Thanksgiving Past

When I was a very young girl, my mother let me skip the last day of school before Thanksgiving. How I loved those days.  A break from the ordinary, the air thick with anticipation for the fun, food and family that was to come.  
Every Thanksgiving, my family and my aunt’s family would alternate houses.  It was a fact, a given we relied on without question.  Thanksgiving would be either here or there.  No where else.  I can still see my mother in our kitchen, white phone in hand, coiled wire stretching to wherever she was, planning menus with her sister, gossiping about in-laws.

It was great having a big crowd at our house, but so difficult waiting for their arrival.  When would they get here?  The slowest morning ever!

If we were the guests, we’d get in our car bright and early for the long two hour drive to my cousins’ house out among the New Jersey cornfields.  Some years we’d detour through the Bronx (NYC) to pick up my grandparents and after four hours and a couple of bouts of car sickness, we’d arrive to a house full of cousins, games in the basement, platters of food, a warm kitchen and our moms — Two sisters, together again, chatting non-stop.  We’d stay very late, fall asleep in the car and talk about doing it all over again next year.

Over the years, the usual crowd scattered about.  My brothers often went to their wives’ families. My aunt had died swiftly and horribly from breast cancer.  My mother had dealt with her own diagnosis, but persevered, flourished for a long time and a happy Thanksgiving could still be found in our house.  I would leave my Manhattan apartment for the comforts of home, a long weekend with nothing to do, but eat, sleep and hang with family until it was time to go back to my insular world in the city.

One year my mother was too sick from her breast cancer recurrence to host Thanksgiving and didn’t feel up to going anywhere.  My brothers were off with their growing families and I had been invited to spend the weekend with my boyfriend’s (husband to be) family.  I wanted to go, but felt the pull of my parents alone on Thanksgiving.  I remember my father asking what I would do.  He said we’d have Thanksgiving.

The lure of a familiar Thanksgiving was too great.  Visions of it blotted out reality and when I arrived Wednesday night I was annoyed to find a dark, quiet house.  No bustle, no music, no warm smells wafting from a bright kitchen.  Not even a cold turkey taking up space in the refrigerator.

Zero signs of a happy life.  Just screeching evidence of one ending in a bed down the hall.

I’m not proud of my next moments.  Instead of understanding, pitching in, cooking, helping any way I could, I took the role of petulant child and gave my father grief for ruining my holiday.  I could have been somewhere with people celebrating, laughing…not dying.

There was no Thanksgiving here.

The words I said to my father still sting in my memory.

“Now, I’m stuck here for the whole weekend.”

I remember his justified anger, his voice breaking, “Thanksgiving, it’s her last one.”

I knew that…somewhere inside, but maybe by wrapping myself in memories of Thanksgiving past I could ignore the devastating situation that was playing out right in front of me.  Pretend it wasn’t truly happening and the unthinkable wouldn’t, couldn’t be real.  But, of course, it was and even the strength of denial couldn’t stop it.

Less than 4 months later she was gone.

I want to say I’m sorry.  Sorry for being so bratty.  Sorry for acting as if my good time was more important than my mother or my father, who took such amazing care of her.  Sorry for the words left unsaid on that day, on many days…

Happiness is not a divine right and sometimes life craps all over it, but it’s ingrained in me to be thankful for my childhood, for the love two sisters had for their families.  Thankful for the joyous anticipation I still feel and am trying to instill in my own children as Thanksgiving approaches.  As my mother did for me.

I’m thankful for my family and friends, near and far.  I’m thankful for NED and most certainly for the house full of people I’m lucky enough to surround myself with on this special day.

One, so very different, so very far from that dark, quiet house 12 years ago when there was no joy. I wish I could let it fade away, wipe it from my brain and focus on the many other days that bring me to still love this holiday.  Love it as my mother did.

I’m working on it.

And to all of you who read my words,

I am so thankful for you and your unwavering support and encouragement.  I wish you your best Thanksgiving yet.