Ok, I am clearly all over the board in this blog and have mixed new essays with excerpts from the book that was the ulterior motive for beginning Essays with Humor in general and I’ll Call It Like I See It specifically. The good news is one of my August posts has been published in a literary ezine called bioStories! I’ve added the link to my blogroll here and hope that you will visit the site – it’s a very interesting concept, the stories are compelling and the editor was very encouraging to me. I’d like to do the same for him.
Since I find it impossible to develop a semi-schedule of writing for my posts here, I decided to forge ahead with my Thanksgiving essay a bit early this morning. (My alter ego, The Red Man, has no trouble with his Rants and Raves and refuses to shut up which may partially explain my struggles here.)
I’ll miss Thanksgiving in Fingerville, South Carolina this year due to the vicissitudes of life, as my daddy used to say, but it will be with me wherever I am.
SEASONS GREETINGS FROM FINGERVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA
Today is a day of giving thanks. We cleverly named it Thanksgiving Day and have celebrated it for more than four hundred years in the United States. I was surprised to learn that this tradition was actually introduced to the U.S. in 1565 by Spaniards in St. Augustine, Florida. This newsflash made me feel a little better about the Texas Thanksgiving Day weather of my youth. My elementary school textbooks portrayed pouty Pilgrims wearing ridiculously tall hats, oversized belt buckles, and heavy coats—all in black. They invariably stood in deep white snow and appeared to be near freezing. I recall being embarrassed at our lack of proper cold temperatures for Thanksgiving in rural east Texas. If snow was good enough for the Pilgrims, it should have been good enough for us. It makes me happy, then, to think that this holiday really began as a fiesta in Florida with lots of warmth and sunshine and people who knew how to party. I have visions of tortilla soup, cheese enchiladas, and key lime pie. (I’m not sure how we made the leap to turkey from tortillas or pumpkin pie from key lime, but that’s a question for another day.)
Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday because it is the most resistant to crass commercialism. Halloween and Christmas have become impostors that pave the path to New Year’s Eve, but Thanksgiving remains the holiday for celebrating family and friends. It is the lull between two storms that blow powerful winds of spending and of buying more of what we don’t need in larger quantities.
When I was a child, Halloween was a night for wearing a costume made by my grandmother and walking with my friends to trick-or-treat in our little town. We each carried small paper sacks to collect the few pieces of candy offered by our neighbors. The highlight of the evening was the home that gave away homemade popcorn balls that were the size of tennis balls and had the rich aroma of freshly popped corn mixed with the white Karo syrup that held it together. They tasted as good as they smelled.
Sixty years later, I am astonished to see bags and more bags of Halloween candy in grocery stores. I’m talking about bags. I’m talking about the biggest bags you can imagine. I’m talking about bags of every color with every kind of candy known to the human species. Some of the bags are so big that they are difficult to carry. Enormous bags. Enough candy to last for years. Take several, will you? I’m drowning in Halloween candy.
And I’m talking about decorations, too. When did Halloween require stringing orange lights and black bats outside your house? When did it get out of control? Last year I stood with a large group of my neighbors who were mesmerized by the elaborate decorations of a house in our neighborhood. The entire front yard was filled with ghosts in an array of positions and the ability to become animated when activated. Our neighbor started the display regularly every night for two hours and did this for several weeks. On his cue, the ghosts in the bluegrass band played country music and hymns as the other figures performed by popping up from behind bushes to frighten the children. Seriously, hymns. Hymns for Halloween. Oh, yes, and yet another ghost repeatedly beat the head of one that tried to rise from a coffin. People came from far and near to watch. Halloween is officially an Event. Put a special note on your calendar that October 31 is an important day in our lives. We party.
But, on November 1, watch out. Clear the aisles. Christmas candy—bags galore—has miraculously supplanted the Halloween candy, which is now half price. Christmas decorations appear out of nowhere to signal the retail onslaught of the season. If you think you’re seeing red, you’re probably right, because red is the signature color for this time of the year. Red Santas, red stockings, red wrapping paper, red cards, red candy canes, red ribbons, red blinking lights—everywhere you look, you’re seeing red with a splash of green or gold or white for emphasis. It’s time to buy. A gong has sounded, and no payments will be due on anything until next year. Thank goodness. Because we won’t be able to afford them this year. We must decorate. We need to get out our trimmings to make sure they’re blinking properly, and, of course, we’ll need to buy some new ones, too. The season demands it. Something old. Something new, nothing borrowed, nothing blue. Mostly something new. Definitely something red.
The march is on, and good cheer has a price. Merry gentlemen, God doesn’t rest ye. O Holy Night, you’re not really silent. As a matter of fact, you’re all about the noise of cars and planes and people in a hurry to get somewhere. It’s time to travel, and the highways and airports are hubbubs of activity. We are rocking around the Christmas tree. Every creature is stirring on the night before, during, and after Christmas. Hallelujah. Let’s make it a chorus.
Sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas is the poor relation, Thanksgiving. On this lesser holiday, I am thankful for the memories of my family and our life before cell phones interrupted us while we feasted at the tables of my grandmothers. I am thankful for a grandmother who got up in the wee hours of the morning to put a turkey in a large cooker that was used only twice a year. I can still smell the aroma that permeated our whole house by the time we got up on Thanksgiving morning. The turkey was on its way to perfection. I am grateful to that grandmother for working ten hours a day, six days a week so that we would have a roof over our heads and food to eat. I feel her love today as I felt it then, but now I know how fortunate I was to have her in my life—and I also know that not everyone is so lucky.
My daddy used to tell me it was pointless to compare my life to someone else’s. He said I could always find someone who had more than I did, or look in another direction to discover someone who had less. My daddy was a wise man. Today, I count my many blessings, and, as the hymn says, I name them one by one. For the father who insisted the whole earth was my territory and who tried to show me as much of that world as he could, I am thankful. For the mother who wrestled her own demons as she tried to accept her daughter’s differences but never quit loving that daughter, I am thankful. For the partner who knows me inside and out and loves me for who I am, I am thankful.
I celebrated last Thanksgiving with my partner Teresa’s family. We drove from our home in Columbia to the First Baptist Church of Fingerville in the upstate of South Carolina where she is from. (No kidding. The town’s real name is Fingerville.) This wonderful extended family from her mother’s side gathers in the fellowship hall of the church every year to eat an evening meal and to remind each other that family differences don’t necessarily mean family disconnections. Although politics and religion are divisive issues and shelved as topics of conversation during the gathering, the gossip surrounding the activities of children and grandchildren are fair game. The aunts and uncles who are older now speak volumes without words, and the simplicity and sameness of the party suggest a time long ago and far away. In the midst of a truly southern meal, our souls were nourished.
Three different kinds of cornbread dressing went well with either the turkey or ham. Several dishes of creamed corn, sweet potato casseroles, green beans, black-eyed peas, fruit salads, and green salads completely filled the main tables in the fellowship hall of the church. A second large table was reserved for the desserts that included pumpkin and pecan pies, coconut cake, lemon pound cake, and an assortment of Krispy Kreme donuts. Drinks were available in the kitchen that was adjacent to the dining area of the fellowship hall. Sweet and unsweet iced tea and coffee provided the right amount of caffeine to make sure everyone stayed awake during the ride home. It was a feast, and an exact replica of the meals I had in Texas for Thanksgiving. No wonder Teresa and I were happy—our families shared the same recipes! I miss the ones in my family who are gone, but I’m fortunate to have another one that welcomes me to their table.
Whether it was the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock or the Spaniards in Florida or some other group yet to be recognized, I salute this day of giving thanks. It’s a meaningful one for me and suits my tendency to ponder. For those of you who prefer the orange lights of Halloween and the white lights of Christmas, I wish you joy and strands that are easy to untangle. I also fervently pray to the Gods of All Holidays that Thanksgiving candy and Thanksgiving outdoor decorations are hereby permanently prohibited. Amen.