Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful Thanksgiving

Just wanted to pop on to wish whatever readership I may have a happy Thanksgiving!

Usually people who make blog or FB posts on Thanksgiving list what they are thankful for. And it's not that I'm not thankful for all of the positive things in my life, but today I wanted to talk about something a bit different.

When I was growing up, my mom's mother lived about 20 minutes away from us. She had a small house with a finished basement and a garage you could hang out in during the summer (I've since learned that this is purely a Polish phenomenon. People of other ethnicities just don't do this, even if all of their neighbors do.) We spent all of our Thanksgivings with her when I was growing up. We'd have dinner over there. She'd turn the kitchen table into a buffet and we'd take our plates downstairs. My aunt and uncle would be there with their two sons that were much younger than us. I don't have distinct memories of hanging out there all day or anything, so I'm guessing we didn't do that.

My grandmother died when I was 12. She had lung cancer (please everybody, quit now if you smoke, and don't even think about starting if you don't. She wasn't even old enough to collect Social Security yet.) As it happens when someone dies, over the years, they become less and less of a presence in your lives and your minds. The holes they leave in your lives close slowly. You make new traditions, the holidays change but they're still good.

Thanksgiving was one that never really closed for me. It's never been the same since. My aunt, uncle and cousins started having Thanksgiving with my uncle's side of the family. My other grandparents live on the other end of the state. Until their death, we made an extended visit out there at Christmas, and going at Thanksgiving too wasn't practical. For a long time, my parents and sister and I would go see a movie on Thanksgiving. Somewhere along the line, my sister generally stopped coming home for Thanksgiving, and the three of us would go...or we wouldn't.

I read a column by Mitch Albom a couple of years ago where he talked about how much Thanksgiving had shrunk as he got older, how fewer and fewer people came every year and spent less time, and now the focus for a lot of people was just going through the Black Friday sale fliers and going to bed early enough to be up for the 4 a.m. sales. He referenced the great, underrated 1991 movie "Avalon," which profiled a large immigrant family over the years. In the opening scene, at the dawn of television, the family was bursting out of the dining room, chairs and tables were pulled from everywhere, the famous kids' table all the way in the living room, where mayhem ruled. By the end, it was a handful of people clustered around the TV, eating off trays.

In that family, it was mostly feuds, people moving away, and TV itself that caused the demise of Thanksgiving. I guess in ours, it was just that some losses, you never quite recover from. Our tradition with my grandma wasn't big and mythical. There weren't really any funny stories or memorable stories that came out of it. It was just being together that made the day special. I still appreciate that with my own family. This year, my sister will have it with us for the first time in I don't know how long, and I'm looking forward to that. But I'll always think of my grandma on this day.