A First Thanksgiving

She walks into the room and hugs me hello. We weren’t expecting her, my father’s mother, my grandmother, my big sister’s step-grandmother but the only grand we have left in our family. This holiday season is her first without her husband of fifty years. I feel her ache through my chest as she pulls me to her. It’s a foreign feeling to us all. Her first Thanksgiving away from home, away from the bright kitchen, the hot oven, the buffet of seventy years of mismatched plates and forks. She enters my sister’s home bent with a box of prepared food and prepackaged offerings. She doesn’t know how to be the one to sit and stare into space during the football game and the current talk of the day. Mom seedily whispers, “She was supposed to go to his sister’s,” motioning at my dad. My sister greets her with her arms and welcomes her like she’ll welcome the single friends that appear a couple of hours later with no where else to go. This is a house that takes care of the left out and the left over. It’s not the way of our family but it’s a new beginning.

Dinner is a blur of who does what – it’s my sister’s kitchen, it’s my grandmother’s way, it’s a friend with a special way of making gravy, its burned banana bread from one guest and chocolate banana pie from another, it’s a twenty pound turkey with the sacks of giblet’s forgotten in its emptied chest cavity a bit burned and seated sideways in its $.99 pan. Wine is poured at a table with two recovering alcoholics as we shovel it in, swig it back, and pant in the heat of the stove, the lamps and the Christmas lights blaring in the window from the house across the street. The ambling conversation quickly turns to our cousin’s new baby that has been born without hope. Her lifeless limbs won’t move, no matter how much we all visualize and chant. In her tiny throat, her air is given. In her distended tummy, her food is pumped. And here we sit, feasting, drooling, wiping turkey fat and fermented grapes from our mouths agape in speculation. I can’t help but question grandma, who hears the news of the baby every few days. The talk is medical, detailed, gruesome and the single guests who are drinking diet Pepsi instead of wine wince and watch the lights flicker out the bay window. I just have to ask, “what kind of life is that, why don’t they just let her die?” My sister’s husband with too many drinks in hand asks, “Who’s going to pull the plug?” I think I hear my sister hushing me from the other end of the table but I’m on a north bound train to the truth.”

My cousin’s husband is Latino and the conversation turns to the Latino population in the United States. My small town grandmother, talks of welfare, money out of her pocket, SUV’s in “Mexican’s” driveways, jobs taken, “America” drained. We all start to battle. I can’t help myself and begin to quote my professor from my “Sex, roles and Society” class. I’m on a rocket to the moon, a pedestal plus high heels, a mountain top with snow and frost bite. I see it in the city, I see it in class, I see it everywhere – this realization of the “other,” the difference in class, gender, race. My sister joins in but without her usual defiance and she looks at me pleadingly. The other’s chime their ideas. It’s a crescendo with Mozart playing in the background. It’s building, the room is cracking, the noise is deafening. My sister, with an edge in her voice says, “Just be careful about using words like, “them” and beware of swallowing everything your professors tell you. Remember we’re just a bunch of while folk with too much to eat and drink and healthy children. I just look at her. I want her radical self to yell the “truth” but then I see her look at grandma, who’s just lost her partner in life and is about to lose a granddaughter and I get it. We save the fight for another time even though my heart is pounding and I want to scream. I look at my sister and I see she wants to scream too and that somehow makes it better. I see we will fight it and I’m learning when the fight should go on. I look at the Turkey and see dead meat and I look at my dad and see an aging man, I look at my grandma and I see fifty years ahead and then I hold onto the table so the room will stop spinning.

{I wrote this after last year’s Thanksgiving at my house – in the voice of my little sister – trying to get perspective.}

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