Greetings, Gero-Punk Project friends! We’re celebrating contemplation and gratitude all week long, so please check back daily for Thanksgiving reflections from our wonderful guest essayists. Many blessings, much love!
Where do Stray Cats go for Thanksgiving?
By guest Gero-Punk
Ah Thanksgiving! A symbol of family warmth, abundance and beloved traditions that provide each family a unique identity while celebrating a simple and likely somewhat inaccurate story, that nevertheless unites us as a nation. Symbol is the operative word here. I suspect the reality of Thanksgiving for many of us is messy, as reality tends to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced that picture perfect holiday. As a small child, my family, complete with a mom and a dad, older siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles gathered around the two tables-the children’s table for those of us who had not yet reached adolescence and the adult table set with linen table clothes and matching napkins, the best wedding china of the hostess, silverware newly polished and reflecting candlelight. Short, cut glassware held amber highballs (a word I have not heard spoken in many years).
It is very cold in Chicago in late fall and the windows would steam up from the cooking heat. The table bore wonderful food with rarely a vegetable in sight-the ubiquitous green bean casserole of today was years away from invention. The family dressing, unchanged since who knows when, was presented as if a sacrament. Mincemeat pie was du rigor. The table conversation inevitably included why the turkey was so moist this year. Convivial conversation and laughter was the music of the afternoon.
If anyone removed their footwear at the door it was galoshes or boots to be replaced by high heels and the bed was piled high with coats and scarves. Cigarettes were boldly smoked inside and my beloved English uncle, Albert, smoking his ever present cigar, was encouraged to “tap it” by the children when the ash grew dangerously long. The smell of alcohol and cigar was ambrosia.
Today all of those family members who sat around the adult table are now ancestors including two of my siblings. My mother moved my brother and I far away to the West Coast when my dad died. I know my nephews and nieces from a distance and only through social media and the occasional trip back. Thanksgiving, ripe with memories, has simply become a symbol for me of a time I cannot replicate or repeat although I tried for many years.
One year my brother offered to buy the turkey. Newly home from Vietnam and battling the demons that would haunt him the rest of his life, he gave little if any thought to the process required to make a rock hard, frozen bird roastable. He took it out of the freezer to defrost the night before and in the early morning, of course, it was virtually unchanged. I have no memory of how we managed that year.
Another year the lovely taper candles I placed on my own carefully planned Thanksgiving table sagged into soggy ropes when a hot November Southern California sun intruded through the dining room window. That is all I can recall of that meal.
One year we spent Thanksgiving with friends on the beach in Mexico. We strolled into town after a day on the beach to feast on pork tacos carved directly from the rotisserie, dripping with juices from the pineapple at the top of the spit.
Now my family includes a son. While I would dearly love him to have the experience I had as a young girl, I simply cannot muster the enthusiasm for cooking Thanksgiving dinner for three. We feast on Thanksgiving dinner on the Sunday before at our church. On the day itself we have a home cooked breakfast, then go to the movies or to the mountain for sledding. His grandparents are thousands of miles away. I feel like a stray cat but I try to make it a special day for my son nevertheless.
This year we have been invited to dinner at a friend’s house; another stray cat like me. A friend who lost her mother too early and her beloved grandmother recently. A friend, whose life as a divorced mom and raising two sons on her own, is messy. A friend, whose family, like mine, is small yet precious. After we accepted her invitation to dinner, she told me that she felt excited about Thanksgiving this year and I know what she means.
I am too!
Isn’t family, after all, a bond of genetically related beings only in its most rigid definition? Family is a collaboration of kind; people drawn together through friendship and camaraderie and support during times when real messy lives intrude on the fantasy of a perfect holiday. I will toast the ghosts of my past as I always do but I’ll also embrace the present in all its imperfect joy. Happy Thanksgiving!
Colleen is a 2012 graduate of the MAIS program of Marylhurst University. She is the current Secretary for the Oregon Gerontological Association’s Board of Directors, an Elders in Action personal advocate and a volunteer for Clackamas County’s Adult and Disabled Resource Connection. She is married to Ken and has an 11 year old son who makes every day an adventure!