Thanksgiving homesickness

Of all the days in all the years I’ve spent away from the place where I was raised (so many years that I wonder why I automatically think of it and call it “back home” still), Thanksgiving is the hardest. It’s not because I loved Thanksgiving as a child. I actually hated Thanksgiving with all the assigned gender role palaver, brown and orange food, and especially during my angsty teenage vegetarian years, the turkey. I hated being social and feeling awkward and a bit out of place.

My first year away from “home”, I remember eating liver casserole and gazing out the windows at the quickly darkening Scandinavian skies, thinking I passed a point that I could return from: putting my own life above family obligations. I felt a pang of regret, and the next year back in the States, I began to appreciate Thanksgiving a bit more.

I didn’t stop wandering though. But even when I wasn’t far from “home”, I sometimes still chose my life over family obligations, such as those years I spent with the ex when I always cooked a huge spread for just the two of us. skipping the larger family gathering a few miles away.

A few years ago, I couldn’t afford to go back “home” for Thanksgiving. My mother was visiting my sister in another state, my other sister had her inlaws visiting, so it would have just been my father and I along anyway. Still, I wanted to go “home” that year, and I tried to make my day as Thanksgiving-like as possible. I picked up a fancier than tv-dinner pre-made turkey dinner and watched a lot of glurge on television.

Eventually, I became lost in my memories of years gone past, and I tried to figure out which of my very early Thanksgiving memories was the first I could remember. They were all a blur of bread dips, football games, people coming in and out, comments on the size of the turkey, eating way too much, and nearly passing out on someone’s sofa (sometimes ours, sometimes, my father’s mother’s, sometimes my mother’s parents). There was the year I bit into my fingers when I tried to eat olives off their tips. Then there were the years where my grandparents were fighting so we had to eat two dinners. Was the first one I can remember one of the years my aunt and uncle drove up from DC? Of course they are dead now, as are all my grandparents and most of my other aunts and uncles as well as family friends who would eat with us most years.

To try to cheer myself a bit, I pictured a perfect Thanksgiving. Everyone would get along. Everyone would be “home” to visit. My mother’s mom would use her best china, make divinity and rum balls. My father’s mom would make her stuffing, and unlike any year I could remember, we’d all love it. Everyone would be happy, and everyone would know how much I love and miss them.

I came to love Thanksgiving food long before that lonely Thanksgiving that nearly broke my heart, and even though I spend most Thanksgivings away from my parents and other family, I think about them the whole day. I think of the people from Thanksgivings from long ago as well.

Maybe someday I will start a Thanksgiving dinner tradition here in my adopted home. I think it’s a great holiday (if we could just relax those silly pre-assigned gender roles a bit) whether you celebrate it as a time to thank the Higher Power or just to reflect upon what you have to feel grateful about. Even the family bit, even in the worst of times, is not all that bad when you think about it, at least in this wayward wanderer’s eyes on the one day of the year she really allows herself to be homesick. So for me, if you’re with your family this year, be extra patient and pretend to like the oyster stuffing.


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November 2009
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