In the couple years before my mom died I wrote her a letter about what Thanksgiving by then meant to me. I said that as a kid I didn’t get it– the whole big fucking deal about a meal. We were (and are, like most clans) a dysfunctional family, so if I happened upon a pre-Christmas commercial about Danny coming home for Thanksgiving from the war or the Peace Corps or some other sacred cow of an excuse for the favorite single male in the family to be gone, all it did was induce tears of regret for what we were not as a family. In my view, this sentimental thing just did not happen for us, so why all the effort? Why the crescendo of emotion?
But as a young spouse, new to cooking my own Thanksgiving dinner, I had a wicked epiphanic sense of continuity and propulsion. I was at the same moment 25 years old and 10. I was peeling potatoes; I could SEE my mother’s super-soft pale hands as she turned potatoes toward her skinny aluminum peeler. I was steaming my face above the open oven, checking the temperature of this bird as it emits that glorious buttery wall of heat; I saw my mother’s flushed face with a look of cheerful exasperation as she closed the oven door on her own turkey. I wrote to Mom that the memory of her bringing forth this abundant tableau brought me closer to her every time I did the same, and the ritual of the turkey dinner became a sacrament.
Thanksgiving is this . This remembering Mom’s Kitchen-Bouquet-browned gravy, the icy drafts of an old house in Tonawanda, NY swirled with the heightened fragrant warmth of a roasting tom. The expectancy of people returning home, the anxiety of the same, the wish that we can-all-just-get-along, the hope that the adults will eat the mincemeat pie and save the cherry pie for us kids. Thanksgiving is this elastic thread through time that brings us all together, all iterations of us, the young, the old, the gone, the future.
Thanksgiving is my nostalgic wax which, like no other, buoys the past, calms and soothes the present, and lassos the future. It has been, it is, and it will be: returning home.