Thursday, November 24, 2005
And so another Thanksgiving goes into the record books.
I'm sitting in front of my computer, stuffed to the gills and listening to "Porgy and Bess" (?) on NPR. All the guests have gone and my Aunt Margaret just called to thank me and my sister for a wonderful time.
Most of the cleaning is done, I put out the trash, left some food for Flash, my alley cat amigo, and, praise the Lord, I don't have to work tomorrow. Can't remember the last time I had the Friday after Thanksgiving off and I am truly thankful for this, I can tell you.
This is the first holiday celebration we've had at home since my mother died three years ago. Prior to tonight we always went to restaurants for the holiday meals because my sister and I couldn't bear the thought of sitting at the dinner table and looking at my mother's empty chair.
But some time has passed, and to be honest, my father really isn't in good shape to go out. He's looking frail lately and with the problem he's been having with incontinence, well, it just seemed like a good idea to stay home on the range.
We got a local restaurant to cater the dinner (for a mere 300 bucks) and had nine people over here. In addition to my aunt, the guest list included my cousin, his wife, and his wife's parents.
My friend Stephanie came down from Hartford and I warned her that it might be like eating in a senior citizen home, but she was okay with it and seemed to fit right in with this bunch. If I were her, I'd be worried...
It came off pretty well, though the squash could have been a little warmer. Joan and I were so worried about burning the food, we only heated it up for a short time. Still it was good stuff and I didn't have time to cry over my mother, since we were both so busy putting the meal together. I guess that's what her holiday meals were like, always jumping up and getting things for people.
I usually hate it when people speak on behalf of the dead, but I know my mother wouldn't have wanted anyone crying over her when we were supposed to be enjoying ourselves.
I associate my mother more with Christmas, but Thanksgiving always brings memories of my Aunt Loretta. She was my father's sister, a great, heavy women who lived in this old apartment building in upper Manhattan where my father grew up. We'd ride all the way up on the West Side Highway and walk up all those flights to Loretta's apartment, where you could smell the food cooking from two floors down.
Show me Some Love
Loretta would waddle out of the kitchen crying "Happy Thanksgivin'!" and squeeze the beejesus out of me. I was a little kid and I always looked forward to Loretta's WWF-style bear hugs. It made me feel safe, it made me feel loved. I remember one year my father telling me to get "dolled up" (dressed nicely) because Loretta was so sweet on me.
My siblings and I would play with our cousins while the adults drank and usually argued about something. The house would get so warm we'd open the windows and let some cool air flow into the apartment.
I remember one year when my father was feeling no pain, as the expression goes, and he decided to torture my aunt's cat. Every time the cat walked by him, he'd reach down and pick it up by its tail. And every time he did, Loretta would come flying out of the kitchen shouting "you stupid sonaofabitch!" in her surprisingly high voice and proceed to pound the hell out of my father with her massive hands. Then he'd do it again.
Now so many of those adults, including Loretta, are gone. The one's who have survived can't do much for themselves and they certainly can't host dinners. I remember talking with my mother after Loretta died and we both agreed Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without Loretta running the show. But we moved on, the children have moved up a notch in the holiday pecking order to the adult level with all its responsibilities.
I miss the ones who have gone, but I like helping out the ones who are here. What the hell? I can't be a child forever, though I confess I'm making a pretty good stab at it.
The old timers don't fight like they used to, which is about the only good thing I can say about aging. No screaming matches or drunken arguments. We just feed them and put them to bed. I feel badly for my cousin's in-laws. They are so old, so frail and frightened, both of them need walkers. Is this what the Golden Years are all about?
For years I used to work on Thanksgiving Day. I was a reporter at the Pocono Record and since somebody had to work on the holidays, I made a deal with my bosses to take Thanksgiving with the understanding they'd leave me the hell alone come Christmas. (I worked one Christmas Day in Connecticut and it was freaking horrible.)
One Thanksgiving in Stroudsburg I went over to a church to cover the dinner for the poor and homeless. I normally wore a dress shirt and tie at work, but since it was a holiday and none of the suits were around, I put on some old jeans and a work shirt.
When I got to the church, the hostess approached me with this huge, warm smile and said in these soft, gentle tones, "hi, how are you?" Immediately I knew she had sized me up as a homeless guy and I quickly identified myself. I'm here to cover this thing, lady, not to take a seat, okay? I tell that story a lot, and I told it tonight, and I always get a big laugh.
But maybe I should have played along and sat down at a table with people who really knew what hard times are like. I could get their stories without them knowing it, which may be underhanded, but I may have gotten a clearer, more honest picture of what it's like to rely on the kindess of strangers for your holiday meal.
These people didn't have a loving Aunt Loretta to cook for them and to squeeze them to her breast. They just had the church and each other I guess. And some days that looks pretty good.
I don't have a family on my own and at times like these I wonder what will happen to me if and when I reach my golden years. Maybe I'll wind up at a church dinner, with no one but the other strangers at the table. And if I do I'll thank God for whatever they put in front of me and wink up toward heaven at Aunt Loretta.