I am such a sap.
I am constantly looking back at the past, seeing everything through the lens of happiness, remembering every event as if it has been airbrushed into perfection. I’m kind of a jerk about these things.
The problem is that I have had a truly remarkably blessed and lucky life. I am the proud owner of an actual happy childhood, complete with loving family and good meals and many laughs. For reasons that defy all logic, the forces of nature have gifted me with a happy marriage to a truly sweet and caring man. I am the mother of three young people whose company I honestly enjoy, and who gave me more joy in those growing years than any one person has any right to expect.
So when I look back, it’s only natural to remember the best of those times.
But that kind of looking back can be a curse, too. I am finding that out this Thanksgiving, as I find myself preparing for a holiday without my children. As I find myself steeped in nostalgia and a yearning for those lovely bygone years.
I am trying not to wallow, though, I really am! I am still very lucky and I know it. I will be sharing my turkey with three of my siblings and with my Mom. The food will be amazing, the wine will flow, the mood will be joyous. I’m wicked lucky, as we say in Massachusetts.
But my tiny brain will still keep trying to pull me back to the Thanksgivings of the past, when my kids were here to help me cook the meal. When I was the hostess and the kitchen was the center of the universe. Oh, those sweet, sweet memories…….
And so the purpose of this post, my friends, is to force myself to remember some of those past days with a slightly clearer eye. Not every holiday was a Hallmark card, after all.
I remember the year when I was a High School sophomore. Everyone was coming to our house for dinner, and I was standing in the kitchen in completely grubby clothes, moping around as only a teenager can, pretending to help my mother with the cooking. Suddenly the front door opened, and in walked my older brother, home from college with a friend who had nowhere to go for the holiday. A really, REALLY cute friend. I fled to my bedroom and hastily put on what I considered to be a very cool outfit (plaid wool skirt, boots, sweater…..it was 1971….). Pretty soon I was chatting with the cute friend, and before I knew it, he had asked me if I would go to the Homecoming dance with him that night. My brother and his girlfriend were going, and the guest didn’t want to be a third wheel. The only problem was that I hadn’t ever been on a date, and I was totally freaked out. To my horror, the entire extended family discussed the situation right in front of both me and the cute friend. I ended up going to the dance, mostly because I couldn’t believe that my handsome popular brother would be willing to have me along on a date. It was fun, but the memory still makes me cringe in adolescent shame.
And I remember the Thanksgiving when Paul and I lived with my parents once again. Our oldest, our Katie, was only ten months old. We had moved back home to save some money while Paul finished his doctorate, and it was a little bit tense as we tried not to feel like freeloaders. The day before Thanksgiving, Katie came down with a fever and was crying in pain. It turned out to be the first of many, many ear infections, and she was put on antibiotics. Unfortunately, she also cried and wailed all night, so we got literally no sleep. I remember sitting at the dining room table with all of the family around us, holding her on my lap as I tried to maneuver a bite of turkey into my mouth. I remember thinking, “Oh, dear God, just let me get to bed……” That whole holiday was nothing but a blur.
I remember the year when Mom defrosted the turkey only to find that it had gone bad. We had chicken thighs for Thanksgiving dinner that year.
Of course, I remember the year when I blew up the oven on Thanksgiving morning, and we had to cook our turkey on the grill.
It wasn’t always perfect, but it was always my family. I am thankful that I had them then, and thankful that I have them still. Even without my boys to share it with, I know that I am lucky to have a bountiful feast and a chance to celebrate with people that I love.
And one last memory, one that doesn’t really fit into the tone of this post, but is too good to pass up.
On Thanksgiving of 2001, just a few weeks after the horror of 9/11, we were sitting around the table at my parents’ house. My Nana was there, all 5′ 2″ and 85 pounds of her, digging into the food with her usual gusto. She couldn’t hear very well by then, and so she often made remarks that seemed completely random. I remember her taking a big bite of her dinner and smiling around at all of us. “Mmmmm, this is delicious!”, she declared. “If that Osama Bin Laden guy had good food like this to eat, I bet he wouldn’t have been so nasty.” There were ten seconds of absolute silence as we all exchanged shocked glances, then 25 people simultaneously broke into absolute gales of laughter.
I still chuckle when I picture my little Italian Nana orchestrating an airlift of lasagna into Tora Bora.