Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Great-Full

I was 18, it was summer, and my friend G was driving us back to camp. We were counselors on a day off which we spent at our friend Denise's house on Long Island. It was a precarious time, the last vestages of childhood slowly giving way. It was G's birthday that day, August 5. At the time, G and I were merely a fragment of the friends that we are today, but friends enough to share a long dark ride to camp in comfortable silence.

She was driving, and suddenly, tears began to slip silently down her tanned cheeks. I was stunned, unable to imagine what was upsetting her. After all, she had the two things that I believed were the key to ultimate happiness: perfect skin and boys by the bundle.

I asked her what was wrong.


"I'm okay," she assured. "It's just my birthday. I cry sometimes, thinking about where I was last year, where I am now, birthdays gone by. It's just...alot."


I nodded, and probably did not say much more, though I hope that I patted her back while she drove, or smoothed her long hair.


The truth was that I did not understand the emotionality surrounding a birthday retrospective. Birthdays never meant much to me. I remember them fondly but barely at all. I can't tell you how I turned 21, or 10 or even 30. But Thanksgivings -- I remember Thanksgivings.


In the 70s and 80s, my family's Thanksgivings were regal. My grandma Flo would would cook up a storm. She was an incredible chef -- the rare breed who cook and bake equally well. Everything she created was divine. And she was fancy and immaculate -- silky napkins, crystal goblets, extravagant flower arrangements. The table was a sight to behold, sparkling and gilded. This was her way. Twenty years later, we would be tipped off to her dementia when the food she cooked tasted off and crumbs appeared in her corners. And now she is 93, as energetic as ever but with little memory of the time when she was Queen of the Kitchen.


In those days, family would gather from far and wide for Thanksgiving, where the table needed its extra leaves and kids sat at an adjacent card table in plastic chairs. When the dinners moved to our house and grandma Flo stopped cooking, the guest list shrank. Food was hearty but simple. The kids would bolt away as soon as dessert was served to watch TV. The opulance was over, but the togetherness was still there.

Later still, my maternal grandparents died. First my grandfather, the spiritual center of my family. He had been the one to create a holiday prayer, a religious moment in a secular holiday. Then my grandmother passed, in 2001, just a week away from Thanksgiving. When the day did arrive, we ate bland turkey take-out. In an effort to lift spirits, my uncle's girlfriend brought sprinkle-covered candy apples. I still haven't forgiven her.

Since then, Thanksgiving has been erratic. My brother missed a few, a doctor in his residency. We spent one at grandma Flo's nursing home, eating boiled turkey and cranberry jelly from tiny packets. Some have been good, some have been less. But they have all brought us together, for the sake of family if not for food.

Three Thanksgivings ago, I announced that I was pregnant with would-be Chloe after struggling with infertility. At his turn to share what he was thankful for, my husband passed the sonogram picture to my doctor brother, who yelled "No fucking way!". An hour earlier, I secretly told my sister first, and we cried on grandma Flo's gorgeous green velvet couch which now lives in my parents library. Last year on Thanksgiving day, the second line appeared faintly on the EPT test. That time, it would just be our secret, A and I, until we would receive that black fuzzy photo of the orb that would eight months later become Dylan.

Every Thanksgiving a part of me wept, thinking of where I had been last. Just like G on her 19th birthday, Thanksgiving was always bittersweet -- heavy with memories of simpler times, when family was young, robust and intact. This year was the first time where, aside from this post, I stayed firmly in the present, and happily so. Our table was once again full, and this time, there were three babies. My nephew, Jacob, was finally walking. My daughter Chloe, was eating with a fork. And my son Dylan cooed and smiled in a manner that was nothing short of miraculous, considering that he was relegated to a carseat on the floor. Grandma Flo held him, long enough to believe that she was still spry enough to babysit. My brother, a self proclaimed bachelor for life, was whispering into the ear of the woman he will soon marry, another doctor. My parents looked young and acted younger, likely because they chose to cater dinner this year. A took his Thanksgiving nap wrapped around Chloe in an upstairs room. In a word, it was great -- full of great. And I am grateful -- that this year, this time, I stopped looking back.

3 Comments:

At 6:12 PM PST, Blogger beri said...

oh aim, you got me to end your piece in tears once again. i love reading you. -b

 
At 12:29 PM PST, Anonymous G said...

for the record, i still cry every year on my birthday. thanksgiving sounds wonderful - glad it was so special. i'm grateful for your friendship, and for your awesome blog. xoxo

 
At 10:55 AM PST, Blogger Janya said...

beautiful, amy, just beautiful!

 

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