Simple Gifts

“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday,” my friend M. wrote last night during an exchange of texts to wish each other a happy day. “I love what it represents."

And although I’m not one who generally loves holidays, if pressed to choose a “favorite” I might well pick Thanksgiving myself. Because how can you help but love what it represents? An opportunity to be grateful, to take a day and enjoy the simple pleasures of life  - eating, drinking, relaxing, sharing with family or friends - and focus on the good things in life.



In my tiny corner of the world, there is much to be grateful for this holiday season - good health,  family and friends who love me, a safe warm home, plentiful food to eat. They may seem like ordinary things, but in the overall scheme of life they are momentous. Everything else is just gravy (pardon the pun). Today’s post was originally written in 2010, and it's one of the essays included in my book, Life in General, which was published just this week.  Reading it brings back lots of memories for me, and I hope it will for you as well. Even more importantly, whatever you do this weekend, I hope you create some lovely memories to carry with you through the rest of your life in general.

"I can’t tell you how much I used to dread Thanksgiving,” my mother said yesterday as we headed out to the grocery store to do our shopping for the big dinner. “My mother used to invite everybody over and then bitch about it for days. She made life miserable for Dad and me for weeks.”

I looked at her aghast. My childhood memories of Thanksgiving were pure happiness. I never sensed any tension or angst...all I recall were the wonderful aromas and tastes of my southern grandmother’s cuisine. The huge turkey, slowly roasting all day long in the oven (“Oh, yes,” said my mother, “she woke us all up at the crack of dawn to get that turkey in the oven by seven o’clock so it could cook all day long”), stuffed with the moist, savory dressing (“I had to search all over town for fresh sage to put in that stuffing”), and smothered in rich brown gravy (“She wouldn’t let anybody else stir that gravy for fear it would be lumpy!”).

Well. Who knew? I was so tickled at the prospect of a house full of people, all my favorite aunts and uncles with their interesting conversations, laughing and telling stories about family members I’d never seen. And all the while the day had been filled with aggravation for my mother.

Of course, fifty years later, I’m no stranger to the memory of aggravating holidays. When Jim and I married, it somehow evolved in our little family that his mother would prepare the Thanksgiving Day dinner at our house. (The one they so graciously sold to us when we got married while they moved into a tiny apartment that was of course far too small to serve Thanksgiving dinner.) So every year she’d appear (at the crack of dawn so she could get the turkey in the oven) and then be puttering around in my kitchen all day, muttering about the way I arranged things or cleaned things or didn’t have the right kind of things.

However, if you were to ask my son, he might recall the times he stood on a tiny step stool and helped Grandma prepare the turkey, watching intently as she cleaned out the cavity and tied the drumsticks together with twine. Or he might remember running into the kitchen each time the oven door opened, so he could hold the baster and squeeze hot pan drippings over the bird’s golden breast. He might not have had any inkling that his mother was in her bedroom, silently screaming.

 All that’s left of those holidays are memories—for my son, who lives far away and is never home on Thanksgiving; for me, who has dinner with an ever-diminishing number of people; and for my mother, who prepares the meal for the three of us in her own kitchen and in her own expert and individual way.

 Thanksgiving is becoming more and more the forgotten holiday, crammed in between Halloween and Christmas, which garner a lot more attention in this consumer-driven society of ours. We’re even having our regular trash pickup on Thursday—as long as I’ve lived here, pickup was postponed until Friday on Thanksgiving week. I’m not sure I approve of that. I think the sanitation workers should have Thursday so they could enjoy dinner with their families and friends same as nearly everyone else.

Thanksgiving is a holiday built around emotions—of being grateful for family and friends, for health and happiness, and food on the table. It’s not about buying presents, or wearing costumes, or elaborate fireworks displays. It’s not even about concerts of beautiful music or rooms of gorgeous decorations.

 It’s simply about making memories, good or bad. I hope you make some lovely ones this year.

So This is...Thanksgiving

Despite what retailers and shoppers are trying to tell us, it is not Christmas yet - at least not in my calendar. I have a very firm rule about making no preparations for Christmas until every last shred of turkey leftovers are gone. This autumn in Michigan has been so lovely, with lots of just-right temperatures and sunshine to spotlight the brilliant colors at their best. I hate to give fall up, hate to see it morph into the dreaded cold of winter. For the first time in a decade we have no recourse to escape winter’s chill, and will have to tough out the entire winter here in the midwest.

Nevertheless, we certainly have much to be grateful for this year at chéz Becca- most especially our wonderfully happy, healthy grandson, and his parents who love him to pieces.

We also have a lovely new home and are enjoying making it “ours."

We have family and friends who support us and love us.

We have food on the table every night, hot water to shower, bathe, and wash our clothes.

We have cars and the fuel to make them go.

We have books and music and television shows freely available at any time of day or night.

We have freedom to write, sing, worship however we please.

We have so many choices about how to live our lives.

How lucky we are.

How thankful.