This time of year (in America) people are pondering the gathering together of family to celebrate a holiday that was made up in 1863 as a way to (symbolically) bring a divided nation together. It would be good if that’s what it still meant, because we have a divided country now.
Very vivid in my memory is my family’s first Thanksgiving back in Colorado after living for six years in Nebraska where my dad worked for Strategic Air Command as a wargamer. It was 1966. We’d moved to Colorado Springs and dad went to work at NORAD. We’d been in Colorado Springs maybe six weeks.
My dad hadn’t wanted to move back to Colorado. He knew his physical abilities were deteriorating rapidly. With MS back then, before there was really any treatment, stress could have a yugely deleterious effect. My mom, facing my dad’s deterioration, didn’t want to be alone. Her closest sisters lived in Denver.
So we moved, rented a house and hosted Thanksgiving which involved buying a fancy new turkey roaster.
I was homesick for the small town in Nebraska where we’d lived. I was 14, almost 15. I had had my first boyfriend in Nebraska meaning my first kiss and hand-holding. I was very occupied with YEARNING and listening to The Association sing Cherish. My brother was a kid. I didn’t have friends in the Springs. I sat in the basement watching college football, rooting for the Cornhuskers and trying to care about the outcome because, damn, that was NEBRASKA.
As my mom tried to orchestrate a small family reunion (Aunt Martha, Aunt Kelly, Cousin Linda, me, Kirk and dad) I just wanted it to be over. I wanted the radio to go back to playing the top 40 Rock Hits of the Week (that mattered a lot to me when I was 14). I didn’t even want the days off from school. I wanted normalcy, but it was not to be.
The turkey roaster cooked the turkey OK, but it wasn’t the same as an oven. The skin wasn’t golden and the meat fell off the bones. The dressing was tasty, the gravy had giblets in it (ew), the green bean-mushroom-soup-canned-onion-ring casserole (Aunt Kelly’s, “Bless her heart, Kelly could never cook.” True that), all of it was beige and brown except Aunt Martha’s Jell-o salad. It was the best part of the meal (I made it for a family Thanksgiving a few years ago and it surprised everyone — yeah it’s old-fashioned but it’s really good and refreshing, and so everyone agreed after trying it, though the young’uns initially laughed at it — whether in fear, ridicule or surprise, I don’t know).
We were all seated around the table (“Martha Ann, made the centerpiece,”) set with the “best china” and the silver-plate and the crystal stemware and the grownups had champagne and my dad had muscle spasms and I yearned for my boyfriend in Nebraska and my brother just wanted to get back to his drawing table in the corner of the basement and continue drawing cartoons.
It didn’t really occur to me until this morning that people who resist the way holidays interrupt their normal lives might have the most to be thankful for. It’s no small thing to like your life. ❤