Family Thanksgiving

“I’m trying to remember the last time we would have done this,” I said, standing at my kitchen counter, my sister at my side.

It was Thanksgiving Day, 2003.  I had invited my side of the family to all convene on our place in Ohio for the weekend.  It was a risky proposition:  my sister and my brother didn’t always get along, and of course there was always the constant oneupsmanship we all engaged in to some extent whenever my father was present.

Since I’d moved away from Michigan, my father’s visits had become a strange thing.  It was almost as if my siblings kept score on how many times he came to my place versus their own.  When my daughter was born, up flew my father to Oklahoma.  When my brother’s baby boy was born nine months afterwards, there he went to Michigan.  When I moved to Ohio it became even worse, because to visit one sibling or another, the other was only a four hour drive away.   He visited me when I first moved there, then my brother when he bought a condo.  It started to get dicey when my older son flew down to Florida last summer to see my father; no such reciprocal visit was offered to my sister’s kids.  I decided to cut all of the competition off at the pass by offering a visit to everyone; all they had to do was show up.  I’d clean the house, cook the meal.

“Well, we all had Thanksgiving at my house once after Mom died,” my sister offered as I chopped the celery that was going into the stuffing our mother had taught us both to make.  We paused there, looked at each other sympathetically before she continued.  “But Dad wasn’t there.”

“We had Thanksgiving out East after he moved away once,” I offered.  “But was our brother there?”

“I honestly can’t remember,” my sister answered, opening up the bag of bread crumbs.  “Wait, no, he couldn’t have been.  We all stayed with Dad in Baltimore and there wouldn’t have been any room for him in that tiny townhouse.”

“Right.”  I answered, racking my brain as I added the chopped celery to the pan of onions on the stove.  I looked at them and dropped another square of butter on top; it sizzled as it met the metal of the pan.  “Certainly we haven’t had a big holiday together since I moved from Michigan, not with Dad anyway.  So that means…wow…no clue the last time all three of us would have shared Thanksgiving with Dad. It might have honestly been 1976.”

1976 was the year before my parents’ separation and subsequent divorce.  A small silence ensued as my sister and I both mulled over the past twenty plus years in our collective heads; I knew we were both thinking that we’d never spent Thanksgiving with my father.  He would share Christmas with us, but Mom always had us for Thanksgiving.  There was one awful Thanksgiving in my memory banks when my mother had called my father, begging for him to take my brother off of her hands; but he’d been sick with pneumonia and bed ridden.  I could see the same look on my sister’s face as I knew what must be on mine:  awful, terrible memories coming unbidden, one after the other, of horrible holidays and harsh words.

“What’s going on in here?” my father asked, coming into the kitchen to offer help, as he’d done every few hours since he’d made us a big, family breakfast.  I could see his studying our faces for clues as to what was so serious.

“Just getting the stuffing together,” I said lightly, giving my sister the cue that we didn’t need to be mucking up the sweet family scene with sour thoughts from the past.  I saw my father peer into the pan and nod approval.  It wasn’t lost on me that the last time we likely had all been together to eat stuffing on Thanksgiving would have been at a table where my mother sat as well, a table where she would have made this exact same stuffing.   I couldn’t tell if he was comparing my efforts to my mother’s or not; I certainly was.    I breathed deeply in and out a few times, trying not to think of my sadness when suddenly, my brother appeared in the kitchen, looking panicked.

“What’s wrong?” my father said, a deadpan statement he’d probably said to my brother at least a thousand times before.

“Do you have any towels?  We have um…a little situation in the upstairs bathroom.”

My sister and I looked at each other and groaned.  My dad started swearing under his breath.  I called for R and a plunger before my groan turned to laughter.  “I wonder if that happened the last time we were all together for Thanksgiving?”

The mood lightened and my shoulders relaxed.  Crazy though we may be, it was kind of amazing that we were all here, together, considering everything that had gone on in our collective pasts.  I vowed to enjoy my family holiday and not stress.  We were all here, together; it was all that mattered.

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