Sunday, November 20, 2016

West Coast Thanksgiving

I’ll always remember my first Thanksgiving on the west coast.

If for no other reason, I’ll remember it for contrast.

You see, for the first eighteen years of my life, Thanksgiving was stationary. My father cooked a turkey and the same set of sides each go-round: stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce. An hour or two before dinner, he would call me into the kitchen to eat liver from the turkey--a delicacy the two of us loved and that no one else in the family could stomach. Thanksgiving was also the lone day of the year when, rather than going to my Grandma Jean’s house to visit with her, she would come to us. My sister and I showied off our collections of stuffed animals and engaged in conversation with her through them, and then tried to guide her through the play of Super Mario Bros. or, years later, a PC golf game. And Grandma Jean--she demonstrated remarkable patience. A willingness to listen and go along for the ride that I took for granted at the time and that, to this day, I hold onto as the most important lesson she role modeled for me about how to be a good to children (or anyone really).

Things shifted by degrees in the years to follow, after my parents separated, after my sister stopped coming home, after my grandmother passed away, and when I started dividing time between my biological family and my best friend’s family that lived down the street, and then, for a few ill-advised Thanksgivings, making the split three ways between those two households and family of my girlfriend at the time--the most memorable incident of which culminated in me vomiting in the backyard at home (the result of a combination of over-eating and a few too many glasses of smooth orange-infused vodka), only to go inside and dine on the third and final feast with my old man.

New traditions came and went. Three years of starting the day volunteering at a soup kitchen, five years of not going home, but rather traveling to be with a larger swath of family--reconnecting with them all after years of little contact.

Then I moved to Oregon to go to grad school.

I held out hope about returning to the east coast for Turkey Day, but as the holiday loomed it became apparent that between my teaching schedule and the cost of flights, the best I could realistically hope to do would be to touch ground on the east coast in the late afternoon Thanksgiving day, only to have to fly out again in the early morning a couple days later. I couldn’t justify it.

Heather was already more accustomed to Thanksgivings away, having moved to the west coast about a decade earlier, and rarely if ever made it back to family for the holiday.

For our first Thanksgiving together, we made our own feast.

We had our first experience baking a turkey--an eight-pounder we knew would afford generous left-overs. To be fair, Heather took on the overwhelming majority of planning, preparation, and execution of the cooking process, though I was able to assume roles I never had before of reaching a hand into the still partially frozen bird to rip out its innards, and later carving the cooked bird into different servings.

Over the course of the day, we played a constant stream of Muppet films, working our way from The Muppet Movie to the The Great Muppet Caper to The Muppets Take Manhattan to arrive that evening at A Muppet Christmas Carol which, like all Christmas movies, I’m adamant is only permissible between the period after Thanksgiving dinner and before December 26 of each year.

We sang along to the Muppet songs as they played on TV and mashed regular and sweet potatoes. Made two forms of stuffing, each from a box, but hers gluten-free. Drank Chardonnay and made passing efforts at washing dishes and pans as we went.

And though I made phone calls to relatives and friends on the opposite side of the country, I was surprised at how few times I caught myself missing them. It occurred to me, albeit in a trite sense, how much I had to be thankful for in my life before that Thanksgiving, and perhaps all the more importantly, how much I had to be thankful for in that very moment.

So I ate and drank too much, then snuggled with Heather on the couch for another movie. I recognized that for all of these changes, if I were lucky, some of these late-November feelings might never leave me.

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