Nowhere But Up from Here
Dinner was ready to serve. Turkey, dressing, spices, pumpkin pie … the traditional Thanksgiving smells wafted through my sister’s small suburban home. It was nearly dark out. The cloudy day had dampened the sunset and our moods. We were not yet used to the shortness of November days in the Pacific Northwest.
It hadn’t been our brightest year. My sister had divorced, and she and her daughter were working through pain and acceptance. Our parents had divorced after thirty years of marriage, and even though we were young and independent adults, we were working through pain and acceptance as well. My little sister and I were unattached, so there were no significant others present, and being relatively new to the west coast, there were no holiday orphans to invite to the table. We’d called our Illinois relatives, two hours and ten offspring ahead of us, and their gathering was so boisterous that it had been difficult to hold a conversation.
But we were determined to celebrate the holidays as if all was right with the world, so we slogged our way through the preparations, trying to be upbeat, forcing ourselves to chatter and laugh and fill the empty spaces with sound. I felt giddy after two glasses of champagne, and with the table ready, I opened the window above the sink and bellowed outside: “Dinner time! Come on in, everybody! Kids, get moving! You, too, guys!” This was followed by raucous laughter from inside the house and a confused double-take from a neighbor who was out raking leaves, because there was no one to heed my call, no one in the backyard or on the deck, no fleet of cars in the driveway or on the street. There were just the five of us – mother, sisters, daughter/niece – and we buckled over and laughed until we cried, which was no surprise. The line between laughter and tears was especially sharp and thin at the time.
Eventually we dried our eyes and sat down to eat. The meal looked good on paper but bland on the table and tongue. It wasn’t as nurturing as we’d hoped it would be. It was sustenance, not much more.
Unlike today. We host “Early Thanksgiving” the Saturday before the real one, a move we made because the sisters and their husbands celebrate in Palm Springs, and the kids and grandkids have their own extended families who enjoy their presence on the actual holiday. There will be twenty of us, and it will be just this side of a madhouse, with fractured bits of shared news, spilled food, quiet conversations tucked in corners, petulant toddlers, and leftover food sent home in saved restaurant containers. Given the examples of my youth, it’s more than I ever expected to have.
But I remember that Thanksgiving at my sister’s with deep fondness, because now I know what’s coming.