Facebook is a beautiful thing. Well, sometimes it is, like when friends share their holidays with me. Even though I’m a vegetarian, I delight in reading about all the ways people prepare their turkeys. (Vegetarians don’t hate people who eat meat. We just choose not to do it ourselves.)
Our cyber pals share endless recipes for stuffing and pumpkin pie. Make their biases about football teams known. Publish photos of the helium character balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Charlie Brown, Spiderman, SpongeBob SquarePants.
The tradition-heavy Thanksgivings of my childhood are gone. The big Turkey Day game, where high school cross-town rivals would fight it out on a squishy, rain-soaked football field. And after: roasted turkey, sweet potatoes, homemade stuffing—the works, finished with the disgusting Swedish mincemeat pie and the better-by-far pumpkin pie.
My adult turkey days, though each were memorable in their own way, were less predictable. Like one year, when I was a new single parent, stranded, 500 miles away from my own family, deep snow and dangerous mountain passes between us.
One day, two Thanksgiving dinners
One Thanksgiving, in a classic, comedy-of-errors sort of way, I misread my daughter’s classmate’s family. He was a superior Court judge, his wife a a gracious, beautiful woman, their son, brilliant but nerdy. That day I had fixed my six-year-old daughter the best Thanksgiving meal I could muster with my less than Julia Child-like culinary skills.
Ten minutes after we retired from the table, stuffed to the gills, the phone rang. The judge’s wife said, “We are waiting for you. Will you be here soon?”
It turned out that we were expected for Thanksgiving dinner. I remembered a conversation about Thanksgiving but not the invitation. She had carefully prepared our places as guests of honor at their holiday table. She was excited that we would be sharing Thanksgiving with them.
Being just 26, a few years shy of being able to handle embarrassing social predicaments like this, I said, “Oh. Are we late? I hadn’t been watching the clock. We’ll be right over.”
The six-year-old didn’t know about social graces yet, especially the misplaced kind, so she didn’t want to play along. In the car, on the way over, she said, “But, Mom. Why? We already ate.”
“Do this for me?” I said. She looked at me, her mouth a hyphen.
At the table, which was decked out with a Thanksgiving feast the likes of which I had never seen, I sat cheerfully. Our plates were heaped with food. It almost made me sick to look at it all. Name cards, in elegant calligraphy. Many kinds of crystal glasses, varieties of fine wines, sparkling dinnerware. All of it mocked me.
The company was congenial. Before the feasting, a prayer, and joining hands, we told what we were most thankful for. During dinner, the judge told his war stories. We laughed about the quirks and wonders of parenting and how all the degrees in the world couldn’t prepare us for the task. All the while, I pushed the food around on my plate, occasionally risking a miniscule bite.
Whenever Kellye, her eyes wide with astonishment, said, “But Mom!,” I gave her foot a swift kick under the table, cut up more pieces of the turkey on her plate, and pushed another forkful at her.
We made it through that dinner, barely. It became one of those funny stories told at family gatherings and it always got a laugh.
But over the years, the whole concept of Thanksgiving changed for me.
How Thanksgiving has changed for me
That one weird Thanksgiving aside (and I suspect you might have one in your memory bank, too), I have gradually come to a conclusion. For me, the holiday is less about the excesses of food, the football, the shopping plans and more about the small things.
In the past year, I have witnessed the pain of the Super Storm Sandy victims (my work in West Africa taught me never to take for granted lights and water and even clothes in my closet). I have cried over the innocent children and families on both sides of the Middle East conflict (I still remember having an armed guard watch while I slept on my Africa trip because Senegal and Mauritania were having border wars over farmers’ rights to water from the Senegal River).
The day I returned to our home in Los Angeles from my work in Africa, Bob thought I was crazy. I rushed from room to room, turning the lights on and off, just because I could. I ran the water in the kitchen sink and stared at it, mesmerized. The first day I returned to work, I opened our walk-in closet to select my outfit and I started crying.
There were too many choices.
So I give thanks this year for the little things. Light and warmth. A place to sleep without the fear of rockets and grenades and armed adversaries. A husband and daughter who offer unconditional love to me, even when I don’t deserve it.
And boatloads of gratitude for you, my community. I cherish each and every one of you.
Also, sometimes I cherish my husband who helps me with my technical issues here on this blog. So I feel inclined to give a shout out for the amazing Build Your Blog Black Friday | Cyber Monday deal he has going on.
What does Thanksgiving mean to you?
Have your feelings or perspective on this holiday changed over the years?
Do you have one Thanksgiving that stands out over all the others?
Tell us about it in the comments, if you are not having your post-feast nap right now. And happy, happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers!