When I was eight, Thanksgiving was about leaf-patterned vests with coordinating too-hot turtlenecks. We kids were let loose after dinner, to take a cleansing walk around the block. And it lasted a long time. Our stomachs were near to bursting, mostly full of potatoes and gravy and the cranberry jelly we slid and sliced from a can. (I always, always loved the suck and slip of the cranberry cylinder as it dropped from the can to the plate.) And we were all happy, pretending our California fall felt like fall, and wishing secretly it would instead be foggy or rainy or colder than it really ever was. We had enjoyed dinner, and it was nice to see everyone, but it was just another party. It was a fall version of Christmas, without all the presents.
And so it went. For the next twenty years.
Then my uncle got sick and my mother got active and she instigated the "share something you are thankful for" tradition. It was awkward and it made me antsy at first, but we did it anyway. To make my mother happy. Or, to not offend my uncle. Or, to try and pretend we were less spoiled and ungrateful and mad than we were. I mean, someone in our midst was dying, and taking turns saying what we were thankful for was, in the end, like some kind of forced, brilliant way of talking about the elephant in the room in third person. Suddenly, we could talk about death and life and not being too sad and try on some happiness without even mentioning the huge grey lump in the corner.
Since then, and, weirdly, since my uncle died, the Thanksgiving thanks has gotten a incrementally easier. Maybe it is because we are all sobered up from the early loss. Maybe it was just me. Last year I meant what I said: I was thankful for my family. Everyone is supposed to say that, but I really was. I had this growing boy that was able to send me into a swell of intense fondness or frustration with the twitch of his toe; I had this girl, still new and finally sitting up and so blessedly different from her brother that they weren't even opposites; And then I had this beloved, this man who I met as a boy who somehow still liked me even though he knew me well, and vice verse. We were a family. I liked us. And that was a lot.
This year is awkward again. No one is sick, but we have three grandparents who hardly know what to do with their napkins. It is the winding down of an era, and it feels a bit shaky. We will be keeping the old and young out of trouble. The dorky games I hope to play probably won't happen because the aged folk won't know what to do.
I say this, and then I think of the last time I played a game with my now gone grandmother. She was barely in tune with reality, but she sat down to a game of Canasta with a bunch of us kids and had us explain the rules to her anyhow. She acted stunned and stupid. And then she beat the socks off of us. Twice.
I decided weeks ago what I will say tomorrow: I am grateful for gratefulness. I have, by some miracle of time, moved beyond mashed potatoes and turtlenecks and onto the ubiquitous thankful- and gratefulness.
For what? I dodn't really know. Maybe I am grateful I have the sight to see gratefulness in the first place. To not approach life with a beaten back stance. To look towards the future - and at the past - with hope and hurrah. To look at the present like I look at a well baked cake, with hope, hurrah, and delight.