In the mighty world of merchandising, Thanksgiving is just an unfortunate speed bump on the retail road between two very profitable holidays: Halloween and Christmas. In most temples of retail, the Christmas decorations are hauled out as soon as the costumes and leftover skeletons get schlepped back into storerooms, but it’s not until Thanksgiving that the full onslaught of Christmas overkill begins.
Any moment now, we can expect the coming of the Christmas inflatables. But I ask you: Are there no Thanksgiving inflatables out there? No pilgrims humbled by famine? No huge turkeys? Or what about a nice, silvery six-foot alewife to decorate your lawn? Honestly, I am somewhat relieved the Thanksgiving inflatable-thing has not caught on. It’s nice to have one holiday without the threat of lawn floats that by night look lively and enthusiastic, but by day look like road kill.
Most of us vaguely remember that Thanksgiving began as a show of gratitude from the hungry pilgrims to their hosts, the Native Americans. Now, it has turned into a day of gluttony, a 4,000-calorie festival of food. What’s not to like about a holiday devoted to comestibles? Eat. Watch football. Eat some more. Watch more football.
Thanksgiving might be the best holiday there is because it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Labor Day? Last time I checked, there were a lot of people working on Labor Day, which is supposed to be a day of rest for the workers, isn’t it? Memorial Day? It’s sad, but there are lots and lots of Americans who see Memorial Day as the first day of beach season and not a time to honor those who have served our country. Arbor Day? Even the trees don’t care about Arbor Day. Then there’s New Year’s Eve, my least favorite holiday: a holiday devoted to binge drinking.
I’ve hosted Thanksgiving for a crew of family and friends for the better part of the last ten years. My BFF and I combined our families for Thanksgiving when, in a mutual gripe session, we realized by conjoining the old folks at the dinner table, their oft-repeated stories would be heard by other ears, thus ensuring a less jaded audience for their tales of woe. My mother could tell stories about her broken scapula, Carla’s mom could gripe about her bad knees, again, and we’d be free to huddle in the family room with the appetizers. A win-win holiday for all.
There’s a new excitement for Thanksgiving this year, because the college boys will be coming home. The quiet that has enveloped my house will be disrupted by heavy footfalls, piano playing and a return to family life as it was when we were a family of four, all the time. The boys will be grateful for a full refrigerator, their favorite cereal, and a huge pot of good, strong coffee in the morning. They’ll be happy to see me and ecstatic to see their dog Lulu.
Most of us in Mo’town live very charmed lives. We gripe about property taxes, but we can still afford to pay them. We gripe about local politics, but forget that in many countries, to gripe about anything is a one-way ticket to life behind bars. Or worse.
I was astounded, many years ago, by the comments of a rather smug individual in a book group I was then part of. We had read a book set in India. We were dissecting the book and discussing why we liked or disliked it, when someone began a rant on how unrealistic it was that one of the characters had put a plastic shopping bag on his head as a hat. I am a very visual person. Immediately, my mind took me back to the year I lived in Brazil with my mother’s family. I could still see the roadside vendors hawking bags of oranges or the street urchins, heads crowned in plastic bags, offering to watch your car for a few cruzeiros.
For a quick lesson in gratitude, everyone should be required to live in a Third-World country for several months in order to understand what it means to be free in our world of plenty. Freedom of speech! Freedom to worship as you choose! I loved living with my family in Brazil, but longed for my singles life in Chicago, where I could come and go as I pleased and hang out at the Ale House without being mistaken for a "loose woman." I don’t know what public sentiment for American women is now, but in the Eighties, all American women were perceived (at least by Brazilian men) to be rich and promiscuous. How tiresome it became to deal with that stereotype, but it made me deliriously happy to know freedom would again be mine when I returned to the States. I have never taken that liberty for granted again.
So this year, I am trying for a little more thanks and a little less pumpkin pie. Herewith, a list of things I am grateful for:
1) The hub. We’ve been together for over 28 years. We still enjoy each other’s company. He always makes me laugh, especially when I ask him to fix something around the house.
2) My boysies. I have been blessed with two wonderful, interesting young men. I can’t pretend that this immersion in testosterone has helped me understand the gender any better, but I’m grateful for the sliver of insight they have given me.
3) My job: books, children, storytelling, googly eyes and crafts. Yes, they actually PAY ME to do this.
4) Our town. Gripe all you want! Booze at the mall is not going to change the fact most of us lead glorious lives here in our beautiful Mo’town.
5) The “do-gooders” in our town. The many citizens who rebuilt the playground so ALL children (not just children in sports clubs) could play. The Home and School women who collect turkeys for those folks who have none. The Buss family, for encouraging us to "." , for keeping the arts alive and giving back everything to the community. , for giving teens a chance to have fun with only the stimulants of soda, pizza and good company.
6) My readers! Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading my column.
What are you giving thanks for this year?