“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein
I believe Thanksgiving is made of memories rather than realities, and it’s not because of my age. Thanksgiving in my family, and many others, has always been about storytelling, which is probably why so many people love it. Statistics support it as the most favored holiday of all, ostensibly because it’s not a patriotic or religious symbol; although in truth, it’s both. The Huguenots and Puritans, early settlers who came to this American continent, would take exception to the claims for neutrality making Thanksgiving the most inclusive holiday we celebrate in the United States. And how amazing that we have Abraham Lincoln to thank for it. He wanted to unify divided families during the Civil War and bring the country comfort, so 1863 began our first national recognition of this unusual meal.
But Thanksgiving, as it emerged from the first harvest in 1621 with American Indians and wild turkeys on the guest list, has many time-honored anecdotes and traditions. I can see the dining room table as a powerful metaphor for memoir with all its pleasures and poignant melancholy two centuries later. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been brave enough to send my characters back to one of those menus incorporating so much possibility and failure in one common gathering. Yet, I see the potential, and I’m promising myself that my next book will have a Thanksgiving scene to highlight my characters’ challenges in the context of the people who know them in a uniquely targeted way: the family!!!
I have a picture in my mind to draw on of my father and his four brothers flanked by their wives, arranged with military precision around the Thanksgiving table at their parents’ house. It was seldom a happy occasion, as my mother told the story. My father placed at one end and his father at the other, the two super-egos would have it out on any topic that came to mind, and the other brothers and wives watched from either side like sports fans at a tennis match. I could picture that assemblage of souls, all wanting in my grandfather’s eyes, somehow enduring the family politics of the Thanksgiving table without ever speaking out—except my father, who never swallowed his pride with his meal as the others did. Those skirmishes with his father, who was an Episcopal bishop and used to adulation, respect, and winning the argument, usually ended with some religious disagreement, terminated by my grandfather’s favorite put-down: “Oh, ye of little faith!” I knew my father would have finished those visits reinforced with confidence by the battle. But the others were not. Continue Reading