It’s the day after Thanksigiving and I feel decidedly….ungrateful.
And for the life of me, I’m trying to get myself back to that place of gratitude, to look around me at my blessings and my gifts, of all the rambling statuses on Facebook that people posted yesterday about life and love and happiness….but I’m just not there.
This year, for the first time in I’m not exactly sure how long (at least six years, I went back through Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving in my head after I went to bed at 8:15pm), it was just the five of us for the holiday. And I know I should be grateful just for that, because there was a distinct possibility that my eldest might not have made it back home this year. He is now a real adult, fully employed and living in the DC area. Luckily too, he has some friends from high school who also have settled in that area (what are the odds, right, this tiny little rural town northeast of NYC, with only a few hundred kids graduating each year, that he would have friends who are also in DC), so he had people to carpool home with Tuesday night.
And too, we started off the day right, with a trip to church, where my daughter was an altar server for the Thanksgiving service. It brought to mind everything I love about living in this small town; the way one of my best girlfriends sat down in the pew beside me; the way the priest uses my name at Holy Communion because everyone knows everyone at our smallish church; the coffee and doughnuts afterward. Our priest, a clearly flawed human who shares his struggles with us through his homilies, warned us about all of our travels we would be embarking on yesterday…both physical and emotional. Especially the emotional. I’ll never again think priests don’t understand real people’s problems after listening to this guy. I left church with a sense of peace and purpose, clicking off the menu items still to be taken care of, thinking ahead to a lovely afternoon of cooking and catching up with Z and drinking and eating.
But that illusion fell apart immediately when my husband made the turn into the grocery store on the way home from church. I asked, incredulously (and probably not terribly politely), “What on Earth could we use at the store? I’ve been shopping for three days?” From the backseat my daughter and youngest son also expressed their disbelief. “Hash browns,” my husband growled, the one household staple I keep forgetting at the store (probably because I’m not eating them since I’m trying to lose weight). Crystallized in his two words were anger, frustration, and bitterness.
“Fine, well I’ll just run in and get them so we can be quick,” I said, noting the nearly empty parking lot; it wasn’t crowded, so it wouldn’t take long. Then I could get back home and start cooking, including the surprise cherry pie I’d had to add to the menu because of the wrinkled face my husband had made when I mentioned the dessert I’d planned was Pumpkin Cheesecake.
All of a sudden I felt the car swerve and R made a big circle to leave the parking lot. “Fine. Forget it. No one else wants them. We’ll just go home, and no one gets hash browns tomorrow morning for breakfast.” His jaw was set tight, his grip so firm on the steering wheel that I could see the whites of his knuckles.
I raised my voice, telling him he was ridiculous, to turn around, but no matter. When R makes up his mind, that’s it. He was done. And he remained done, all day long.
He was silent when I informed him that the whole incident was for naught, because when I returned to the grocery later on, I discovered it closed. We wouldn’t have been able to get the has browns anyway. No matter.
He was silent when I asked him to check on the cherry pie I’d made expressly for him as it baked. He was on his way to the bathroom from the sofa where he’d planted himself since the moment he’d arrived home from church, and wasn’t terribly interested.
He was silent as I bustled in the kitchen, battling with my mother’s cranberry sherbet (I won, but it was a long fought battle), sauteeing the onions and celery for my mother’s stuffing, creating the pesto out of herbs and carefully sliding it between the skin and the fat breast of turkey R brought home from the butcher, as I peeled and mashed the potatoes, as I slid into the oven the broccoli casserole from my great aunt’s recipe.
And because he was silent, so were the kids. My daughter played on the computer in one room; my younger son watched TV in another. My eldest shuttled between my husband in the front room and periodically checking on my progress in the kitchen, trying to break the tension by asking me about the thin citrus slices I used with the bird and asking R about the dismal performance of the Detroit Lions on the television.
It didn’t work that well.
And so, after every dish was washed (my grandmother’s china), after every leftover was put in a plastic tub and into the fridge, after the kids parked themselves on the sofa to watch this year’s playing of “Elf” on the big screen, I quietly wandered upstairs to bed. It was 8:15. I tried to remind myself to be grateful. I tried to look around my bedroom filled with lovely furniture, my warm house, my full belly, my family downstairs enjoying the movie. But it didn’t help. Then I went back through the last few Thanksgivings in my head, trying to realize why they did not leave me with this same feeling of emptiness. Last year, in Pittsburgh with my father. Two years prior, here with R’s parents and sister. Three years ago, again in Pittsburgh. Four years ago, we were at his cousin’s.
This was the first year in a long time when it was just us. Without other family members to change our family dynamic, we fell into our same patterns and arguments, fights and foibles. It made what was supposed to be a special day just like every other day. No amount of special food could save us from ourselves, the lack of appreciation and respect for the basics of who we are to each other. It made me sad, empty and certainly unable to see all of the many other blessings around me.
Life could be worse, I know. But I often wonder, is that the motto I really want to live by?