We’re fleeing Thanksgiving like felons. Kissing off tradition and both sides of our family. It’s wrong, and we know it in our bones. I only hope they love us enough to forget our insult and accept us back into the fold when we come to our senses next year and visit North Carolina to see everyone. We’re doing a double header blow-off by escaping everyone we love down South and dismissing our new home of New York City with its massive parade starring giant floats, marching bands and Broadway show performances.
Like seasoned veterans of New York, we understand that when fleeing a cold place you want to go as far South as possible. We grew up in North Carolina. Not nearly south enough. We lived in central Florida in Ocala. A few good steps in the right direction, but we can do better than that. So we are flying down to Key West for Thanksgiving.
We need to wind down for a bit. New York City has us wound up tight as drums. Contrary to popular belief, seeing your parents for Thanksgiving does not help you relax. It may even have the opposite effect. I’m not saying that it does. I’m just saying that it’s possible.
We plan to leave behind the howling winds, a chilly rain and temperatures that never reached higher than 30 degrees in the last few days. We hope for palm trees and sunshine and quiet. No subway cars screeching to a halt. No dump trucks backing up loudly at six in the morning. A few tropical birds making soothing sounds, maybe.
Last year, when we were young and foolish and in the first blush of love with New York, we went to the parade. Two of us, anyway. Avery and I froze to death at the parade. We realized too late that the benefits of being along the parade route are outweighed by missing the made-for-TV antics performed elsewhere on the route. No bands launched into songs where we stood. No Broadway actors or actresses performed in front of us.
Robyn was safe and warm in the apartment. She had opted out of the live experience, but was happy to share in our parade from home. “Did you see this act? How about this one?” she asked. No. And no. We saw no acts. It was cool to watch the giant inflatable balloons loom so large above us. They are like small buildings suspended in air somehow. Hard to get your head around when they are right in front of you. How can something be so big and so light at the same time? They make you forget that you lost feeling in your feet thirty minutes ago.
Up in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, we had a long tradition of gathering for Thanksgiving to celebrate with my grandparents. Though my grandparents have long passed, my wonderful Uncle Toby and Aunt Anna Lee who live in Georgia have kept that tradition alive. They invite their three children and their sprawling broods up for a few days to the old home place they have worked to restore and revitalize. My parents and my sister and I always get an invitation too.
Whenever we get to spend much time at all around my Cousin Angie and her husband David, I always laugh so hard I nearly snort. I haven’t had a good snorting laugh since I saw them last.
When I was a child, we always had a Thanksgiving game of touch football. My dad was quarterback. I was a wide receiver. Not fast, but I was always a little elusive, and I can catch anything thrown in my direction. We often won the battle or at least ended with a tie, though we usually forgot to keep score after a while.
The meal was a grand affair of turkey, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. Everyone would sit and tell something they were grateful for before we could eat. I was always desperate to start eating, so this was hard as a child. It’s a tradition you can only appreciate as an adult.
We have shared some Thanksgivings with Robyn’s parents. They are loving and wonderful people whose gourmet cooking skills make my stomach rumble with glee. During one of our first Thanksgivings together Robb asked what my special dish would be. He wanted to know what I was bringing to the table in a very literal sense. I cannot cook anything, but I am great at going to the store to get stuff at the last minute that must be gotten. That’s my contribution whenever we share a Thanksgiving meal with Robyn’s folks.
Our older son Andrew is back in Wilmington where he started his own Thanksgiving tradition by having friends over for a big pre-Thanksgiving feast. He loves to cook. I’m sure his gaunt twenty-something pals love to eat. It’s a beautiful thing.
My parents and my sister’s family usually go up to Asheville for Thanksgiving. It makes for a lot of people crowded around a dinner table. Sometimes they don’t make it up for one reason or another. But I always think of the mountains when I think of Thanksgiving. Asheville is the epicenter of the holiday for me, a sacred space where we give thanks as we break bread.
All my cousins and my aunt and uncle will sit this year with their beautiful children. They will join hands and bless the food. They will count the blessings. I am not there, so mine will go uncounted. I will not get to see the small kids squirm and think about what blessings they might have as I once did.
If I got to count my blessings with them, it would go something like this:
I am grateful for being a part of your lives, even if am a little elusive like Peter Pan’s shadow on the wall – the weird long lost cousin in New York City you speak of seldom in whispers before shaking your head. Your neighbors would not understand. I’m OK with that. I miss you terribly.
Next year, I promise I will arrive in a timely fashion and fight you hard for the wishbone. I may even run a wishbone offense in the Turkey Bowl we have allowed to lapse in recent years. I fully expect you’ll seat me at the Children’s table when I come. I got to eat one year at the big Adult Table and discovered that it has its charms. But for pure unadulterated fun you cannot beat the foldout card table in the living room where mashed potatoes are piled high and everyone plays with their food.
Please always remember that I love you.