Had to visit the doctor yesterday. It seems my old childhood nemesis tonsillitis hunted me down for a long-overdue visit. After four days of a raging sore throat and a case of laryngitis that left me sounding like a delicious cross between Kathleen Turner and Harvey Fierstein, I couldn’t take it anymore. Two shots and a script for an antibiotic. I’ll gladly take it so I can get back into the office (worked from home twice this week) and take care of the mounds of work waiting for me. Also want to be in traveling form for next week’s Thanksgiving trip. New Thanksgiving adventures await in Topeka.
A young man whom I had struck up a conversation with while waiting outside the doctor’s office was heading to London later in the day. After thirty-odd years of not having contact with his mother, he had reached out to her for the first time last year. Taking the time between then and now to get to know her (communicating much via cell phone and social media, traveling alone to visit her last year), he was ready to take his wife and children to meet her. Their plans included Disneyland Paris. And a Thanksgiving meal. A traditional Thanksgiving in a city that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. But one doesn’t have to have tradition to have a Thanksgiving. And starting new traditions are sweet (and sometimes come with a hint of bittersweet).
When I woke this morning a 2:30AM with a coughing fit that lasted at least a half hour and couldn’t EVER go back to sleep, I prayed for him and his family on their Thanksgiving adventure. And I thought of all the versions of Thanksgiving I had experienced.
Of course, my mind turned first to my earliest Thanksgivings as a child spent in Kentucky with my Gran and Grandpa. We’d travel the six hours or so in Dad’s big red pickup truck. Vicki and I would be safely tucked into makeshift sleeping quarters in the camper-shelled truck bed, food and water to keep us from dying, window cracked a hair (also to keep us from dying), an intercom system rigged from the main cabin to the back bed for communication between the pilots and their passengers. Sometimes Mom and Dad would let me ride up front when I got ansty and I’d listen to Dad use the CB radio to talk to other truckers on the road. Among other things, he’d find out where police (Smokey, 5-0, fuzz) were hidden, if there was a traffic jam ahead, or where the nearest rest stop was located (sis and I were all the time needing bathroom breaks as much for a chance to see what candy and tacky souvenirs we could buy with our allowance as for relieving ourselves).
As we got closer to Waynesburg, dad would begin sending out CB calls to my gran, who ran a base station for long-range CB communication that we called Home Base. I can remember the suspense of his first call out into the darkness of the CB world, “Breaker, Breaker 1-9, this here’s Super Duck…” Usually, it took several tries over several accumulated minutes (which seemed like hours to me) to finally hear my gran’s voice, faint and then stronger as the miles between us diminished, guiding us in to Home Base. This is when I acquired my CB handle “The Red Barron” (I was a huge Snoopy fan AND a blossoming WWI history scholar) and was allowed to make calls myself. By the time we pulled into the long dirt drive in front of gran’s trailer with what looked like every light in the place blazing like a lighthouse, I was bouncing between the seat and the dash from my uncontained excitement. It didn’t matter that it was often 2 or 3 in the morning when we arrived (M&D thought leaving at night would keep us asleep for most of the trip…it sometimes worked), we’d be wide awake as we piled out of the truck and down the sidewalk-receiving-line that awaited us. Gran, and whoever else was spending the night (cousins, aunts, uncles, the friends who were like family), would come out to hug us, grab our things from the car and usher us into the toasty confines of the mudroom and spacious living room that Grandpa had built onto the trailer. There, we’d catch up while we warmed up, the adults drinking coffee or a beer, Vicki and I tucking into the corner of some sofa or recliner with an adult who would show us attention. Then, when we were almost asleep on our feet, we’d be ushered into a back bedroom that could hold all four of us, or split off into two separate rooms that would become our homes for the holidays.
Because my Gran entertained anyone who walked up to her door on Thanksgiving Day (and really, any day), the house was FULL of food. A turkey or two, a ham, a couple of pans of cornbread dressing, giblet gravy, green beans with ham bone, creamed corn, baked beans with bacon, pinto bean with ham, black eyed peas, boiled cabbage, cole slaw, potato salad, sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, canned cranberry sauce, pans of cornbread, dinner rolls, cakes, pies, puddings, cookies, more. If her meal didn’t put you into a comatose state, then she hadn’t done you right.
We’d spend days just eating and communing, listening into the party-line conversations on the telephone, layering up to walk the fields, and hoping for a snow storm to prevent us from returning home and to school. Many an evening before our morning departure we could be seen dancing the Native American snow dance that dad taught us, hoping, praying for snow. And because that ridiculous dance brought snow on a few of our Kentucky Thanksgivings and stranded us for an extra day or two, it became a traditional “last dance.” I can’t remember the steps, but I sure can remember the way Vicki, Dad, Mom, Gran and anyone else we could snare in our gravitational pull looked as we chanted and twirled and fell like snow flakes around each other. I’d pay an eyetooth to go back for just one minute…
Years later, Gran and Grandpa divorced, and Gran eventually sold the farm to one of the friends who was like family, and she cast her net wider as a nomadic caregiver, a senior who took care of seniors. She lived with and cared for an author who homesteaded on Spruce Island, Alaska, in addition to numerous individuals in California and other people who lived in what seemed like exciting locations. And because of this, my mom and dad started a new tradition for themselves, and began hosting Thanksgivings in their home. It was always much smaller, but more intimate at Mom and Dad's. Mom would start cooking everything in the wee hours of the morning. Later in the day, Dad would carve the turkey, Vicki would set the table, and I would fry the eggplant.
But then Vicki married, so things changed with an addition. And then I moved away to New York and had my very first Thanksgiving on my own (which is another story in itself), so there was a subtraction. And throughout the years, my Mom and Dad have flexed gracefully to the ebbs and flows of the additions and subtractions. Holidays are beautiful that way, flexible and changing. When something is taken away, there always seems to be something added.
Mom still starts cooking Thanksgiving lunch in the wee hours of the morning. Later in the day, Dad will carve the turkey, but now he sometimes lets me. Vicki is in charge of frying the eggplant because of the dangers it poses to my gluten free status. And Eric and I do whatever else that needs doing. Sometimes it is just playing with my nephew and/or tasting foods as they are being plated. We all take quality control very seriously. Especially Dad, who has to be watched constantly in the kitchen. He is a master
thief taste tester.
So, I was back to the office this morning. My throat felt a hundred times better today, sounding more in the lines of a mezzo-soprano. Very becoming. I could've potentially pulled off an Ethel Merman impersonation.
“Clear the decks! Clear the tracks!
You've got nothing to do but relax.
Blow a kiss. Take a bow.
Honey, everything's coming up roses!”
To hear the lady herself:
And to brush up on your CB lingo, please visit these fine sites:CB Slang