It’s November. There’s an invigorating snap in the air, the nights are closing in early, and my mind turns inexorably to Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving isn’t what it was when I was a child. Back then there was time for Thanksgiving. Now before the last tiny ghoul has brought back a haul of Halloween candy, the department stores are hauling out the Christmas decorations and playing endless repeats of White Christmas on the Muzak. Thanksgiving feels as forgotten as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or the winter solstice. I find that sad for all these fine holidays. But the one that hurts is the one I look forward to all year long.
Oh, people have their reasons for giving Thanksgiving short shrift. The catalogue of injustices inflicted on the native peoples of North America cannot be denied. Thanksgiving does little for the profits of most businesses other than grocers and a few caterers. Every family has a relative it’s painful to sit down to dinner with. We’ve all seen hideous torture devices masquerading as turkey and pumpkin pie. Some of us are lonely. Some of us have barely enough to scrape by, and nothing left over to celebrate with. And Heaven help you if you’re the only vegetarian or diabetic or dieter at the table! And yet, I love Thanksgiving dearly.
Perhaps it’s that part of me that still remembers what Thanksgiving was when my late mother ruled the table with a generous and bountiful iron fist. The scents that wafted from the kitchen starting a week in advance and stay with me to this day; the annual battle to get the cranberry jelly to gel properly; my contribution of pie crust because it was pretty much the only thing in the kitchen my mother wasn’t good at…it’s all a part of my personal mythology and I want it again.
Perhaps it’s the part of me that was flexible enough to have a great time at the orphan’s Thanksgiving a friend held some years ago. The host provided turkey enchilladas and the rest of the feast was potluck provided by the guests. We ate whatever appeared, sat where we could find a place to land, and either talked or watched pirate movies, as the spirit moved us.
Perhaps it’s even the part of me that still resents the Atkins diet Thanksgiving I sat through once. I’d even have been fine with that if everyone hadn’t been so busy pretending that things were what they weren’t. When someone offers me mashed potatoes or lasagne, I expect mashed potatoes or lasagne. I do not expect pureed cauliflower or thinly-sliced zucchini sauteed lightly in butter. Don’t get me wrong; offered the cauliflower or the zucchini, I would dig in happily. I love cauliflower. I love zucchini. But if you offer me lasagne and then hand me sauteed zucchini, you will earn my eternal resentment. It simply isn’t cricket.
Mostly, though, I think it’s the reminder to slow down and take stock of what’s right in our worlds. Human beings have a nearly endless capacity to believe in a better tomorrow. We also have a nearly endless capacity to believe in a better yesterday, but that’s a topic for another day. What we most often lack, though, is the capacity to appreciate what we have right here and right now.
Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be about dry turkey, the inevitable green bean casserole, yams desecrated with marshmallows, or your aunt’s date pinching your butt and breathing rum and Coke in your face. It doesn’t have to involve meat or a biologically-provided family. It needn’t involve any of the traditional trappings of pilgrim hats and pageants about how we gave Squanto smallpox-infested blankets.
The point is to share what you have with someone you care about, and take stock of what’s good, in this place, in this time. It’s a reminder to be where you are for a moment and see what’s good about it.
Now, who’d like a slice of pumpkin pie?