Putting the "Thanks" in Thanksgiving
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
The following is an essay I wrote for Metrosource Magazine, and it got such an amazing reaction, I wanted to share it with you. No matter where you are for Thanksgiving, or who you are with (or without), I wish you much love, happiness and -- of course -- marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes!
The cutout of my hand was waving back at me, and I couldn't contain my tears.
It was the first Thanksgiving after my mother's death, and I had reluctantly gone to the basement to look through the orange storage containers that held our family's fall holiday dishes, mementos and decorations.
I had come as a test: Yes, or no to celebrating Thanksgiving this year.
There, on top, sat the childish art project my mother had helped me make decades earlier. I remembered her tracing my little hand onto a sheet of construction paper, before we cut it out and colored it to create a Thanksgiving turkey.
"Wade," my mother's looping handwriting stated on the turkey's belly.
The beautiful thing about my childish art project was that my mother had let me fashion pearls around the turkey's neck. I had also given the gobbler heels. It was more Carol Channing than Tom Turkey.
And it perfectly summed up my relationship with my mother. We celebrated each other's quirks and uniqueness without judgment.
I couldn't stop crying in the basement. I had failed my test.
"No Thanksgiving," I said to Gary, when he greeted me at the top of the stairs. "I can't do it."
He held me.
I just couldn't bear celebrating Thanksgiving without my mother. It was the first major holiday since her death, which still felt so raw.
My mother adored Thanksgiving.
She happily rose at dawn to start cooking. She loved to drink coffee and watch the Macy's Day Parade after fixing a big country breakfast.
She relished her Riesling.
And yet – like the turkey she helped me make as a kid – my mother was a juxtaposition of the traditional and non-traditional.
Yes, we did a green bean casserole with Durkee's French onions. Yes, we had stuffing. Yes, the sweet potatoes were topped with marshmallows.
But, my mom loved experimenting with one new dish each year: Fresh cranberries with dates, walnuts and orange. Or, a caramel-apple tart instead of a pumpkin pie.
Celebrating Thanksgiving without my mom would be like celebrating without the turkey. The thing I looked most forward to, the person for whom I was most thankful, was gone. I couldn't imagine simply enduring this holiday. It would never be the same.
As the weeks passed and Thanksgiving neared, Gary said to me one morning, before I'd had the chance to fully caffeinate, "We're hosting Thanksgiving, and all of your family is coming."
I spat my latte.
"No!" I insisted.
"Yes!" he persisted. "Your mother would want you to celebrate."
"I hate platitudes!" I yelled.
"It's the truth."
I Zombie-walked through the early morning prep for Thanksgiving and greeted my family in similar fashion.
When it came time to set the table mid-morning, I headed to the basement to retrieve the décor and my turkey cutout was still waving at me.
I lost it yet again.
"Think of how much your mother loved this holiday," Gary whispered to me, out of earshot of the family. "Why are you trying so hard to forget about her? Why don't you treat her like she's still here? Because she is. And she always will be."
His words resonated, changed me, almost instantly.
So, I went upstairs and sat a place at the table for my mom.
I put out my hand turkey as a centerpiece.
I ran to the store, where I picked up the ingredients to make fresh cranberries with dates, walnuts and orange, as well as a parsnips recipe she'd wanted to make for years but that the family had pooh-pooh'ed.
I watched the Macy's Parade.
I drank too much coffee and then too much wine.
I cried like a baby, and I laughed like a mad man.
Mostly, my family and I celebrated my mother, and when I gave thanks, I thanked my mom for being such a wonderful, loving, beautiful, quirky presence in my life.
And then I cleaned the dishes and put up the decorations, the little turkey cutout of my hand waving goodbye as I placed it on the top of the storage bin.
"Never goodbye," I said, returning its wave. "Until next year."