This is when we gather to be grateful, to give thanks. For us followers of Christ, it is a time to celebrate Him and his providence. No news there. My post will be one of millions reflecting on the holiday. Here is what I hope for: do some volunteering. Do a few random acts of kindness. Even better, do a random act of kindness that puts you outside your comfort zone. Try to share a table with someone whose values and lifestyle make you squirm. I’m not expecting epiphanies and repentance. I hope there can be conversation, a little loud and challenging maybe, but hopefully, enlightening.
My childhood Thanksgiving was fraught with anxiety. My Mom and her sister worked out a thing where my Mom would do Thanksgiving and Aunt Joan would do Christmas. My grandmother would attend both gatherings. Nothing there, right? Yeah, uhm . . . very definitely something there. All our generational hot mess was in full play for both celebrations. Thanksgiving and Christmas was a SuperBowl level competition between these two sisters to gain the bigger approval from their mother. This is Yankee women competing to put on the dog better than the other one. This is linen tablecloths, center pieces, the whole Martha Stewart thing. Victory meant you could shove this in the face of the other sister for a year. This was serious business.
We had a whole buffet cabinet devoted to the gear needed for this competition. Stored away in our basement was more stuff that only appeared for Thanksgiving Dinner and then was nervously packed away for next year. Love your enemies? Fa! Over the dead bodies of my Mom and her sister. There would be victory. The grandmother will say something approving of one of them. Or else . . .
Getting ready started just after Halloween. Everything packed away had to come out and be cleaned to within an inch of its life. The current Sears catalog had to be deeply read cover to cover with special attention to the sections on Home Decorating, China and Glassware. Anything from last year that wasn’t fashionable enough got dumped into a trash bag destined for Goodwill. There was shopping to do, gear to buy, ammunition to acquire. The right mix of family china and new linen had to be made.
The whole house had to be analyzed with a magnifying glass and scrubbed with a toothbrush. The four of us kids were under constant danger of getting screamed at for sullying the kitchen sink with a dirty spoon. God forbid we should dirty our clothes while outside playing. On the day, our obsessively pressed outfits were starched so stiff as to be cardboard boxes impossible to move in. We were manikins to be seen and not heard. It sucked wind.
My Dad would always drive to Barrington Heights to pick up my grandmother. We would wait with nervous anticipation at the arrival of the queen. We knew what was coming. It came at different points during the meal. It always came. One year it was at the front door as grandmother touched an end table and her white gloves were soiled by some forgotten dust. Mortifying. Another year a piece of the family silver had wandered under a couch to hide until the whole thing was over. That was worth a tortuous retelling of how long the Piersall’s had kept that silver set intact and how awful it was that my Mom would have to shop at Wanamaker’s for a replacement. There are not enough Hail Mary’s. The worst was a two month torment culminating in a boozy Christmas Day confession that grandmother thought my Mom should be straining the gravy before reducing it. Unspeakable.
So it went through my childhood. Thanksgiving does not bring warm memories of a Norman Rockwell scene with a beautiful roast turkey as a centerpiece. It brings back angst for my mother, who did amazing work putting on a big spread only to have her heart crushed by her mother somewhere between the third week of November and New Year’s Day. It is why I don’t like doing a big Turkey, stuffing, and so on.
My son chose yesterday, election day, to tell me that there are thoughts of mayhaps gathering at my Dad’s house for Thanksgiving. My plans hadn’t extended beyond mayhaps buying one of those already roasted chickens you can get at Kroger and a rice dish I just learned to make. I live by myself so a 20lb. turkey and all the fixings would feed me for a couple months. Maybe the roast chicken doesn’t rate but it also doesn’t fill my fridge with things that will spoil before I can eat them. I’m not excited about a hurried plan to visit my Dad in a couple weeks to share Thanksgiving with family who I am at times merely frenemies with. We’ll see.
It bugs me that starting now, the propaganda will shine a spotlight on miserable people and ask us again why with all our luxury, there are miserable people and what the fuck first worlder, why aren’t you carrying your weight? Miserable people are a constant. The opportunity to serve is constant. Like gym memberships in January, volunteerism spikes at this time of year and collapses once the press gets bored with the story. We are made to feel guilty that we are able to weigh down a table with food and bicker about important things like whether the replacement gravy ladle looks too new.
Eat. Enjoy. Get a little drunk, maybe a lot drunk. Our ascetic, puritan itches will survive a little gluttony. I’ll finish this story of Thanksgiving in a month or two once I’ve traversed the holiday. Find some people who are outside your regular circle of influence to share a table with. Use those two ears more than the mouth you are tempted to unleash. Those whose anus’ pucker when someone says something triggering will be fine. Oh, and, that missing piece of family silver? Found in the basement in it’s bubble wrap in a dresser under an old quilt made by my great grandmother. Weird.