Over the River and Through the Woods…

Thanksgiving is upon us and I have premature Scrooge syndrome. I blame my co-worker. The one who enthusiastically exclaimed she couldn’t WAIT for Thanksgiving. So EXCITED to host her “orphan” dinner with friends and travelers and random stragglers who have nowhere to go. Her eyes actually twinkled. I could almost see her exquisite menu scroll lightly in their shine.

“And you… what are you doing?”  Shrug. “Going to my mom’s…it’ll be nice….” Sigh.

I am thankful for my family, my pets, the roof over my head, the rain on the roof…

I am not jaded by my memories of Thanksgivings past. They were fine. Typical. Most annual turkeys have been served in the childhood home. Aunts, uncles, cousins, cousin’s kids and canine cram into the small Midwest farmhouse festively infested with country crafts. The men watch the game, the women watch the kids, the kids brave the steep stairs that climb up to the toys. Every year, the turkey goes in at the butt crack of dawn, and every year, Mom wonders why it’s done so early? And why Aunt Sharon isn’t here yet? Well, we say under our breath, lips pursed, we’ll just have to eat without her.  Aunt Sharon manages to arrive before carving time. Sing Johnny Appleseed, dig in, make dump salad jokes. Remember when Brent broke the bench but saved the dump salad? God, I’m so uncomfortably full, who wants pie? “Ugh”, my mom exhales at the end of the day, “this is probably the last year I’m going to have it here.” 

I am thankful for my health and Wisconsin micro-brewed beer. I am thankful for Stephen Colbert.

My “orphan” Thanksgivings began in ’91 in Seville, Spain. We gathered at Alex’s house in Nervion. A mezcla of locals and expats, lisping on about pavo and what- is-the-Spanish-word-for-stuffing? A pasty white New Englander named Jeffrey who, if you closed your eyes, had the uncanny voice of a Southern black man, exclaimed “that is some hot mutha’ f*ckin’ ajo in those tomatoes!  JO-der! ”  Years later I found myself in San Diego fussing over 25 lbs. of  rapidly desiccating poultry. My friend Shiri “helped”, by nervously putting every cooking utensil I used into the dishwasher the second I set it down. Dinner started with a civilized toast, and ended with “There Once was a Man from Nantucket…” in a raucous chorus of 25 voices, one for every pound of that dry-ass bird.   

I am thankful for indoor plumbing, organic carrots, fine-tipped Sharpies, and gay men.

Orphan memories of dancing wildly after dinner, bellies full of great food, heads full of fine red wine. Of playing hopscotch on an outdoor patio in 70 degree weather. Of scintilating conversation. Of singing “Piano Man” at the top of our lungs. Of potluck dinners with gourmet cooks, vegetarian dishes, dishes to pass, joints to pass.

But I would call home every year.  I could hear Uncle Gary in the background, telling it like it is, and Uncle Tony telling him why not. I felt that lonely, empty ache in my gut. I wish I were there. My intuitive mom would reassure me, “It’s hectic and loud…this is probably the last year I’ll have it here.”

I’d venture home on rare occasion, “Yes, I’m still single….no, I’m not seeing a woman, even if cousin Sara thinks you’d all be ‘fine’ with that…”  I head back, next year an Albuquerque turkey topped with green chile stew.  

I am thankful my husband came home alive from Iraq. I am grateful my son’s tic calmed down this week.

Seven years back in the motherland and my voice in the Thanksgiving plans is but a hoarse whisper. I recall those orphan days with an ache. I wish I were there. My brother and sister got off scott free this year, I am the sole representative. Do it for me, she says, this is probably the last year I’m going to have it here. I add green beans to my grocery list. Bacon. Defrost roasted peppers. I dust off the slow cooker, Mom’s oven is too small for multiple casserole dishes.

I hear the catch of excitement in my son’s breath as I tuck him in and remind him to pack tomorrow for grandma’s house. I can feel his smile penetrate the dark. I can almost see the reflection of dump salad shining in his eyes.

I am thankful for my mom.  I am thankful for my mom. I am thankful for my mom.

I am thankful for Johnny Appleseed, and the dry turkey and the nervous chaos and the where’s-Aunt-Sharon. I am thankful that my son has a tradition. I am thankful for that warm, roasted smell of my childhood home on Thanksgiving Day.

 I am grateful that even a Scrooge will always be welcome.