We had nineteen family members to Thanksgiving dinner. They were all on Ben's side - parents, step-parents, siblings, nephews, cousins, even an aunt. These are people that I have known for many years now, people I feel close to, people I consider my family. In many ways, Ben's family has supplied the extended family for mine. My father is gone, my mother is, too, for all intents and purposes. My sister has long since forged her own path away. My brother, thankfully, my dear brother, is here. Jean-Paul and his wife, Tracy, and my two small nephews live one town over. Tracy was brought up in Michigan. Her adoptive parents are still there and rarely make it west. And so Ben's parents - all four of them - have stepped in as grandparents to my brother's boys. We spend every holiday all together. It's an amiable bunch.
This Thanksgiving, JP and Tracy decided to spend the day on their own with their boys. I was fully in support of the idea. I love the family holiday but I also love to live without obligation, as much as possible. The fact that we choose to be together is part of what makes it so special. Also, the idea that I could, one holiday season, cut the cord and go, say, to the Caribbean with Ben and the kids is also appealing.
When my mother went into assisted living, I cleaned out her house. I boxed fifty years of family in three woozy days. I touched all the objects I had known all my life. Objects that may have only been lamps and plates and figurines but were, for me, icons. Some went to Goodwill. Most, including my parents' beautiful mid-century Scandinavian furniture, went to me. My siblings didn't have room. I had a new mid-century house that needed exactly these objects. And, perhaps more deeply, the presence of these things, these bits of my childhood, was comforting.
And so my kids sit at the same table I did when I was their age. Their feet dangle from the same chairs, their crumbs fall in the same crevices. It makes for a lot of deja-vu.
It wasn't until I was layering slices of homemade bread in concentric circles on my mother's wooden plate on Thursday, the very same plate on which she layered homemade bread in concentric circles, that it hit me. Here on Thanksgiving, for the first time ever, I was the only one present of my original five. I felt a rush of homesickness for my mama, for my family, for what was.
My parents were married on Thanksgiving. November 25th, 1954, the very same year our current house was built. And in this house, on Thanksgiving, on November 25th no less, a family gathered around their table. We carved the turkey with their carving knife. We passed stuffing and gravy and potatoes in their serving bowls. Everything was here but them.
I have a new five. A loving and ever-fascinating husband I don't know how I had the wisdom to select after kissing so very many frogs. And these three children, these three that I would do anything for. That, in my worst nightmares, I am separated from. We five sat around that old table, together, surrounded by our family. Not the family I was born into but my family all the same. I raised a toast to my parents, to their marriage, to their anniversary. We all raised their glasses and drank.