Thanksgiving, in Contrast

Today

Today I got up out of bed early, on my day off from my job spending hours cooking for the general public, to spend hours help cook for my wife’s family; our family. The fresh turkey that we had ordered a week in advance, picked up the night before and paid a little extra for turned out to be partially frozen setting our dinner plans back by an hour or so and resulting in a bottle-necking of items that needed to go in to the oven. We had the good fortune and the foresight to have made zucchini bread the night before so we had something to snack on. Our daughter, who has been sick with a stomach virus for the majority of her break from school, had it with being cooped up in the house and was being a rambunctious little six-year-old monster in her Cindy-Loo Who hairdo that she decide last night was going to be her new style; paying no heed to our requests to settle down and watch the parade on television, because mommy and daddy had a lot of work to do before everyone else came over.

With the entirely too early arrival of my affluence obsessed nephew came a new level of aggravation to my day. His contribution to the day was a load of laundry,and the immediate hijacking of the television for the football games and me having to take time out to run him back by his house to turn off the iron his girlfriend left on before she took their son to eat dinner with her family, the separate arrangements for their holidays speaking silent volumes about their relationship.

My sister-in-law and her teenage daughters entrance was heralded by the barking of dogs and the excited screeching of our child, and a general increase in the volume of the background conversation that I was so far expertly avoiding. They invaded the already cramped kitchen space to offload a few additions to the meal and a cheap bottle of wine. They then proceeded to engage in the newest of family customs; screwing around with their phones and snacking on deviled eggs while my wife and I labored to get dinner on the table in a timely manner. In my rush to get the turkey carved and the oven cleared of side dishes I managed to ruin the bottom crust of my apple pie by rolling it out too thin, and thus it became a cobbler instead. This seemed the mildest of the irritations to my day.

Feeling a bit like a man with out a country, I camped at “the children’s table” with my daughter, while everyone else served themselves and sat at the main dinning table, she was the only person attending the festivities related to me by blood, everyone else is from my wife’s side of the family. After a delightfully brief prayer and a round of announcing what we are all thankful for; the answers to which always seem to get a bit more redundant with each person; and some last-minute rearranging of the table ware we all tucked into a meal that I can not complain much about as I had a hand in almost every dish. Afterwards the younger half of the family went for a stroll and took along a football to throw around while the adults spent a few moments of quiet conversation.

When the children returned I snuck off into the bedroom for a nap, missing my grand-nephew and his mother’s short but loud visit. I awoke in time to have a bite of dessert, see everyone off and help my wife and mother-in-law with the clean up of the disaster area that was our kitchen.

Not All That Many Years Ago

In 1997 I arrived in my current city of residence in late October. I knew no one in this town, I had no place to stay, I had no money, and half a pouch of cheap rolling tobacco. At this point I had been estranged from my family for a few years now, and  after a series of personal failures and minor emotional breakdowns that followed I just walked away from everyone I knew and tried to disappear. It worked, I was a truly a nobody now. Ignored by most members of polite society, I spent most of my time, and scrounging enough change for booze and hopefully stumbling across someone who had some weed, or whatever that would get me high.

A few weeks after my arrival I had my first thanksgiving in this town. It was at a homeless shelter, served cafeteria style, seated on a bench at a table that would later be folded and stacked against a wall. I ate among the life time users of hard drugs, the mentally ill, and the rest of societies unwanted. I sat in silence eating my dried out turkey, caned gravy, boxed stuffing, a damp roll, and drank burned coffee, and water. I had arrived with those sitting closest to me, a bunch of unwashed neo-hippies who billed themselves as free thinkers, and independent spirits, that had been teaching me how spend a lot of time and effort avoiding a possibility of being confused with anyone who might be part of “The System”; in other words, how to be a bum.

I looked around at the young, and then at the seemingly elderly and ageless members of the homeless that were present throughout the gymnasium like hall. I imagined saw a hierarchy of sorts in the seating arrangements, a complicated system that was equal parts meritocracy, seniority and, nepotism. I watched and saw the ranks of merchants from the markets of the dispossessed wandered from table to table whispering the availability of their wares to favored and venerated clientele, trading in currencies as yet unknown to me. I looked and I thought darkly, this is my life now, this is what is going to be my family and my traditions. I fell asleep that night on the floor of a freezing van parked under a billboard.

What I’m Thankful For

Despite my often sarcastic and occasionally downbeat approach to life I am very grateful for my beautiful wife, and for her family who are here to help me raise my wonderful, amazing, and fun daughter in a loving environment. I am thankful that I decided to pull myself up out of a bad situation and re-enter society rather than sink into the depths of street life, which frankly would have been the easy way out at the time. I am also happy in my decision to reconnect with my sister after over seventeen years of not knowing a thing about each other’s lives and family; it was great to find her and her wife living happily together. I find it also a great comfort to know that so many friends from my past are doing well and that we have, if nothing else, the internet and many social media options to look in on one another from time to time, and that they remember me fondly enough to allow me to do so. I also thankful to my employers who have the decency to remain closed on this holiday so I can spend time reflecting on what is good in my life; such as how fortunate I am to suffer the aggravations of a man who must spend the day enjoying the company of a loving and supportive family.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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