Saturday, November 25, 2006



As far back as I can legitimately remember, the holidays included sucking at least one other family up into whatever the big holiday meal is. When my parents remodelled the house, one room became the dining room with a beautiful big table that comfortably seats 8 & can expand to 12 if we're really friendly. If there were too many, people just spilled over onto the kitchen table & maybe even to an extra put up for the occasion in the living room. Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas -- each of those holidays meant someone, some family, would be joining us for the meal, the day, the evening, whatever it was. Maybe all of the above! When I was really little, the crowd always included my paternal grandparents, whom I adored (Grandpa died in the early 80's) & who lived across the road from us, but even then there was almost always at least one family other than ours. It was not only a sharing of bounty, but a wallowing in the golden glow that good people & good friends & family can build around you. It was a reaffirmation of connection & belonging, and a sharing of all you had - not just the stuff, but the people, too.

When I was in college, my parents were going through their divorce & subsequent nastiness (particularly inside of me), & while I continued to go home for various holidays, I either did a WHOLE lot of bouncing around & sharing my friends' holiday traditions, or else I drug them home with me for company. One year in particular, I attended no less than TEN Thanksgiving meals in a single weekend. Whew. Over the years, there was never any question but that I could bring home a friend or two to share in the fun... in fact, there were a couple of friends that joined us more than once & were eventually told they would always be welcome, whether I (snotty little shit that I was at the time) came home or not. Mum meant it, too -- she has always loved & welcomed interesting people. In the back of my mind, I always think maybe I'll come home some holiday & Joe or maybe Jan will show up on the doorstep, having taken Mum's invitation of years ago to heart with a grin & a sense of great goodwill. Guess I get the "collector's" habit from Mum -- I only hope it continues to develop, since I find the collecting of good people to be an interesting and very rewarding habit to have.

So for Thanksgiving, there would be much food preparation, with EVERYone firmly shooed OUT of the kitchen. I might be called upon to help set the table and put ice in the big brown blown-glass water glasses, but Mum did the food herself. Mostly, the kitchen doesn't have a lot of room for bodies, & she hated having people underfoot. Big turkey, stuffing, yeast rolls, mum's corn casserole, pumpkin & pecan pie, some sort of wine and - a must - Party Potatoes. There were always other bits that changed over the years as people contributed to the bounty, but those things were required. Once Graham came along, we added roasted new potatoes & Bisto gravy to the list of musts... mmmmm. This year, we had the addition of honest-to-goodness mince tarts & mince pie made by Cousin-Auntie-Linda :)

After stuffing ourselves silly, the adults always sat around the table talking for awhile. If the weather was beautiful, we might go for a walk down the road a piece somewhere in there, & the afternoon almost ALWAYS included a nap for me :D (I'm a whuss - too much food, too many people. I love people around, but all those minds/personalities clamouring around me wears me out fast.) If Randy&Arlis were in attendance (like this year), we would at some point waddle into the next room - the big room - and gather around the piano to sing whatever sort of songs the holiday called for while Randy tickled the keys for a couple of hours. Over the years there may or may not have been additional accompaniment - guitars, flutes, trumpets, trombones... this year Todd quite credibly joined the fray with a guitar Tony had left behind on their last trip to America, and there is nothing I love better than some soft acoustic guitar! If day stretched into evening, or if the company wasn't musically inclined, then there would always be games of some sort drug out of the games closet. The ones I remember most charitably were Pictionary and some musical tune game (NOT Hummables) we played with Badgers & Muninis gathered around the table all those years ago. Finally, either with or without the ragged remnants of people who had not yet gone home, we might (oh, cross my fingers, please!) clear off the table & get out a puzzle, then spend the next couple of hours hunched silent over the pieces as we tried to turn cacaphony into sense. Please note: Puzzles at Mum's house are not cardboard Springbock mockeries, but real wooden puzzles that have survived the ages & are quite often cut with figurals and diabolical colour-line cuts and odd edges to thwart us. Thththhrhrrowrrrll !!

The last few years have brought about the entrance of "Christmas" on the day after Thanksgiving. My sister & I - who rarely agree, have together decreed that "Real" Christmas only truly happens at Mum's house in the red room. So since my sister & her family have had difficulty getting off work & making it the several hundred miles to Mum's house for both Christmas and Thanksgiving, we moved Christmas up a bit, tree, stockings, presents & all. It's really mostly for the little ones now, but there's always some little bit for the older folks too. One thing in particular to note -- my Grandpa died over 25 years ago, but he's not yet missed a Christmas. It's getting harder & harder to do, & each year now I expect to be the last... but every year, somewhere in the piles of presents has appeared some little remembrance for me of my Grandpa. A picture, his pipe, a Thresher's button found in a corner, a Prince Albert tin.... Mum has to be racking her brain & ransacking the house by now, so many years have gone by. Sometimes I think he's up there somewhere nudging some little thing into her hands at just the right moment. He was something, my grandpa - I know it not only because I remember him (as much as a kid can), but because Mum thought so too. She would not have possibly been able to keep this up over the years if she did not. In fact, as much as the two of us are alike, I'd venture to say that she had more of a connection with my Grandpa than she did with Dad. In a wholely different way, of course, but I think they must have touched souls, and I think the ache of his absence has never really left.

This year at Thanksgiving, we celebrated Thanksgiving at Mum's the night before. The day of, we (my sister & I & co) had lunch as a family with Dad & Verna, then for supper we all (the D&V side) trouped over to Badger's where we had been invited to share their family's Thanksgiving. That meal felt like the "real" Thanksgiving to me, with not only our blood relatives, but another family to share with as well... particularly since the other family in question is one I count as my own. After dinner, Jessica & I, & later Martin, were able to cozy up & chit chat... older adults in the one room, kids in another, & us inbetween. Time brings a surety of continuance that nothing else can replace, and as we sat there chatting in a house Jessica & I giggled in so many years ago, listening to OUR kids giggling and playing in the next room, I felt the tradition & the years wind & twine & bind us together in some sort of magic nothing but years and friendship can do.

Aside from those perfect moments that evening, the rest of the Thanksgiving holiday I very much felt the lack of the rest of my family. The way the rest of the world works be damned... in my world, family is comprised far more of the people I've taken into my heart & with whom I've filled my life than those whose blood runs through my veins. In years past it has been enough to touch base with them by phone, but this year that was not nearly enough for me. It was almost a physical ache to have two huge chunks of my family not present - I felt ripped & wrenched apart & torn over every single one of the miles that separated us. Each part has its own (blood) family traditions and obligations to fulfill, all in separate directions, but next year (Good Lord willin' & the creek don' rise), Stacy & John & I & anyone else who wants to help are planning to offer a Thanksgiving feast in our neck of the woods & intend to invite all our respective bits of family... and THEIR respective bits of family... to join us. Maybe they will, & maybe they won't.. and who knows what the next year will bring -- sometimes the thought of how far we might all fall apart in a whole year's time scares the skin off me. I know to accomodate, we'll have to do it on Saturday or something rather than Thanksgiving day itself... but I've learned over the years to move the day of the celebration, too. I would dearly love to have all my family - blood as well as loved, and all the people they love in turn - under one roof at one time at least once before we lose any of them. Mostly you only get that at weddings & funerals, but I'd really rather avoid the one, don't see the other coming, and Thanksgiving seems like a great time to make it happen.

Marco...... !