Thanksgiving this year will present some challenges. A couple weeks ago, our youngest snapchatted me and queried, earnestly as only an enneagram 6 can query—“Is there not an oven in our Thanksgiving Airbnb?”
She had checked the photos. More closely than I had, it turns out, a feat difficult to manage since I check rental apartment photos quite carefully after the no shower debacle of Europe 2010. No oven. Only an electric cooktop and a microwave to create our epic annual dinner.
This was not sufficient for youngest daughter. Enneagram 6’s love tradition. They live and breathe it. It comforts them. It cuddles them in a tender fleece blanket of certainty that life will always carry on as it does when the mashed potatoes and spatchcocked turkey are on the table.
The Long Tables
Thanksgiving dinners of my childhood resembled an assembly line at Ford Motors more than a warm family gathering. Extended family gathered at our house, and tables I hadn’t known existed appeared, stretched out through the living and dining areas and into the front porch. I still don’t know where those tables came from. I’m fairly certain my parents didn’t have a stash of them squirreled away in the basement, ready to emerge once or twice a year. My own family’s usual appeal for such things—the church storage room—was not an option for my pagan relatives.
Cousins, uncles, aunts, questionable significant others—all arrived. Mismatched tablecloths spread out, pies passed, and on cue, the men fell asleep in front of football while the women did the dishes after the feast. Siblings fought. Cousins generated drama. When my brother happened in, he snapped towels at any sisters who dared to venture near. I adored him, so I ventured, but I was also very fast.
I ate at the kids’ table, of course. The youngest of our seven, and near the tail end of the entire cousin factory, I always sat at the kids’ table and would until I married and had my own kids, I guessed. Even then, I remained skeptical over my odds of leaving it.
At the kids’ table we practiced all the things kids do when the elders aren’t paying attention. We dared one another to snort cranberry sauce up our noses. You know the stuff—the awful crimson, jiggly mass that retained the imprint of its can when my mother slid it onto the plate. We fed the dog whatever parents forced on our plates so we would eat healthy, or at least they could retain the illusion that we ate right, while they engaged in conversation about Nixon or the Bears or whatever mattered that year.
Almost everything on my plate went dogward—I only liked turkey and gravy and eating the filling of the lemon meringue pie. I left the crust for confused dishwashers to wonder if the insides had been stolen by aliens or, in another household more conversant with evangelicalism, raptured.
We poked one another and whispered secrets to one another and assumed what my daughter assumes—that life would always carry on as it did so long as the mashed potatoes and overdone turkey sat on our table every year.
Leaving the Table
My aunt Norma was the first to leave the table. I remember my mom crying, and all of us stuffing ourselves into the car to travel to Valparaiso, a place I thought was a million miles away across the scariest bridge known to humankind but now realize was barely an hour and a half across what must have been the Chicago Skyway.
I didn’t get to go to the funeral. Kids were deemed too young to understand. We stayed behind in the house and struggled to figure out what to say to our cousin Johnny, the one closest in age to me, both of us ten and blinking into a future without his mother, a bewildering concept neither of us had considered could be the next page turn in the choose-your-own-adventure real-life version. If I said anything, I’m sure it was foolish.
My sister was next. You’re not supposed to have a sister die when you’re only fourteen and totally self-absorbed, as are all fourteen-year-olds ever—and it isn’t their fault—it’s biology. Being wheelchair bound, she’d never left the table of her own volition—someone always had to cut her turkey and wheel her out of the crowded room. But she had left, without assistance, and if not of her own volition at least prepared for the death doctors had said was coming for ten years. Given its tardiness, I could have been excused for not believing in its inevitability.
Four years after that, we lost the matriarch of the giant extended family table. My mother would have hated being called a matriarch. Vanity figured into her sins, and from her dyed-blonde hair to the girdle my sister and I laughed at when we sneaked into her dresser drawers, mom denied that age could touch her. Of course, it didn’t. Given that she only made it to fifty, age had never sunk any claws into her at all by the time she died.
Nevertheless, she glued the family together, and after she departed, no long tables stretched through our rooms ever again. Thanksgiving became a small affair, with only the kids and spouses and grandkids that lived nearby coming in and out, faintly accepting that we were to be there but not truly feeling the tether that held us anymore.
When I moved across the country, I barely noticed anything was missing.
All this to say, I have a complicated relationship with Thanksgiving.
I am glad my daughter does not.
I Am Thankful
If I chose the one thing I am most grateful for at the Thanksgiving table, it would be this. My daughters have not grown up with the door slamming, drama-filled holiday dinners of my childhood. They have only recently lost the first important person in their lives—their beloved grandma. This is a good record by my standards, given the baby is 23.
Their table will continue to stretch out, enveloping new family members for years to come, and I am grateful. It will not dissolve into silence and confusion, even if I or their father should leave it prematurely. They have the stability, love, and faith to carry on.
This Thanksgiving, I am so grateful for this trio of girls who genuinely love one another. Who stand up for one another. Who root for one another, pray for one another, and snapchat one another on the regular. This is a gift not to be taken lightly. It is a gift I didn’t have.
There may not be the usual turkey on the table this year. (It will still be better than the Thanksgiving dinner we had at Hard Rock Cafe Orlando, however.) But despite my child’s protestations, I know she knows this is not the part that holds us together. I know she knows the glue isn’t the stuffing (although my stuffing might be close to glue) or the Christmas music or the heaping bowl of her favorite thing on the planet—mashed potatoes. I know she knows it isn’t even me, the new matriarch.
It’s Jesus. It’s faith. It’s hope and love. These things I will never take for granted. I wish you all these things this Thanksgiving (belated, my Canadian friends). Blessings.