Welcome back to Magnetic North just as many are either coming or going in search of family and feast or both.
Since our very first Thanksgiving here, Paul and I have preferred staying put to traveling. By a happy trick of fate, that first year we had to cancel plans for the holiday due to Paul’s aching back. And so began a 16-year-long tradition of making the Congregational Church community dinner our “family feed.”
Every year thereafter I’d recall that first Thanksgiving at the church. Counting ourselves quite pitiful we discovered we were anything but. We were part of a new family, one that waxed and waned over the years. Always reconstituting on Thanksgiving, the tastes and aromas and familiar dishes conjuring up faces and conversations.
When my mother was alive, she loved to be included in the bustle of the Congo Thanksgiving dinner. Seated like a grand dame at one of many circular tables of eight, mother took great pains to speak to each person as if she were the hostess and they were her very special guests. Especially the gentlemen, and the younger the better. Mother was a flirt of the nicest sort. Even in her 80s and 90s.
One particular Thanksgiving Mom had a great chat with two handsome young fellows, Greg and William, friends of mine. They laughed at her jokes and offered to get her extra pie. She was taken with them both. So much so that afterward, on the drive home, she remarked that it was “nice” that those two men could have a real holiday dinner even though their wives were out of town.
“What makes you think they have wives?” I asked my very conservative Southern-born mother.
“Well, they were both wearing wedding rings,” she said. “Obviously, they are married.”
“They are, Mom. To each other,” I said, never taking my eyes off the road. A Herculean feat since I would have given anything to have seen her face.
“Oh, my,” she said. Then, after a few silent minutes, “Well, I guess that’s fine.”
Needless to say, mother was ever so eager to go the church dinner again the next year, asking repeatedly if “that nice young couple - you know the married ones with no wives - would be coming.”
Paul and I have missed only two Thanksgivings in our beloved hometown. Last year when we rashly decided to go to Los Angeles to be with my daughter and her family. We think we had a good time; however, the third-world experience of air travel wiped out nearly every fond memory of the trip.
The other time we were away on Thanksgiving was three years ago. I remember standing in a buffet line at a lovely Duluth restaurant, piling all kinds of fabulous foods on my plate and wondering if I’d keep any of it down in the hours ahead. You see, I’d had my first course of chemotherapy for breast cancer the day before and I didn’t know yet that the shots and pills they gave me to prevent nausea really would work.
This week I went for my three-year checkup. As I wrote this column I hadn’t had the checkup yet. Two friends have had recurrences recently. So I’m just a little bit freaked. It’s times like this I miss Mom like crazy.
Naturally, if all is well, for now, I will be SO grateful. But having survived this long, I know that all that gives me joy in life cannot be diminished, much less disappeared, by a collection of rogue cells.
And so, here’s to your best Thanksgiving ever. Or to memories of your best if you have already had it.