I watched my son shrug on his heavy coat and slip into his backpack, just a bit harried, almost but not quite late for the morning bus as usual, as every day. “If I make a special meal for Thanksgiving tonight, will you stay in and eat with us? Can you plan it into your schedule?” I inquired. “I don’t know,” he puffs, one foot already out the door. “I don’t know what I’m doing tonight yet but I’ll let you know.” Today is just another weekday, a Thursday, a middle-of-the-week, work-and-school-as-usual day in France. As it has been for the more than twenty-six years that I have lived here with my French family. So it is no wonder that we do not celebrate Thanksgiving.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, I always say. And when in France in a house full of Frenchmen, well, Thanksgiving gets shuffled to the back of the closet.
We have never celebrated Thanksgiving. As the season rolls around and the day approaches, the house fills with the splendid aromas of cinnamon wafting from the oven warm and spicy, pumpkin roasting sweet and earthy, cranberries and oranges simmering on the stove, the seasonal fragrance of holidays and autumn. There may have been roasted birds in the past, home-baked bread, loaves of cranberry-orange, tins of cornbread and fluffy dinner rolls. There have been our fair share of chestnutty this and apple that, cakes and pies and compotes. But as I sit here and weigh out the decision whether or not to cook a festive meal tonight, I simply cannot even remember if I have ever told the simple story of the first Thanksgiving to my sons. Most likely my husband, the history buff, pragmatic and cynical to his soul, would have interrupted me more than once with tales of lies, stolen land and battles waged.
Younger son popped home today to wolf down a couple of all-American grilled cheese sandwiches. Perched upon stools at the kitchen counter, I turned to him and noticed that today he was unplugged, no ear buds stuck into his head, volume up, the noise of some American cop show drowning us and the outside world out. “Do you know the story of Thanksgiving?” I queried? Only the slightest of movements, barely a shrug of the shoulders, a wink of recognition; chewing slowly and staring straight ahead I sensed more than saw the glimmer of a negative. Maybe the question surprised him and he needed to dig back deep into his memory, but the answer must have been no.
The older son blasts in on a wave of hunger and cold wind looking for his own grilled cheese sandwiches (in this, I trained them well) and I posed the same question to him. “Oh yeah, like the Pilgrims?” he grinned. “And what else do you know?” I asked. “Well, they stole land from them, sold them booze and they sold New York to them for $2!” he laughed. Well, I think maybe somewhere in there he has the story. Someone was paying attention to his history lessons.
But it is all about being thankful. And that we are. Even as we come to the end of a very long, very trying ten years of pain and sadness, illness and death, times turbulent and riddled with tragedy, we have come to appreciate the good we have in our lives. We are indeed thankful for the love that binds us together, the love that has saved us and gotten us through both thick and thin, no matter how that love and these bonds have been tried, stretched and strained.
We are thankful for our sons. As we look around us and see so much woe, see so many parents dealing with so many difficulties and troubled kids, so many families torn asunder, we are thankful every day that our sons have grown up to be smart, healthy, educated, generous, handsome young men who are still happy to hang out with us, go on vacation with us and share their day to day with us. We are thankful that each has found his calling and is well and successfully on his way to a satisfying and fruitful career, surrounded by good friends.
We are thankful for the laughter that rings through our home, that we can be silly and crazy and real downright idiots when we like. We are thankful for having a roof over our head, a warm cozy home and food and books to fill and sate, nourish us body and soul. We are thankful for our health, even as age begins to weigh us down with her aches and stiffness. We are still in pretty damn fine shape.
And we are thankful for our family and friends. We may not see them often and we might not be sitting down to share a feast with them, but we know we have this network of caring, generous people around us, supported and supporting, encouraged and encouraging, with whom we share information, culture, meals, triumphs, tears and laughter.
While the Pilgrims were sitting down to table, breaking bread with the Indians, my family might have been in some Eastern shtetl and my husband’s in France, both poor, humble stock, and although we don’t roast turkey and serve up mounds of stuffing and thick slabs of pie, we are thankful indeed.
Take a bigger bite ...