I don’t recall traveling to my grandparents for Thanksgiving. Or roasting a turkey until I was married and already moved out. We must have, I suppose. I do, however recall that holiday as more of an adult affair bringing home boyfriends, eventually a husband and children, although we must have celebrated it when I was a child. It is quintessentially an American holliday, and my parents, while raising us Jewish were also raising us American. Not everyone celebrated Christmas, but everyone celebrated Thanksgiving. Putting aside the more recent and current political awareness and justifiable Native American concerns and years of invisibility, it was and continues to be the great unifier. As immigrants continue to come with their many and varied holidays and celebrations, the melting pot adds a turkey and sweet potato casserole to each of their tables, and we are all grateful. Everyone can, and should give thanks. Whether it’s to a Creator or to your family for being there or for your grandparents and great-grandparents for making this life of ours possible in whatever way they did, or just plain old ordinary gratitude for what we have and what we will continue to receive in this life. It really is so much more than Pilgrims and Indians, Mayflowers and planting corn and yams and more than turkeys, in the field or on the platter.
I also remember other family feasts – weekends at my grandmother’s for deli or Chinese food on paper plates, of course. Passover Seders, asking the Four Questions and mushing the gefilte fish with my fork; block parties, courtyard picnics and cook-outs. I imagine it’s like this for everyone regardless of cultural background, but food is everywhere in my childhood. Pizza on Springfield Blvd, and Cantonese on Horace Harding. Filipino at my babysitter’s, steak at Ed’s Warehouse in Toronto – a visit north wasn’t complete without dinner at Old Ed’s. Scuffling through fallen brown and orange leaves, walking to Dr. Herman’s office, then driving the two or three blocks to the drug store to buy cigarettes for my parents and possibly a pack of Chiclets for me and my brother; my sister was too young for gum.
Before my parents passed away, just over ten and eleven years ago, we would always visit them for Thanksgiving. We were lucky in our interfaith family that we decided early on not to make those tough choices of who’s house to visit for which holiday. Christmas was always my mother-in-law’s, so Thanksgiving was my mother’s. No muss, no fuss. Nine out of ten would recommend. It might have helped that my mother-in-law is from Northern Ireland and isn’t that big on commemorating the Pilgrims arrival to the New World. My in-laws would come to my parents’ house for the holiday also. It was almost as extended as when I was a child, at my cousins’ cousins’ house or my aunt by marriage’s father’s apartment, all of us squeezing in to seats all over the living room and kitchen, coming and going and never knowing who was related to whom or how. It was really a beautiful day, almost recreating that for my parents and then my children while we could. For them, with the grandchildren made it all the better.
When we bought our own house, we opted to stay home for Christmas, and with my parents gone, Thanksgiving is now at my mother-in-law’s. The kids miss a day of school, but scholl will always be there; family is more important and there are many lessons to be learned sitting around the table, getting things ready in the kitchen, and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, only an hour by train if we actually wanted to be there, and got up early enough in the morning for that to happen.
One missed exit, and we were driving down the Major Deegan, listening to our GPS navigator recalculate, and with each passing overpass marked with a green street sign, I was flooded; not with specific memories, but with emotions and feelings and memories of feelings of traveling these roads between my Grandmother Celia’s and my uncle’s house. Or to my aunt’s brother, John’s apartment. The back and forth of the Cross Bronx Parkway, and remembering a similar back and forth on the Cross Island to see Grandma Sadie, by way of the Douglaston Pkwy for awhile, the Little Neck and then the Cross Island when we moved to Long Island. The streets, a litany of a life long ago, hidden deep until pulled out by a traffic light, or a tall building or streets and avenues one after the other: Jerome, Tremont, Westchester, Castle Hill. My grandmother in the Bronx lived on Castle Hill. My Grandpa used to “walk” me in my stroller, me wearing a bunny ears hat, carrying a yellow Kodak film box, stopping at the basketball hoops and then turning around to go back. We passed the sign for the hospital I was born in (Bronx Lebanon). As I mentioned it, my kids were less than impressed. We passed the Bronx Zoo. It was just the sign, but my son still looked for giraffes. I still shiver when I think about the cable car going over the lions’ paddock.
As night fell, the aura of twilight and taillights, streetlights and traffic lights released the emotions of a long forgotten life, a world so apart and so different from the one my kids are growing up in. I struggle to give them that wonderful life, full of wonder and friends who were also family.
I’m thankful for so many things, but while today we are rushing to claim the Starbucks wifi (Grandma doesn’t have wifi or any internet), I will save tomorrow to list my gratitude amidst the rushing of Christmas shopping and mall traffic and list-making for the rest of the year.
Tomorrow is the day I want to remember my gratitude and b e grateful because that is usually the day we forget about it until next year.
Have a Wonderful and Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving.