DATELINE: Thanksgiving Eve; November 25, 2020, from Lady Proverbs, somewhere on the Oregon coast
I was pretty sure that last year would be the final time that all of our family would celebrate Thanksgiving together. Dad could barely walk many days, and his radiation treatments and laying on the hard metal table made his face turn gray with pain, a back injury from his 20s haunting him as he lay prone. He would hold the vomit bag on his lap in the car on the way home. There were railroad tracks to cross in a few spots going back to their house and I would practically stop going over them as he winced in great pain and tried to lift himself off the seat.
Dad barely said a word on Thanksgiving 2019. Then three months later he was gone.
As we all celebrate our non- or small-family gatherings amidst this global pandemic, I’ve been thinking about the Thanksgivings of the past and the memorable times that rise to the top. The black olives that only came out on Thanksgiving in a little crystal dish, that us kids would put on our fingers and dance around, long before dinner as Mom put certain things out on the table in advance. They felt cool and snug on our little fingers and we’d be really careful not to split them. Sorry relatives, who ate the olives, not knowing about the grimy fingers that had used them as entertainment earlier in the day.
One year it actually snowed on Thanksgiving, a rarity in Portland. Kids in Portland freaked out when it snowed, as it wasn’t common. Mom would call us banshees as the excitement caused a mad scramble to find a matching pair of gloves buried in drawer in the dining room, boots and old winter coats. The house was trashed when we came back in, puddles of melted snow and a trail of coats, boots, gloves, hats and scarves across the dining room from where the sliding door was that led to the carport. We didn’t have a fancy house. Dad built it as a young brick mason, a ranch home to fit his growing parcel of kids. It could take it.
In my 20s when I lived in Africa, Thanksgiving was the hottest time of the year. One year a group of us Peace Corps volunteers gathered in the small kitchen of Eugeniusz who called himself Eugene. He was a Polish-born American PCV who had a countdown calendar of his days left as a volunteer and worked at a development bank. All of us toiled in the hot kitchen all day, imbibing in various types of alcoholic beverages and spleefs in the back yard. By the time the French-imported turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and tons of other food was ready, we were all so hot, tired and high we could barely eat. We waddled back to our homes later that night with the strange despair of volunteers who try and fail to recreate a holiday when 10,000 miles from home. It almost made the home sickness worse.
Having lived away from family a good part of my life, I’m no stranger to alone-Thanksgivings and Christmases. In Boston, good friends would invite us orphans to their celebrations. We were able to watch, detached, their family dynamics playing out in living color, some touching and some touched with their sadness, guilt and unresolved history.
This year, with COVID raging and Dementia Mom somewhere in her Storyland, plotting her next rescue of us or everyone in her memory-home, we will all give thanks on our own. Yet we are connected with our smart phones and our shared memories, thankful that we are all well, and knock-on-wood, remain COVID-free across our family. I am privileged in our temporary apartment, well fed, clothed, with healthcare and connections to the world with my computer and phone; a retired person now finding a new, meaningful path amid the details of construction loans, pre-fab homes, navigating healthcare and reconciling the loss of our parental units.
Happy Thanksgiving eve, one and all. Look for the beauty in your kids or grandkids eyes, the foamy, white surf of the ocean, the smiles exchanged with a grocery store clerk, and the angels we now call doctors and nurses. Rise now, rise.