For as long as I can remember, at the end of every Thanksgiving past, my silent prayer was “do it again” asking God for one more time with my family around the dining room table in the house where I grew up.
Thanksgiving in Yonkers — my favorite holiday full of good spirits, festive foods and sometimes lots of laughter from a little too much wine. Pumpkin pie piled high with whipped cream. And invisible threads of love tethering one generation to the next.
With giddy anticipation I’d drive the twisty turning Taconic Parkway over the reservoir and through the woods to get back to the place where I began, stirring memories of Thanksgivings and loved ones now passed, but never farther away than our hearts.
“Nothing lasts forever,” I can hear my paternal grandfather — the man who helped raise me — say as if he was in the next room not the next world.
His pronouncements proved true when his beloved wife of 39 years passed from life after a short illness, but I still see her in her kitchen mashing rutabaga with butter and salt and pepper, a Thanksgiving tradition that I carry on. She was the first of her generation to leave and there was not one dry eye in the family. Her loss at age 9 hit me hard and was followed two years later by my parent’s divorce. And our circle grew smaller.
But I grew up and married and had babies and soon the circle was growing again.
Now it was my sons and their cousins sitting on telephone books and stuffing themselves full with mashed potatoes with corn mixed in like I always did when I was a little girl. And all our plates swimming in mom’s homemade gravy. But then my marriage ended and the circle shrank and my boys shared Thanksgiving with me and my family only every other year.
But babies grow up fast, don’t they? Right under our noses and before we can kiss their sleepy faces one more time as we tuck them in at night all the days of diapers and early morning feedings and picking up Legos and wiping sticky hands and reminding them to keep their elbows off the table are gone. So big and so brave now, forging lives of their own. Some living far away, others working the holiday, or visiting in-laws, traveling, or establishing new rituals as young husbands and wives carve out their own family identity.
Did I know two years ago, when I walked inside my mother’s kitchen door and was greeted with the tantalizing aroma of turkey roasting slowly and the windows fogging and my mother’s face tinged pink like her apron, that it would be the last Thanksgiving dinner around that old dining room table?
With no one to really cook for she and my sister share Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant where my youngest niece works. My Michael and I, deploring the crush and rush of city roads and public eateries on holidays, opt out of joining them. But at a party the week before Thanksgiving my mom and I lament the loss of this beloved Thanksgiving tradition while we simultaneously rejoice over birthday number two for one member of the next generation of little faces around a table.
“I’m so glad we had all those years together, when my grandchildren were little,” my mother muses. “And I’m so happy we have all those good memories.”
I tell her so am I and hug her tight clutching wisps of long ago to my heart while embracing the new that is different and can sometimes seem a little less if I choose to look at it that way.
I will miss watching the parade at my Mom’s, but this year I’ll stay in my pajamas all morning while cartoon characters float by Macy’s and high school bands march their hearts out in Herald Square. And for breakfast we’ll eat slices of the old world style lekvar torte that my mother always made, but now I’ll bake it gluten and sugar free, using a bit of honey instead.
I won’t walk around my old city neighborhood with memories bittersweet, but my Michael and I, companions in life, love, and the hiking trail, will stroll in a nearby park after sharing a roast turkey dinner for two.
And life keeps flowing in directions ever new, past and present mingling like friends at a cocktail party and all of it overlapping and swirling. We women hold memories and dreams as near as those precious babes that once nursed at our breast. Yesterday is but a breath away and it is only a thin veil that separates us from those we love and the times we once shared together.
So I put my hand over my heart and close my eyes and tell my Father thank you for all the many gifts in my life past and present, as well as the raindrop blessings that brought tears and heart ache but chiseled the stone of my heart so that it could beat more like His own.
Then nothing lasts forever strikes too close for comfort.
On a bleak and barren day just three weeks ago, a cousin of mine — beloved son, brother and uncle still so young — left us without warning. The aftershock reverberates. And a table in Connecticut will hold a place for the one that has gone seemingly too soon, but only God knows the timing of such things.
Life, so very fragile and transitory this side of heaven, must be handled gently, lived kindly, and loved deeply with forgiveness and grace overflowing. A holy gift, it is meant to be savored not squandered without a second thought.
And I wonder, in the letting go of so much in this life on earth — whether from death, divorce, distance, disagreements or just new directions as seasons change — do we gain a deeper, richer understanding and a more sincere appreciation of all we have and hold and shouldn’t for one New York minute take for granted?
I hope so!
My Michael and I wish you and yours a Thanksgiving to treasure filled with gratitude to God for all the dear souls entrusted to our hearts, and for the many, many blessings we Americans claim everyday as our birthright but which so many the world over may never know. May we be truly thankful today and every day. #CountYourBlessings
My previous posts about Thanksgiving: