Don’t Be a Turkey

I found a photo between the refrigerator and cabinet. It is curled on the edges and the colors are slightly faded. The scene is from 11 eleven years ago, our large family gathered on the side lawn of my cousin’s house where we gathered for Thanksgiving. It should be blown up, in a fancy frame next to the one from last year, where my grandmother the matriarch sat front and center with half the family. The finding is fortuitous as we get ready for this holiday weekend. The dining room table is stacked high to over flowing. Homemade crostini, wine, Jezebel, nuts&blots made the old-fashioned way, in the oven (with margarine). Parkas, Sunday dresses, and Christmas presents: a step stool, a Jake and the Never Land Pirates boat, a bracelet. The refrigerator downstairs is stocked with dip, cream cheese, sour cream and more wine. We are preparing for a journey, up 95 with the rest of the country. Our “guest” room belongs to our youngest daughter and thus the other unused room in the house serves as the staging area for our trek to Connecticut to see The Cousins. We were a young married couple, from Richmond, the last time we did this in 2001. The last cousin had married the summer before and then the world blew up that September and we were all a bit sentimental to form new family traditions and cement old memories. The Kids Table was taking over, hosting in a younger generation house and all contributing to the meal. We were 17 3/4 strong that Thanksgiving -our hostess giving birth 4 days after the guests left.

I made this same journey every year of my childhood for both Thanksgiving and Christmas to see The Cousins. My mother would lay everything out in the guest room (there were just 2 kids in my family) starting the day after Halloween. Ice skates always went in as my grandfather lived on a pond in backwoods Greenwich and it usually iced over before the turkey was cooked. The adults would don skates in formal Thanksgiving meal attire, ties, blazers, and long overcoats. One year my mother was sure it would be too warm for the pond to freeze so she saved herself the effort of finding our skates in the attic. Mistake: a Nor’easter blew in the night we got there and skating happened the day after. Skates were found for everyone but me, my age 7 sized foot too small. But you can skate in sneakers, especially if they are Zips. They are just a lot more slippery and you have to fall to stop. I have a photo of my grandfather standing in his fur-lined Chesterfield,  holding my hand, letting me glide around him in circles. My engineer father would do major projects on his Dad’s property, getting out the electric chain saw and loving an excuse to chop things down in the woods. Then a photographer would come and capture the moment. Those large groups of people I love, standing amidst fallen crunchy leaves hang on my parents’ walls.

These memories of people, MY people, are strong and rich like a good gravy stirred from the drippings of a well roasted bird. By no means are they perfect. I remember the time my cousin and I punched each other during a game of Ghost in the Graveyard. I was bragging, having evaded her  for a third trip around the house and she was pissed. She punched me and I tattled. We were both sent to her room while the Moms were told by their mother how terrible the parenting was. (My cousin and I were, by that point, upstairs giggling at how silly grownups are). There were the annual money conversations where my grandfather would ask my Dad and uncle into his office, close the doors, and discuss the economic status. I have always wondered what truly was discussed and whether it was straight dictation or a true conversation. The doors would open 30 minutes later and the meeting would adjourn, no details shared with the rest of us. It seemed very grown up too. One year I was admonished from Christmas Eve dinner for giggling, uncontrollably, during the grace. No idea what was so funny I just know the more I bit my tongue to try and stop the more my gut rolled and tears streamed down my face. I didn’t even care I had to skip spaghetti but I was devastated to be allowed out of captivity only to find all the new fangled ice cream treats called a Klondike bars had been eaten by the other kids and the Dads.
And there are the funny stories too like eleven years ago when my husband had so many Dark and Stormy’s on Turkey eve with my cousin Perry, he could barely keep down the stuffing the next day. Last year half of the family gathered in Charlottesville with my 95-year-old grandmother. She is still with us but too weak to make any journey. I feel a bit guilty thinking of her in the nursing home, eating a mooshy bland meal with jarred cranberry jelly. Her mind is still with it at points but I hope she sleeps through the Turkey buffet. She would find it tacky. My oldest daughter and her cousin made a fabulous puppet show and dance. The production was proof, sometimes two chiefs can work together.

Traditions. Why do we do it? It takes a hell of a lot of effort, money, and patience to gather. But I have a theory. I think we keep recreating snippets of our childhood, hoping to modify it a bit, keep the good and toss out the bad. It’s a great big “Do-Over” if you will, the chance to be a better self while still sharing our own imperfections with those who have been added to the clan. It is our glue, the thread, weaving different patterns and fabrics together to fortify us from the dailiness of a crazy spinning world. I think there are some guidelines to a happy holiday so here my suggestions:

1. Spend a lot of time outdoors. Grown-ups and kids. Most towns have turkey trots now. Six of us signed up to run this year. Nothing like 5 miles before a big meal. But if running isn’t your thing, take a walk, kick the season’s colorful foliage, sit in a rocking chair on a porch. Breath in crisp air.

2. Make the effort. To get there. To be Happy. To be Kind. To snap the family photo (not everyone has to be looking at the camera). To make a fancy cocktail, signature dish or whole meal. Get the good stuff out. There are probably enough people around to help with the cleanup. Besides when else are you going to use all the stuff you had to write wedding thank you notes for?

3. Surround yourself with people. Even if you are an introvert. It doesn’t have to be all day. You can curl up with a book for most of the afternoon. But sharing is part of being alive. If you don’t have family and are not a cook, go to a soup kitchen or nursing home and serve food. Find a church service. Share the gift of yourself.

4. Stop to be thankful. For what you have. For what you don’t. If it isn’t what you want, vow to change it by next Thanksgiving.

5. Tired is not an emotion. I have stolen this idea from Glennon Melton and am obsessed. Tired is often a mask for hiding emotions. Emotions are tiring but when we name them and share them -with our selves, our God, or our partner- we have a lot more energy to feel. And that allows us to be open to new, happy memories

Tomorrow morning I will drop the kids at school, fill the car with gas, and pack the trunk. I will assure the dog he is coming with us. Load the ipod, pack the dvd player (it is a ten hour drive y’all). I will fill the cooler with my southern recipes shared by my new peeps: pimento cheese, yeast rolls, pickled okra, and stuffed jalapenos. Swing by Cooper’s for some barbecue because Yankees think barbecue means burgers on July 4. I will check the glove-box 4 times for the E-Z Pass since there are seven tolls between here and Southport. I will remind myself not to yell at the drivers or the traffic. I will triple check the camera is packed. Our crew has changed a bit since the one I just found on the kitchen floor. We have added NINE to the new generation, topping at ten cousins. Bob, my grandmother’s husband is gone and she of course will be alone in Virginia. Greg’s parents will be in Pinehurst. We have added Guy and Lisa. The backyard has changed but my hair is surprisingly similar though there have been many renditions between then and now. I see us on the slate patio with the Long Island Sound in the background. Inevitably someone will not look at the camera. A few will have half-mast eyes. Someone may be fuming from some comment about where to put the gravy boat or water goblets. But we will be together and it will create a new memory for me and my kids. Happy Thanksgiving.



3 responses to this post.

  1. just beautiful. i could see the whole thing. and i am honored that the yeast rolls will make the trip. (at least i think that’s what i shared with you.) have a happy day. do all you intend and more. hug everyone. and i will do the same.


  2. Great list, good reminders! Thanks for sharing, love your writing!


  3. Posted by Mary Snow Crawley on November 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Absolutely beautiful and perfect. Safe travels and hugs to all of you!


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