November 22, 2007

Pilgrim's progress

Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving stirs for me the most ambivalence, and perhaps the least excitement, affection, nostalgia. These attachments are formed in childhood of course, and Thanksgiving, apart from my beloved Macy's Parade (I'd sit in front of the TV, spellbound), had little appeal to me. I grew up in a family that ate dinner together almost every day. The only thing different about turkey day was its lavish dimensions - and a menu that had none of my favorites. Roast turkey was overrated. Mashed potatoes, ho hum. Sweet potatoes made me gag. Cranberry sauce - ech. At least dessert was reliable.

Thanksgiving's icons left me unmoved. I didn't like the pilgrims. They struck me as geeky and puritanical. Probably humorless. I wouldn't have wanted to meet one. The purported spiritual underpinnings, to express gratitude by kissing up to the ugly turkey god and being expected to gorge on that punishing meal, simply did not register, or if it did, it was as just one more nonsensical adult conceit that children penetrate with unerring, if inarticulate, wisdom. As I grew older, my skepticism only deepened. I, for one, was always glad when dinner was over and we could get on to either piling in the car, or waiting for the doorbell to ring. For the cousin fest to start. Thanksgiving's intimations of the real magic to come - Christmas - was its one saving grace.

Of course that cousin fest, and it's many variations in the ensuing years, whether gathered elegantly with friends around cornish hens stuffed with millet, or volunteering with my best friend to serve the homeless at the soup kitchen is the real occasion, I eventually learned, for gratitude. And yes, for that gut-busting annual repast which, at the end of the day, was a sacrament of every other meal, large and small, provided by hard-working hands and thoughtful hearts.

Perhaps my most memorable Thanksgivings was in New York the year I was between apartments, out of work, out of relationship, out of sorts and alone. I was staying at the West Side Y (It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A!, and it did have its moments). I had a room facing Central Park West. I opened my eyes that November morning to see Snoopy, a very, very big Snoopy, silently floating by outside the window. He was followed by Big Bird, Popeye, Cinderella, and the rest of the colorful and colossally inflated characters. Seems the big balloons were herded unceremoniously down Central Park West on their way to Broadway. From my pillow I watched, spellbound, as they floated by... visitors from my childhood come colossally to life, and was thrilled. I don't remember if it occurred to me to be thankful. It does now.