Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.
This is my lucky thirteenth turkey day, and with each one, I find more reasons to be thankful.
When I was a young pup, Foley and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house. It was filled with family and the best of all babies. Oh, how Foley and I loved babies! They are humans in the purest form. Everything we do delights them. Their small, soft hands are perfect for petting. And, they always dropped delicious food on the floor, which we happily scoffed up.
When mommy had her knee surgeries, the grown children decided to rotate the holidays at their houses. That was the death knell for the big family get-together. Once Thanksgiving is held at the kids’ homes, they began to wonder why they had to invite their brothers, sisters, and their obnoxious kids. Gradually the holiday becomes just the immediate family until the mom can’t cook any longer, and then it gets split up between their children’s houses, and the pattern begins again. Years after their mother last lamented her kids not getting together at the holiday; the children realize why she despaired.
My parents look back fondly on their youth when they were crammed into their grandparents’ tiny houses, or, as they were called at the time, houses. There were aunts and uncles wrapping their nieces and nephews in uncomfortable, hugs, and distributing wet kisses. The girls would either try to help in the kitchen, where their efforts were not fully appreciated, or find a bedroom where they drew, colored, played, and were reminded why cousins were better than friends. The boys went into a crowded room where big men sat on small chairs or crammed onto couches to watch football. Every five minutes, one of the uncles would ask their nephews to get them a beer. There was a refrigerator in the basement stocked with Narragansetts. The boys would walk down the crooked, uneven, cellar stairs into the musty basement, take one more beer, then they could confidently carry from the stash, climb the stairs, and like a nervous dog playing fetch, bring the beer to the rapidly intoxicated uncles.
Every year, precisely at halftime, dinner was served. The kids sat on mismatched chairs around a card table. They had to remember to keep their feet on the floor. If one inadvertently swung and connected with the wobbly table legs, everyone would be wearing soda. There was a hierarchy at the kids’ table. The oldest was in charge, and they practiced for when they would host the holiday. This consisted of telling their younger peers not to kick, hit, reach, or talk with their mouths full. This was good practice for the younger children, especially those who would someday be eating holiday meals in prison.
The adults gathered around a long table too small for the group. Sometimes there would be two tables of uneven height covered by one table cloth. A pair of unfortunate souls would have to sit where the tables met and find a place to rest their feet around the two table legs, both centered on their crotches while balancing their plates on the uneven surface. If your place was set with your back to the wall, a trip to the bathroom before sitting was necessary because you would be trapped until the last pie was cut and served.
Dinner progressed slowly. By the time the first dinner had completed their meal, the last was being served. Seconds were forbidden until firsts were served.
There was plenty of extra food unless you were trapped with your back to the wall. Then you were reduced to personifying Oliver begging for more.
After the tryptophan kicked in, the kids were anxious to go home. The adults gathered in the living room, traded stories of what happened the past year, and reminisced about growing up in “The Village.” There were no phones, no computers, no Instagram: Photos were things you brought with you in a small, thick album. The spouses tried to join in, but with each story, they were more excluded until they retreated to the kitchen to nibble on leftovers and lament their designation as “the others.” Sleeping kids would be jolted awake by an aunt with a camera and flashbulb emitting the equivalent of a nuclear flash. 'You were so cute sleeping," the photo-taking Aunt said. The question "why didn't you just let me lie here," would go unanswered.
Finally, the family went their separate ways. The trip home was interrupted by a stop at the Fotomat to drop off the film with the hope that a couple of the shots would be good enough to be shared the following Thanksgiving.
Today Thanksgivings are supposed to be better, as is everything in the modern world. But, with the people so connected now, there are no new stories, no unknown occurrences, no pictures unseen, no mysteries photo of a guy in military uniform with his arm around your mom. Now every picture is identified with hashtags and links to more pictures of the subject.
Just as I would like to go back to when we had a house full of babies, I think my parents would like to go back to those simpler, crowded Thanksgiving.
At least we have our memories.