Deb Tawna’s family traditions aren’t so traditional

Being a Fenske is a bit like being a member of a bizarre gang.

We don’t wear matching bandannas or commit felonies, but we do have a complex set of rituals that make no sense to outsiders and must be strictly followed under the threat of death.

Take phone calls, for instance. If I’m speaking with my parents or brother and the conversation starts to wrap up, here’s what you’ll hear:

“So I’ll see you Sunday? OK, great. Nice to meet you.”

The Fenske family circa 1984. A disturbing photo on many levels, not the least of which is the hair. And the clothing. And...

The last part of that sounds more like, “nastameetcha,” which is no less perplexing to listeners than if we enunciated it correctly. It’s essentially a Fenske-ism for “goodbye,” and the first time my husband heard it, he was mystified.

“Who was that?” he asked.

“My mom.”

“And you told her it was nice to meet her?”

“Of course.”

He stared at me. “Have you been drinking?”

There actually is a story behind it, but I’m doubtful any of us could remember it if pressed.

It’s the same thing with my brother’s name. My mom was talking to a non-family member recently and mentioned that “Aaron” would be joining us for dinner.

“Who?” I asked.

“Your brother.”


See, when my brother and I were both wee youngsters, the family watched National Lampoon’s Family Vacation. Somehow, the names stuck. Yell “Clark” in a crowded store and my father will come running, and my mom is most certainly “Ellen.”

The name stuck most firmly for my brother, to the point that many people have no idea his name isn’t “Russ.”

You might assume that would make me “Audrey,” which is true only to my parents. To my brother, I have always been “Butthead.”

I didn’t realize how ingrained the name was until I received a thank you card from his longtime girlfriend and realized she had no idea how to spell my real name.

And don’t get me started on the Fenske name for black licorice (“dung-a-dung,”) or underwear (“shatz”) or the fact that no member of the Fenske clan is capable of walking over a bridge without spitting off the edge.

Do you have any unusual family rituals that perplex outsiders? Please share.

I’ll be getting ready for our annual Christmas Eve dinner at the local Chinese restaurant. It’s tradition.

12 Replies to “Deb Tawna’s family traditions aren’t so traditional”

  1. We put olives on our fingers – at the dinner table – giant black olives. Then we pop them into our mouths and laugh at the ten digit decapitations. Ah, holidays!

    Happy egg foo yung Tawna!

  2. Awww….lookit the little Tawna!

    In my friend Nicole’s family, no one can take a sip of their drink at the table until everyone has clinked glasses. If you dare to drink before clinking, the amount of horror at the bad luck that will certainly befall you would be entertaining if they weren’t so serious about it. Makes me laugh.

    1. Eleanor, my hair in that photo is the result of a perm gone awry. I broke my arm, so my mom decided a nice, fluffy perm was just the thing I needed to make my hair easy to care for one-handed. The perm itself made me look like Little Orphan Annie, but the years I spent growing it out after that were truly hideous.


    1. Elise, I’m always impressed by how many people have the tradition of Chinese food on Christmas Eve. Is it all from the movie “The Christmas Story,” or just because that’s often the only thing open?


  3. Every Friday that I can remember until the day he retired, my father would come home and say the same thing to my mom. “They didn’t pay me today.” She ignores him. “I didn’t get a paycheck. I don’t know what we’re going to do.” She is still ignoring him. After him tormenting and her ignoring for five minutes, he would pull out his paycheck and hand it over.
    He was a very happy man. You always knew he was coming home because he would whistle his way up the sidewalk.
    He’s also famous because when he ran into people he knew or visited them his greeting was always the same. “Well, hello, uglier than I am and can’t help it.” He was joking but he was, in fact, a very handsome man.

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