The picked over turkey carcass is sitting on the counter, waiting to become soup, and the dregs of my sister’s cranberry sauce calls to me from the overstuffed fridge. Three turkey dinners this year-the one the night before, because my mother was off to Dallas with her new beau she met on J-dates, and my sister off to Maine with her family; a wonderful Thanksgiving the day of with family in Brookline; and the one my ex and her partner hosted the day after for a handful of misfits;–All having been negotiated and ultimately survived….
and yet I can’t help but wonder about all those Thanksgivings past: in our house in Peekskill, the kids’ table extending out into the living room, the juices of the cole slaw Papa made, the perfect dip for the turkey, my mother’s “swedish meatballs” simmering in the chafing dish; noise, chaos, cigarette embers smoldering in random ash trays, the “men” having made their way to the den with their pants unbuckled watching the game, while the “women” cleaned up in the tiny kitchen.
Most of these grownups long dead now, except for my mother, and most of the cousins scattered. It strikes me how profoundly those early years imprint upon us, no matter the intervening decades.
My ex and I had our decades of rituals too: the early years when she and I would eschew all notions of family and head to Vermont to the quiet, almost silent side of the mountain where we rented a house plopped on cinder blocks that looked out at meadows of grazing cows. We’d bundle up in our long johns, and huddle around the wood stove in the kitchen, or just snuggle under the covers…so much to be thankful for then. When Alex came along, we were reminded of just how important family was, and she added her strange–to us New York Jews– Florida traditions––who ever heard of key lime pie on Thanksgiving?––and her wonderful turkey–cooked breast down–ad amazing stuffing–into the mix. Now, years after we have split, my mother insists that Susan bring her a key lime…what would Thanksgiving be without it?
My friend A. in a relatively new relationship, and as she and her new honey try to negotiate the holiday season, they are finding the need to first make space for all the ghosts: how did you do it before? with this one? with that one? Her new honey suggested after they air the rituals of the past that they sweep them all away, leaving a clean, shining floor on which to build their own ways of giving thanks together.
My metaphorical floor, however, is still littered with memories: the moments when my nest was overflowing and not empty, the moments throughout which I was loved and partnered, the moments of rich smells and a warm house, and the ruckus of an extended family…And I wonder how I can find the wherewithal to choose to be here now, in the face of so much past, and to move forward into an unknown future that, if I am lucky, may bring with it the promise of gratefulness.