Of all the major holidays, I've always had the least complicated reaction to Thanksgiving. Christmas makes me crazy, Easter makes me feel depressed, Passover confuses me, Halloween made me feel conspicuous, Labor Day seems irrelevant (I'm a writer, not a laborer), New Year's reminds me I'm not a kid anymore, and Arbor Day, for all its promise, leaves me a little cold.
But, Thanksgiving -- Thanksgiving, for me, means mostly good things.
My earliest memories of Thanksgiving as a special day center around family, spent with my mother's brothers and sisters and my cousins. My dad would get the old Hudson out of the garage (which in itself was a rare event, since we lived in Brooklyn and rarely had reason to drive anywhere), pack up my sister and my mom and me, and off we'd go to the wilds of eastern Queens and Long Island.
Most of those Thanksgivings we spent at my Uncle John and Aunt Lillian's house, I believe; some, at Aunt Elinor and Uncle Archie's; and some at Aunt Anne and Uncle Joe's. My mom had four brothers and sisters, and each of those had an average of 2.5 children, most in the same five-year age range, so it was quite a crowd, particularly when you consider the size of the average middle class home in those days. (Sixteen hundred square feet max, is my guess.) How the aunts managed to mount such an event on an annual basis (and sometimes, bi-annually, since we also spent most Easters together) is beyond me. The fact they managed to do so with reasonably good humor is a testament to their sense of family. And it's one of my fondest memories from childhood.
So, when I think of Thanksgiving, I think of those family events, and while my own family is now spread across three thousand miles of a very large continent, Thanksgiving remains for me, a celebration of family.
Of course, my definition of family has changed over time. My blood family remains at the center, naturally (Karen, Cara, Rachel, and now Eric, Cara's fiance; Peggy, Jimmy, Erin and Liz), but my sense of family has expanded to include those friends who've been part of my life for many years. Chosen family, if you will. So, many members of my blood family are far away, those of my chosen family will be here to share Thanksgiving with us -- in a way, on their behalf.
Like I said, Thanksgiving is the one holiday that evokes an uncomplicated reaction in my heart.
It's just the celebration that gets a little complicated...
Sunday, September 17, 2006
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