Ah, the holidays. Can’t stand them and love them all at once. But there’s one among them that, as much as I love food, I really rather don’t care for, and I think this turkey’s got it about right.
Everyone has an idealized set of childhood memories concerning Thanksgiving. For me it is bundling up and getting into the family auto with six other people, all balancing food items on our laps of varying temperature from scalding to freezing. Pissing each other off and yelling at each other at inhuman volume. Arriving at my aunt’s house and causing serious mayhem just getting in the door with all the goodies, what with all the kisses, more yelling, squeals of surprise and inevitably being told to get the hell out of the kitchen so that people could get this turkey of a holiday off the ground.
And those were the good times. Maybe that’s where I learned to avoid the holiday.
So much has changed. People are gone, faces have changed. We are all so much older, rounder. We are marked by our lifetimes of choice. We are happy not over the feasting and the merry mayhem. Not anymore. We are happy to be here for another year, having made it to the table one more time. In this we are if anything somewhat relieved.
For me every turkey is bittersweet no matter the goodness of the gravy. Fond remembrances of the past are well and good but it is the triumph of the now that makes Thanksgiving a valid holiday. And we can bring to the table our sense of humor that remains to us through yet another year; we can bring our laughter to season our mashed potatoes. We can raise a glass to all things past, all things present and to our hope for our future.
“My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor.”
– Phyllis Diller
The magic ingredient is that in coming together, we are more than just ourselves. And if we are not careful, the combination of a mind-altering turkey haze combined with carbohydrate overload and liquor saturation mean the ugly business of airing out grievances on the family stage.
Any grievances I may have or have ever had with family don’t belong at the table. For those of us trying to get through the day with only minor digestive upset rather than nuclear meltdown it helps to have someone who is not inebriated and understands the language of confusion when put forward loudly and with a slight slur.
That person is not me.
No, I long ago gave up the mania of attending family functions. For many, many years I was living on the west coast and could not attend these potentially explosive functions. And on moving back to the eastern seaboard I simply could not do it either because my unmedicated and wildly frightening response to the very idea was enough to render me incapable.
Now is a different story. Things have improved to the point where I can actually get through such events as a family dinner without screaming, “ABORT! ABORT!” and running to the nearest room with a lock on the door. I can make it to dessert. I can listen to my family without jumping up and yelling, “And you people think I’M crazy!” I can even spend time in my busy head thinking about something denied to me for ever so long: being thankful.
Thankful for each and every one of the lunatics I call family. Thankful I’m at the table listening to everyone’s conversations and getting to butt in at inappropriate times. Thankful there’s a majority of the people there who bother to say hello to me after the past years of my rampant insecurity.
I don’t celebrate the real reasons for Thanksgiving, which to me are politically, sociologically and religiously insane. I don’t celebrate any holiday that honors bad behavior on the part of our Colonial forefathers.
But I do celebrate each and every holiday that comes along as a chance to sit down at a table and marvel over my family and how I have changed to accept their love, however oddly presented and expressed. I celebrate the opportunity to sit next to my mom and marvel at the fact that among her favorite foods, cranberry sauce seems to be indispensable and required or there will be hell to pay.
I celebrate the fact that right around this time last year I met people who understood how to help me, who knew what to teach me and who stand guard in case I ever need them. I celebrate my mental health team because I could have been one of those missing faces at the family table. I could have been tremendous grief from the recent past brought forward to stain my family’s day of togetherness.
So from now on I will celebrate a Thanksgiving of sorts each and every day. I will remember how it used to be, when I starved myself of the love of family and friends before the bounty of life was put before me again. I will honor everyone in my own way for whatever reason, whether they are passed from me, whether they love me or not, whether they know or not how much I love them.
I will eat the turkey and the mandatory jellied cranberry sauce. I will smile when someone passes a big bowl of mashed potatoes. I will laugh and be forgiving, I will live in the moment, I will give thanks for each and every one of the lunatics I am proud to call my family.