Perhaps because it’s my favorite holiday, I count years in terms of Thanksgivings. For me, the holiday is not just a stop-gap between Halloween and Christmas. It’s a special day all its own. It deserves its own decorations, its own glam. The day after Thanksgiving, as the china gets packed away and the chipped Turkey platter takes up its silent vigil at the top of the closet, the madness starts. The rush toward Christmas with all that entails: the lights, the shopping, the wonderfully amateur ornaments made by tiny sticky fingers. But for me, it all starts and stops, each year, with Thanksgiving, the most glorious day of the year.
One could argue it’s my love of food, of comfort food. There’s that. But beyond the gastro joys of the days, it’s the little pieces of my childhood– of me as a child– that encircle me as surely as the too-tight hug of my grandmother. Just like that I’m 5 years old again, stretching on tiptoes that poke holes in my red knit tights to open the drawers of the cherry buffet, where inside candle tapers, wooden trivets and crystal trinkets clatter under my chubby fingers. Just like that I’m 10 years old, lounging in my pajama pants, the yellow rotary phone up to my ear so my beloved great aunt and I can watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade together. Just like that I hear my cousins’ voices and feel myself being led from one elderly relative to another, the obligatory kisses and hugs, until finally I am seated at the massive dining room table (was it massive? or perhaps just in my child’s perspective?) where the bountiful dinner awaits. More than the food, it’s that intangible feeling of being surrounded by my people. People who made me. Who love me.
Last night at our Thanksgiving dinner table, I looked upon the faces of my nuclear family, and their presence and their laughter give me nothing but gratefulness and joy. And yet. Hovering around the table were the ghosts of those no longer here. Parents. Grandparents. Uncles and aunts. Ghosts of Thanksgivings past. This was the first Thanksgiving without either parent. Always before, even if playing the hostess, I was a child. To someone. And now not. Thank goodness for a heart full of Thanksgiving memories.
And thank goodness for china.
“Here’s the china,” sighed my husband as he lifted it down from the top shelf.
“Why don’t we use paper plates?” sighed my daughter as she dried piece after piece of the Haviland.
I could tell her but she won’t yet understand. It’s not about the dishes. It’s about the 18 year old girl in 1950 who chose it as her wedding china because it was pink and dainty and everything lovely she thought married life would be. It’s in homage to that young woman whose blood is mine and in whose path I walk.
And so, as Thanksgiving segues into the Christmas season, I pack up the china and with it the memories of tables set, of cousins whose voices are now often only heard on Facebook. And I start this blog for all of us for whom ghosts dancing around our holiday table are joyous reminders of where we’ve been and who we are. For all of us who find ourselves sandwiched in the middle years between youth and old age with no compass other than remembered heartbeats.
I hope you’ll keep reading, and that Thanksgiving will be a daily part of your year.