When my kids were young, Halloween was my favorite holiday. With little spent in time or money, the night ended with costumes askew and each child’s candy hoard spread out and sorted on the living room floor. Apples disdained, chocolate eaten with abandon.
It seems right that Thanksgiving should be next in line for favored holiday status, a time to remember all that is most treasured, friendships and family, and savor favorite recipes. Seems right, but is not quite true.
Later today I will join with loved ones and we will all be smiling as a sumptuous meal is presented, but I know I will have to purposefully hold myself back from a focus on who is no longer at the table. Perhaps I will talk about him, casually, even telling funny stories about his carving exploits, and I will be able to breathe again. But after a time I know I will want to go home, be alone with my thoughts, and allow my practiced smile to dim.
Last year my older son phoned and sensed my mood as the day waned, a mood which he said he shared. We reminisced about years long past, the annual early Thanksgiving morning drive to the Chicago suburbs, the kids snug under blankets dozing in the back seat, then waking as dawn lightened the sky. On reaching the halfway mark, we pulled into a familiar roadside restaurant for pancakes and hot coffee.
The aroma of the feast filled the air when we reached our destination. Cousins fairly tumbled over each other in joyful reunion, as the Larsen clan gathered in the small prairie town where some still live. Too many of us to all sit together except around the ping pong table in Aunt Joan’s basement, hot dishes carefully carried down a dimly lit steep cellar stairway. Babies passed from arms to arms, giving new parents respite.
How many times did this scene replay? Until one day our children returned to their childhood home with their own small people carried aloft on shoulders grown broad and strong. The familiar aromas were then in my kitchen, which was soon crowded with helping hands. As the day waned, Len and I would leave for an evening walk, hand in hand in the cold winter air.
Soon another Thanksgiving Day will have passed. Everywhere I’ll hear: How was your Thanksgiving?
The response: Great!
My response: Fine.
In this answer there is both truth and undisclosed sadness, and I know not just my own. For every family there is a story to be told that the holiday evokes, remembered pleasures and joys, some sadness, some regret.
Oddly, I almost savor my melancholy mood, for it intensifies the moments remembered. Would the losses be so mourned, if less precious?
But, if I were king of the world, once the expressions of gratitude Thanksgiving brings to our thoughts and our words are again a memory, we would now fast forward to the first of next year, and bypass all the holiday merriment of December. How humbug is that?