|Casey and Melissa with Hosts (Angels!!) in Scotland|
Several years ago when my son Casey and his partner Melissa were on an extended European trip and backpacking in Scotland, our friend Norma arranged for them to stay with friends a few days to dry out and warm up. We received a phone call from them on Thanksgiving morning. Afterwards, as we sat about the table after the meal, we decided to write about Thanksgiving memories and then e-mail Casey and Melissa the stories (One of the great benefits of this digital age!) Write something twisted! Norma said. So we all set about doing just that. Funny, though, how “twisted” twists into something else! I am reminded of how sometimes, despite the tension that can come with the holidays, something larger endures, something memorable.
My first memory of Thanksgiving is at my Aunt Faye’s. She probably had plates like these: white china with gold leaf rims. The men and kids would wait in the living room while the mothers finished the meal in the kitchen. Judy and I were oh so young…aged 3-4-5. When it was time to eat we crowded around the table in the dining room; if you ate too much, you no longer fit. I remember turkey sliced in thick white slabs , leg bones bulging with dark meat, potatoes and gravy, brown bread, stuffing (which I hated), overcooked peas, creamed corn, and white bread stacked on plates. No wine, of course! but water.
Now for the twisted part: Aunt Faye had an odor. It is hard to describe her smell, but it was a scent that stung the nostrils about 3/4 of the way back. She smelled like she talked, kind of a humming sound, again, 3/4 of the way back, like there was something stuck back in there that wasn’t quite lived out. Shortly after my grandmother died, she moved to Texas, and the next and last time I saw her was at my youngest sister’s wedding 25 years later.
But that smell: not unpleasant, but odd. No one else smelled that way, and no one hummed when they talked. But then, no one else gave Judy and me banty chickens, either. No one else helped us build crates to carry them on the bus to 4th grade animal day. No one else took the sacrament of chicken communion, something that brought my mother’s horrified wrath! Aunt Faye is Episcopalian! my mother exclaimed, as if this should explain why my sister and I should not set up the church in the living room with rows of kitchen chair pews and serve tiny pieces of chicken Jesus on doll plates to our favorite aunt. For she was our favorite aunt, and always will be, the one who gave us our first remembered experience of Thanksgiving. She was one of those family-glue people who makes you want to come back for more.
Donald: In another time, I remember Thanksgiving.
Roosevelt was still in the White House. But my family gathered at my Uncle Ed’s house, some fifty people for Thanksgiving dinner. In this crowded house my Uncle would smoke a large cigar, filling the house with blue smoke.
I was so impressed with my uncle self assuredly blowing smoke but I wanted him to say something, something truly wise to complete the experience.
I was never able to get up the courage to interrupt his reverie and he never said anything. We will never know what he was thinking with all of this.
|This side of the ocean: Norma, Lisa, Jesse, Elizabeth, Donald|
I remember the gum ball machine that Jean and Irv had in their living room, I think it was only a penny to get a gum ball. And I remember a big guy with a huge beard. You would have thought that I was used to bearded men since my dad was one, but this guy had a huge beard and he was intimidating. Until he started talking, then he was the most kid-friendly person in the house.
The house was full of old people, I don’t remember any other kids besides me and Case. Most of the grown ups in the house were indifferent to us, and there were parts of the house where we were not allowed, so me and Case were forced to stay in the heavily grown-up populated dining room, living room and kitchen, with no escape.
The one other wonderful thing besides the gum ball machine and the big guy with the beard was the yams and marshmallows. I never want to have any ever again, to preserve my memory of how wonderful they tasted.
I remember the only time I ever felt comfortable was when we went for walk. Mom and Dad would go, I think, and so would a couple other people, but not many. With Casey coming too, there was a much better kid-to-grown up ratio, plus we were outside.
For some reason I remember that I was sad when we stopped going to Jean and Irv’s, I can’t really think of why.
Norma: Thanksgiving at Gramma Blackies House. [hardly twisted!!!]
Would Thursday ever come? We cousins were all so young, and the school week so long. The days dragged by, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…
Well, Wednesday evening all the mothers began putting together what they were bringing to the feast. The excitement was alive. My sister stopped pinching and kicking at me. We helped lay out our Thanksgiving Day outfits.
The day arrived, usually a bright sunny southern California day. We were revved up! The cars started to arrive at Gramma Blackies. First up the steep narrow drive up to the big area in the back. We leapt out balancing on the running boards while the adults scurried off to the house.
The mothers/aunts to the kitchen with the big walk-in pantry, the father/uncles off to the front room to the radio, taking out their picket knives to carve tiny baskets out of large seeds.
We children hailed one another, dashing back to the enormous garden with the myriad of paths, and the big fountain where the frogs squirted water out of their mouths and orange and gold fish lurked beneath the lily pads.
The day was already late when they called us inside.
We headed for the back of the house to play while the aunts busied themselves with the feast.
Gramma Blackie was beautiful, the Queen of the feast. We all adored and bowed to her every wish and command.
The mother/ aunts laughed so hard, they hung on to the sink, the stove, and drain boards for support. We all longed to be just like them when we grew up. We still talk about them like they were movie stars. Our hearts so easily skip back to those happy days.
The blue and white Willow Ware dishes came out of the cupboard. When we were old enough we were allowed to set the table. The men talked and laughed in the living room. I could go between. I was welcome to both ends of the house.
The laden table groaned. The joy, the happiness swept through all the hearts. The memories remain alive and cherished.
Oh, those lovely days! Uncles Johnny, Pat, John, Charles, Harry.
Aunts Gladys, Lillian, Edna, Doris, Dolly.
And of course, Gramma Blackie!
[Not twisted at all]:
Lisa: This Morning
This morning all of the small things wanted to make themselves known to me.
It was a quiet party, in the morning dim, I, the honored guest drunk with admiration. My job was to pay notice to the small gifts and greet them with admiration. I fulfilled my duty in the following manner. . .
First, it was my dreams gifting me, clear to me when I awoke – – dreams that have been guides when I was needing signs. Then it was the waking and realizing that the dark was still all around. Thankful that the light had not yet come and I could slumber wrapped up with my darling, for three full hours more. Thankful too that the dark would not last forever and the light would surely come, carraiging in the scent of this wild land into our lungs.
Upon waking again, thankful for the cool orange glow of the morning falling on our bodies. Thankful, yes, today, we could decide when to leave bed. We ambled around dreaming of plans of how we would travel, pointing to spots on the old globe, spinning it on creaking spindle and reading the long names of small islands. We slept on a full bed swollen with years of spirits connected thorugh blood and time lying down their dreams on cool pillows and firm mattresses, carrying forth the necessary traditions and sacred ritual of work and then slumber and then work and then slumber.
It’s Thanksgiving 2005, and Norma suggests we write about “something twisted.” Lisa was thinking more along the lines of Thanksgiving – what we’re grateful for. I myself feel the Devil at work in my recollection of outrage at Officer J. C. I am still righteously furious! Exclamation point. Obviously not contrite enough for the letter of apology he no doubt deserves. I remain stuck, unconvinced that he wasn’t just in a very bad mood to give me a ticket instead of a warning. Kim says just pay the ticket and be glad to get off with that — given how belligerent I was. (What came over me? I really don’t know.) But I can’t get over it – how could he give ME a ticket? ME, of all people, innocent, important, law-abiding ME! I always put my seat belt on – eventually. But when I learned to drive, a millennium ago, I’m not sure we even had seat belts, and nobody ever put them on if we did. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. But ticket me! With my dog right there in the back seat! Unbelievable. Maybe he’s in the middle of a nasty divorce. From a blond bitch. Well, if so, I certainly confirmed the latter.
Bebop on the music. I’m writing at the same furious pace. If writing took more calories I’d be very thin. (Sigh. This morning my jeans were too tight.) Well, it IS Thanksgiving, and I do feel very satisfied with everything and happy and hopeful about just being able to truly enjoy myself right here and now in such good company. We are an extraordinary gathering with our separate and shared worlds, each of us embarking every day on a future founded in the well-being of the present. The support of our honorable ancestors, whose spirits join us at the table, whose own hopes live on in us. I feel like dancing. This is a lively time. Things have been so very very bleak – lost ideals, terrible government, wars, blaming – and now it feels like this country is waking from a nightmare, remembering a different dream, hearing at last the cries of the wounded in our midst . And yet –
I cannot forget that GM is about to lay off thousands of auto workers in what are already places where poverty and despair are rampant – like Flint, Michigan. And I feel fury all over again at the mindless greed of the executives – the million-dollar CEO’s, the Big Oil people, who refused to prepare cars designed for efficiency and made instead the hideous SUV’s. So now they have to cut back the employees who couldn’t even afford to drive the cars they were making. There’s my outrage again. I am writing as fast as the drummer. It IS a bit frenetic.
Well, here we all are; my wish is that others would fare a teeny-weeny bit as well — that the life force in all things might flourish. May it be so. May it be so. Beauty above me, below me, at each side of me, before me, behind me. Blessed be. Happy Thanksgiving.