(Reposted from November 2010 by request)
Many Thanksgivings have come and gone and once again we are on the eve of that special day, each year the experience of the holiday both familiar and new as people come an go in ours lives.
And yet, we approach the day with precious memories that may or may not have anything to do with the picture painted by Norman Rockwell, in which a Gram and Gramps preside over the holiday feasting table of sons and daughters with their spouses and children, all gathered as one big happy family.
It is a picture with a homey, old-fashioned air of harmony, peace, togetherness and the ongoing family story, extended into longer chapters with each new marriage, each new birth. The thing that is so touching in this painting is that it feels real and comforting, eliciting the longing for “coming home” where we are loved, accepted, connected and recognized, and it’s fulfillment on Thanksgiving Day.
But as I pondered this, other not- so- cozy scenes of the holiday prompted me to to ask the questions ”where are all the OTHER sets of parents of the spouses who married into the family in this picture ? Their own children, now all grown up, are HERE at this table, not at their table, so where are they? And how are they celebrating this day of “togetherness and home-coming”?
I suspect they are: #1. With their other children, or with friends #2. Eating a turkey dinner at the local Fire Station with other child-less elders. #3 Alone at home watching QVC. The Norman Rockwell painting may portray the experience of some, but what you can’t see are all the others who are attached deeply to those seated around the table, but who are NOT there, and having to create a way to alternatively go through the day somewhere else where they find kinship or seek solace in some manner in solitude that may be piercing to the heart.
So it was that yesterday, a day after Thanksgiving itself (when my out-of-town daughter, son-in law and grandchild came through for an overnight after spending this year’s Thanksgiving with his extended family elsewhere), I made my way to the home of dear friends where 19 of us gathered once again around the welcoming table at Madeline and Michael’s in a nearby township. Madeline had to work at the hospital on Thanksgiving this year and so the official celebration was moved to Friday, which served us well. For some, it was Thanksgiving #2, having spent Thursday elsewhere with blood family or friends, and for some, it was THE Thanksgiving #1, having spent Thursday alone cleaning the house or yard or watching the football game without family. But for ALL of us, no matter what the official day of Thanksgiving had been, gathering once again around the table at Madeline and Michael and with each other, was THE “coming home” event, as we greeted each other with open, cheerful, tender, or wounded hearts that could, for these hours and in this company, heal with welcoming, stories, hugs, laughter, updating, and the bounty of the earth.
Everyone contributed a specialty to the banquet table, an offering sharing delight and nourishment to pleasure and sustain both body and spirit. The age range of guests around this table spanned a great swath of time and several decades, from age 80 down to age 1½. There was a 7 year old, some young 20 year olds, a couple in their 30’s, a number of 60+ year olds, a 75-er and a great elder of 80. And unlike sitting at the table with one’s children in their 30’s plus toddlers in which there is no possibility of starting or actually finishing a sentence, there was REAL conversation, and the topics varied…who’s doing what, how to cut down a tall tree, the price of ink (one of the costliest commodities at $5000 a gallon), growing potatoes and butternut squash organically in the neighborhood gardens, what the difference is between the space shuttle (that part which propels the whole affair) and the capsule( where the astronauts live and work and float about in space), how a cat sitting atop a tv survived a lightening strike, what it’s like being on a construction crew working on building mega-mansions for the mega rich ( summer homes that include helicopter pads and indoor private theatres) and many other interesting topics to mull over keeping the conversations lively with stories.
At this table were artists, painters, a dollmaker,a woodcraftsman, a piano teacher, a flute player, a roofer, a construction supervisor, a soon- to- be aeronautical engineer, a lady bartender, a teaching assistant, a grade-school teacher, two medical lab technicians , potters, an astrologer, a Chinese translator, lots of great cooks, gardeners, herbalists, former professional photographers, Irish set-dancers, English Country Dancers etc-many of us wearing more than one hat in what we do for our both Vocations and our avocations, and a great pool of wisdom, expertise and services to offer within this little “village” of companions.
Times have changed from the evocative scene portrayed in the painting of Thanksgiving by Norman Rockwell. Yes, families still do gather at long tables, and carve the turkey, and watch the grandchildren, nieces and nephews dash around the house in rambunctious delight and play. They still note with bittersweet memory those who are no longer alive, and their absence from the banquet of Life. But this scene attempts to portray a wholeness and a continuity, which is does in a lovely way. Yet in these times, the changes include family continuity challenged by many divorces, great distances between people, and a cultural ethic that puts commercialism and glitz (Thanksgiving stuffed animals and baskets on display in September, Christmas goodies with sports, Disney or designer logos on display in November) before the simplicity of community coming together in some form, either familial or intentional, consciously, and with a gentle ease, to linger together, take refreshment, tell stories, laugh, and be grateful for the hours of gathering set apart from the mundane daily routines. And if there is the possibility of a span of generations present, than there is an extra richness and nourishment around the table and afterwards, in front of the fire.
For the wonderful Thanksgiving gathering on Friday at Madeline and Michael’s and the members of the day’s intentional “tribe”, I am very nourished and full of Gratitude. Thank you, Thank you, dearest of Friends.