Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgivings past and present: It’s all good.

On this Thanksgiving Day, as I’m primping for our 4:00 p.m. reservations at an area restaurant—just the two of us—my mind wanders back many years. If this were the Thanksgiving version of a chapter of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Thanksgivings Past would be taking me soaring over these scenes:

It’s the early 1970s, and I’m alone in our modest Skokie bi-level home, trying not to think about the turkey dinner with more than enough trimmings that my mother has prepared for the family and that they are all feasting on now. I’m nursing the 24-hour stomach flu and am grateful that this year’s holiday takes place at my parents’ home, allowing me to send my family off to enjoy it and to wallow in my miserable symptoms by myself. (To this day, I associate late November with this gastrointestinal malady, so it must have happened more than once.)

Next, my ghost and I float over a scene in the late 1970s, and I’m basting the turkey one last time before taking a minute to answer the doorbell. It’s a cousin I’d lost touch with for years and whom I invited after one of us contacted the other. Like many Thanksgivings, I invited someone who was not usually on our guest list, someone who otherwise would have nowhere to be with family and friends on that day. It was fun to have this newcomer at our dinner table, and I suppose I felt noble extending our hospitality.

My ghost and I skip the 1980s and hover over a mid-1990s Thanksgiving dinner. I’m living with my second (and current) husband in a three-level townhome in Rogers Park, and we’re continuing my tradition of having an extra guest or two. This year, I’ve invited a woman from work and her college-age daughter whose family lives across the country. The conversation is lively and stimulating.

We swoop into the twenty-first century and see a scene in my in-laws’ home in Munster, Indiana. We’re dining with my mother-in-law who, like me, is not so fond of cooking, and the rest of the family who’ve come in from Wyoming. For past holiday dinners in Munster, my father-in-law, who learned to cook whle working at a dining hall in his college days, always prepared the feast. But this time, he’s in late stages of a terminal illness, so we ordered turkey and trimmings from Boston Market. My father-in-law is too weak to dine with us. He makes a brief appearance at the table and then retreats to his bed. That night, he falls out of bed several times, and although there are enough people there to help lift him back up that night, it’s determined by his sons that he should be moved to a hospice center because my mother-in-law cannot do this on her own. He's taken to the center that night. A few days later, after long visiits with family and his beloved poodle, he quietly passes away.

We’re looking over a scene a few years later in a cozy Munster restaurant, where my husband and I and my mother-in-law are remarking over how good the meal is and how many people are also dining with their small families in this neighborhood place. This is the first time I’ve had dinner out on Thanksgiving, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how satisfying it is. As always with my mother-in-law, the conversation sparkles with her youthful enthusiasm and love of topics like anthropology, modern music, and the latest movies. For a few minutes, I wallow in nostalgia and the fact that I’m not with my kids and twin grandsons. They traditionally attend a large family dinner on their father’s side. To keep that sadness in check, I think of all the holidays we do spend with all of them—including the other side—as well as the fact that we’re making my mother-in-law very happy.

Unfortunately, she passed away after a brief illness just before last Thanksgiving. So this year, it’s just the two of us, and we’re still thankful. We expect to have a great feast, charming ambiance, and good one-on-one conversation. Maybe we’ll start planning the holiday party we’re giving in December.

The Ghost of Thanksgiving Past is now satisfied that I’m feeling pretty good about this holiday and its predecessors—the good, the not-too-good, and the ugly (stomach flu)—and takes off. In all cases, whatever other emotions I felt, I’ve been thankful for the family and friends I’m lucky to have.

There's no need for a visit from the Ghost of Thanksgiving Present. We're good.  (I cancelled the Ghost of Thanksgiving Future. I'd rather not know...)