To me, it seems that nothing brings out the best and the worst in us like going home for the holidays. Particularly Thanksgiving. I suppose that’s due to my purely southern American experience. In my memory bank are so many pictures, like this Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell. It’s a lovely, comforting time when, once a year, we Americans do the same things at the same time. For instance, after Thanksgiving dinner, before we commence with the Annual Balderdash Tournament, my sister and I always indulge in the same ritual – floating homemade whipped cream on top of our elegant china coffee cups and then sipping the coffee through the cream. (Sometimes we even add a little Kahlua.) We end up with little white mustaches, but that’s part of the fun – and it’s the only time we ever do it.
I have one memory that returns to me each year as I lose myself in the solitude of my holiday preparations. The picture is so clear in my mind, it could have been yesterday. I even recognize the clothes I wore. It was a time when I was quite young, a bit naive and living in the UK, feeling so alone and far away from familiar roots. November is dark, gray and damp in rural Scotland. We had just moved into our new home and I was a madwoman searching through stacks of cartons from the forty-foot shipping container that had finally arrived from the US. It was imperative that I find the china and the correct “Thanksgiving” tablecloth. I would have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, or die trying.
We were in a somewhat rural area – no popping down to the local market for a fifteen pound Butterball turkey. Cranberries, hummm, had to revert to the canned variety. Potatoes, brussel sprouts and broccoli? Delivered fresh from Quentin, the egg mans’ garden. Sour cream? Never heard of it. Pumpkin pie? Check. Whipped cream? Just skim off the top of the 8-oz bottle from the milkman and get out the hand mixer, but be careful not to turn it into butter! Quentin also knew a local farmer who raised turkeys. Our name was attached to a string that was hung around Tom’s neck and at the appointed time, said Tom lost his head and I was delivered of a big bird that still needed some feathers plucked!
I was so determined that everything would be beautiful on that fourth Thursday in November, it didn’t dawn on me that the rest of our little community was merely having a normal day. Being youthfully myopic, it had never occurred to me that the whole world didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Yes, I know – America’s story – those pious Pilgrims (one of them was a relative,) the unsuspecting native Americans, so innocent and generous to the white foreigners – Thanksgiving is America’s very own holiday, complete with all its tragic underpinnings. I get all that now, and I recognize the harshness of conquering nations, but let’s leave that for another post at another time.
Today I’ll stick with the nostalgic “home for the holidays” of my youth. It’s what I call the Norman Rockwell syndrome, twinged with sadness and loneliness, and unexpected bursts of deeply rooted sibling rivalries, perhaps because our culture has taken us so very far away from family – emotionally or physically. It’s the most highly traveled day of the year; everyone fighting an uphill battle to make it “home” for that one day where we gather ’round the table, eating exactly the same menu (with minor adjustments) and tiptoeing through the emotional minefields of the family shortcomings.
May I digress for one second and say that the airlines certainly use the holiday to give their own brand of thanks by jacking up their prices on those who are so desperately trying to make it home for the holiday – shame on them!
So, whatever the reason, for me Thanksgiving is a holiday where I work at making it work. Most of our family is on the East Coast and this day reminds me of how much I miss seeing them. Knowing there are many others who must feel the same way, I make sure that our day is filled with friends whom we consider our extended family. I also focus on all the good things in my life. While I honestly try to be mindful of those things more than once a year, it never hurts to have a day where we actually focus on all the richness that fills our lives – so here’s my list:
I am thankful that I am married to someone who is kind, fun and smart, but most of all who has infinite patience, and who makes every day a safe and happy one.
I am thankful for fresh coffee and lemon poppy seed muffins and for the breathtakingly quiet sunrise that steals over the vast and majestic desert landscape, every morning of my life. Also for that beautiful little humming bird who flits so closely around my head when I am quietly reading on the patio. The sound of its tiny wings is remarkable. I wonder if it’s attracted to my red hair?
I’m thankful for our blended families – all unique individuals who daily fill our lives with light, love and thoughtfulness; two culturally diverse families who respect one another and who are always there when it counts. I am thankful that I will never tire of the first fresh lemons of the season; for peanut butter balls; for Gino Vannelli’s Dea Speranza and Mozart’s Requiem.
I’m thankful for the life we have; for our freedoms; for myriad choices to have and do pretty much whatever our heart desires – a life that is filled with uplifting music, exquisite art, thought-provoking books, entertaining theater, and lively conversation with loving friends. I am thankful for the fresh air market; for the sweet, shy farmers who sell me their local eggs and peppery arugula and for the flower man who always has my favorite lilies.
I am thankful that there is still beauty and grace to be found even in the simple things, and even in the midst of rancor and disagreement. I am thankful that I can still absorb new ideas and be open enough to consider different opinions from friends that I like and respect. I am thankful for Masterpiece Theater, author Pat Conroy and anything said by Samuel Clemens, Dennis Miller and George Carlin. We do know the sound of truth when we hear it.
I am particularly thankful that I live in a country where hope springs eternal; where I can be a voice of dissent and that I am free to make my voice heard. I am grateful that I am free to grasp any opportunity that comes my way and that I can rise to greater heights of success simply by working harder and smarter than the next person, and that my origins or my parents don’t matter.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melody Beattie