Today I saw pictures of people celebrating Thanksgiving in various ways in various locations. My incredible sister made the full spread for her family and a friend, and I am certain she was up before six making stuffing for the turkey, the pies probably done from scratch the day before. She has an uncanny ability, as did our mother, to simultaneously make dinner as well as dessert, while cleaning them up at the same time. The ratio of the work she puts in to the time it takes to devour the fruits of her labor is completely out of whack, but I’m sure she not only doesn’t mind, she is most happy on days like this, as is our mother. On holidays she very much reminds me of her. Though the way she sits back and enjoys everyone enjoying the day is Dad all the way.
My brother, his wife, two thirds of their daughters, along with our mother and one son-in-law all went out to dinner in DC. This after driving from near Houston and stopping along the way to visit in-laws and play golf with my son and me. There are three men in the family for whom I have incalculable admiration for their kindness, ethics, and example: one is my father, one is my son, and the other without question is my brother. Plus, he was kind enough to let me win at golf, though we are both sure it was because of the clubs I used which used to be his. Today in DC I bet he is back at his daughter’s place and they’re all sitting around talking, planning whatever’s next. He, like my sister, picked up all the best traits of our mom and dad.
Yesterday we had turkey, flounder (one can’t live this close to the Chesapeake and not include seafood on any menu, usually oysters in the stuffing), and all the trimmings. I sat on the porch and listened to the Vikings/Lions game while the sun came and went in an otherwise mild day. And in the spirit of the day, I sat in complete appreciation of everything in my life, and some things not in my life at all: no suffering, no hunger, no want, no question life has been good. My scattered family were close to loved ones and I’m sure all taking a moment or two to remember Dad.
These are the moments my father lived for. Not work, not vacations, and not even golf, though some might dispute this last activity. No, hands down, my father’s life was family, especially around the holidays. He absolutely loved his children and was proud of us; he adored his five grandkids, and he could never contain his passion for his two great-grandsons. So when the holidays arrive, I miss him more than usual, which is already a lot. I have a love/hate relationship with holidays. I suppose everyone does at some point in life. It is beautiful to look ahead and see new generations experience new and old traditions for themselves, and the house is filled with laughter and football and the blending of aromas—that is the “love” part. We pass around the same old jokes and stories, and we add a notch every year with new adventures and ambitions, the faces of young family alive with promise. But sometimes I still wish my dad was inside carving the meat or talking to my brother about how Notre Dame is doing this year. So yesterday I took a moment to walk off by myself and remember.
It was my usual walk along the water and through woods that run past ponds and marshlands. It is a place of absolute peace, far from just about everything. Even the local market was closed for Thanksgiving so that if I did want something I would have had to drive fifteen miles to get it. I walked and thought about Thanksgivings when I was very young when so much of our extended family came to our house on the Island, and also in my early teens when just my paternal grandmother and aunt would celebrate this holiday with us. The day went much like how my sister’s day went this year, but in addition there would be football streaming from the living room, and dinner planned for about halftime, and wine, and the aromas of Bell seasoning or apple pie or turkey. Sometimes there would be light snow. Often just cold gray skies. When we moved south we could count on warmer, blue skies. My sister or I would slice the cranberry sauce. My dad carved. But he also spent some time in the margins, watching everyone enjoy each other. He would sometimes sit on the porch for a moment alone while everyone was inside talking, and he would sip a beer and talk to whoever came out for some quiet, which always included myself. I would catch him watching the river, or looking at the cardinals moving from tree to tree. Sometimes he was looking out, but sometimes I wondered if he was looking back.
I wonder if during those days when he stepped aside for a moment it was possible he was thinking about his beautiful childhood in Brooklyn, and his large family crowded around on holidays, his older brothers, his younger sisters, his Chesapeake Retriever. I know he wouldn’t trade the holidays we had for the world, just as none of his children would trade the ones we share with our own families. But when he stepped outside quietly and sipped his beer and looked off across the river, I like to think he was missing his father. Perhaps his childhood home on holidays was also filled with laughter and conversations and all the excitement that comes with it for a large family like his. And I wonder if back in his childhood, sometimes his dad, whom I never knew, might have sat off by himself, quietly, taking it in and enjoying his family enjoying themselves while my grandmother was making dinner, and he sometimes quietly looked out the window and thought about his youth.
It is an incredible gift to be thankful for what we have; I believe this is more rare than most of us know. But every once in a while in the mix of the young energy and the middle-life balance of planning and recalling, I like to step aside and remember why it is we do so appreciate family. It is because of Mom and Dad’s example. It is the absolute conviction that we can always count on the holidays to bring us closer to family and friends, both the ones we are surrounded by and the ones who went on ahead and are waiting, watching the cardinals move about, watching the river run.