings in Connecticut and lack of trust and cooperation among our political leaders in Washington, a pervasive sense of hope and optimism suffused the air.

During Christmas, I am reminded of the gatherings that have been part of my family. They reaffirm the present by connecting it to similar family gatherings going as far back as 1870.

My grandfather was a physician in the service of the British Indian government. For most of his professional life, he was posted along British India’s wild and unruly western frontier with Afghanistan.

Every so often, he would be transferred to a new location along the frontier. He would undertake perilous journeys to move his young family to new places. I grew up hearing the stories of travels on rickety houseboats on the Indus River, or negotiating mountain passes on horses and camels to reach a new destination.

When his only son, my father, was of school-going age, the patriarch decided to bring some semblance of permanence to the family’s nomadic life. In 1870, he bought a house in the walled city of Peshawar near the Khyber Pass. That would become our homestead for the next 130 years.

The house was an unpretentious three-story structure tucked in a sleepy neighborhood. Twenty-six children, spanning three generations, were born and raised in that house. It was also from that home that we celebrated weddings and bade farewell in death to the aged and sometimes not too aged members of our family.

From our grandfather’s days, it was a given that all male members of the family, no matter where they were stationed, would come to the family home to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, and then a few months later the festival of sacrifice that coincides with the pilgrimage to Mecca.

For my grandfather and later my father, family togetherness and celebration were as significant as the sacred nature of religious holidays.

We considered other occasions such as weddings, funerals, and circumcisions just as important. To us, this pattern was as natural and predictable as the change of seasons in the Peshawar Valley.

Life changes with the passage of time. We absorb new traditions and add them to the established ones. Each addition contributes color and substance to the mix. The new becomes part of the old.

Soon after my arrival in Toledo in 1963, I met Wray and Robert Barber, who lived on a farm in Perrysburg. They took me under their wing. They invited me for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at their home, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

After I married in 1968, I and my now-late wife, Dottie, celebrated those holidays at our home.

Like my grandfather before me, I was a figurative nomad. We left for Pakistan in 1970. Dottie and I moved at least 10 times.

In 1975, we returned to Toledo and bought a house that we made our permanent home.

Our Toledo home became the continuation of my homestead in Peshawar. After my brothers passed away, their children continued the tradition in their new homes.

Third and fourth generations are continuing the legacy of home and hearth that my grandfather established.

And so it was this past holiday. My three children, their spouses, my grandchildren, and family friends gathered around the hearth and reaffirmed a long-standing tradition of celebrating holidays together.

Through these gatherings, we connect with each other, reinforce our traditions, and reassure ourselves of a mystic sense of who we are. Irrespective of the occasion or the celebration, we offer thanks for the traditions and the blessings that have been given to us.

A joyous and fulfilling New Year to all of you.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

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