We set out, this year for Thanksgiving, just the two of us, Sid and me. Sid was sad that his cousins would not be joining him this year. He was glad to hang out with grandma and grandpa, especially in the kitchen.
We arrived on the holiday eve. Leaving town amid the last remnants of the day’s rush hour, mixed with other holiday travelers, leaving the city for regions closer to Lake Wobegon in geography and spirit. Watching a steady stream of tail lights I wondered if travelers are headed home, to a relative’s, and of the stories of the people inside each vehicle. I cannot keep track. I cannot ponder each set of lights. It is enough to contemplate the stories that put my son and me in our seats that late afternoon.
It’s a matter of perspective. I can look at the faint images of drivers and passengers in the early dusk as we pass. I cannot tell if they are headed someplace happy or a place of annual or daily obligation. I don’t know the nature of the commotion that ensued prior to them getting into the car, if it was wrapping up details before the long weekend, organizing small children and the things they would need to survive four days at a relative’s, fits of loathing that often accompany times with family that are aggravations of the dysfunction and ill health that plagued their developmental years, or the greatest of joys that comes with the prospect of spending time with the most favorite and precious people in the universe.
These trips matter and so do the histories that lead up to them. We all have history that makes the days what they are, the day-to-day reality that created the relationships we encounter most intensely on a holiday as well as what those days looked like in years past.
The story of our preparation was marked by excited anticipation. Sid asked if we could go up to grandma and grandpa’s a bit earlier than I suggested.
This year, Sid spent hours in the kitchen entertaining grandma and grandpa with long discussions about China, school and the finer points of learning grammar and the teachers who were as entertaining as the escapades of pedagogy. I sat in a spare bedroom, listening to quick wits and luscious stories. Mother, who was always a good speller, the kind of smarts that helped her graduate from high school at age 16, traded her knowledge with Sid about the finer points of English–alternating that with her well-remembered math anxiety that made itself known as she entered college. Dad, the great story teller, compared his college French class with Sid’s experience. Even coming from New Orleans and French heritage, we do not maintaining much French language, but dad retains the stories, especially of his professors, as a language no one teaches as well as himself.
As I sat resting, I could hear each of them laugh from at each others’ stories and their own. Teachers are the same from generation to generation and, at the same time, so different today than the days when high school graduation was little more than behaving well enough to convince the teacher to give students a C and then to march them capped and gowned into an arbitrary adulthood. They were full of conversations, most of which I have had over the past years and recent weeks with each of them, in smaller bits and pieces. Sid’s monologues were enough to wrap grandma and grandpa’s attention. He looked forward to this trip as well for the stories he learns, as well as the grandkid attention.
I knew there are more stories. I hear them. As many stories that get shared, there are long, dark afternoons endured with the aid of the second or third drink. Off in a corner with a concocted fetish of a tumbler and melted ice. So much easier to peer slightly over the lip of the glass than directly into the eyes of past shames that the relative does not want to let you forget, the in-law who still dreams of the other woman for their son and the failure after failure to conform to something that is less about virtue or morality than it is a struggle to keep family members corralled in a cage of a family secret.
History, however you define or identify it, means something. Some we carry from our childhood. Some, we carry from generations. Americans have a short history and even shorter memories. Even the short 400 years since English separatists arrived and nearly all perished in the new elements is played out with most of the details mostly forgotten and lived through a fiction of harmony that masks the genocide that makes the losses of the initial losses of the first immigrants look like the loss of one nonagenarian relative whose suffering warranted moving on into the next world.
A friend, thankful in her own rights, shared a piece written by Dennis W. Zotigh in Indian Country Today Media Network, “Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?“ The present-day follies that dress children in garb to play Pilgrim and Indian mark our history better than we remember it. Was it so necessary to insult Native identity as it is to insult our children’s intelligence? For some purposes, yes.
We are making new traditions. Some fitfully. While some school children’s are led in rituals that still mock native peoples, but more people are interested in accurate and respectful representations of history, story and the people who lived and perished in those stories. New traditions.
I have often said that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is that day, for me, that has been about getting together with people who I care about. Little obligation other than to enjoy a mean and share it with great people. Okay, there’s more than that, especially if you are making a big meal. I’ve shared a few green bean bakes over the years. It is the day when mom and dad usually invite other company, student strays and need the card table to fit everyone.
In years past, we would always have snow for Thanksgiving. There would be snow on the ground, almost every year. Even if the day before had none, it was sure to snow before dinner was set on the table. Two families in St. Cloud, the Statzs and the Opatzs, would hold a touch football game between the families. It was always held in a field covered in snow. But in recent years, climate has brought us something different. I have gotten used to brown Thanksgivings. Things change.
This year, it was only Sid, me, and mom and dad. Without his cousins, Sid gets more attention from grandma and grandpa, but he said, “It’s not the same without Kamarah and Nyah here.” Mom turns from the counter and says, “What are we missing?”
My impulse was to say, “Your three other children.” I was silent.
My siblings and my nieces are having a great Thanksgiving and we are looking forward to Christmas together. Traditions.
I had mentioned to a friend that I might bring baseball gloves. She was excited to hear this, surely missing her father with whom she shared a love of baseball and the misery of the Cubs. I might be able to give mom and dad’s neighbor Thom Woodward a call: a former baseball coach, he has expressed a desire to join us, having seen Sid and I and often his cousins at the park across from his home. The gloves sat idle as the morning sun became lost behind solid clouds and the wind picked up enough toward the end of our walk. Later, it would snow. A historically accurate Thanksgiving.
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