Because I grew up in a small family, my childhood holidays were most often quiet and simple, and I always dreamed that when I had my own family (that ubiquitous someday), I would host grand holiday events–my home would forever be overflowing with family and friends.
That’s the thing about being young and dreaming–everything was always (at least for me) the exact opposite of what was right in front of me. The other thing, is that standing here in the middle of this someday–now no longer a hypothetical future but something that is fast receding behind me–things don’t look exactly how I’d pictured them way back when. There isn’t any resemblance, really. And that’s one more thing about youthful dreams–they lack (at least the good ones) foundation. I mean, where did I expect all these new family members to come from exactly? (And that boat, too?) I should have thought of that when I married an only child…
So here I am in some sort of adulthood, and although we have some rockin’ Easter, New Year, and Fourth of July traditions with friends, and Christmas is always homey in the best possible kind of way, Thanksgiving–to me–always still feels a bit…lacking. After a particularly depressing trip to the grocery store last year, I vowed that this Thanksgiving would be different–that it would mean something. I thought of growing all our own vegetables in our garden for our Thanksgiving feast; pulling a pumpkin off the vine in our backyard to make a pie; taking the kids on trips to Plymouth Village and the cranberry bogs on the Cape and teaching them about the history of Thanksgiving and the beauty of the harvest, all the while surrounded by friends and loved ones… But time somehow seems to be accelerating nowadays, no matter how I try to slow it down, and after putting mass amounts of time and energy into the annual Holiday Fair at my daughter’s school (among other things) it was suddenly the Monday before Thanksgiving, and I had yet to plan a Thanksgiving meal, let alone do any of the other things on my list.
It was at this moment–this moment when I foresaw myself packed like a sardine in the grocery store days before Thanksgiving, having my cart slammed endlessly by frantic holiday consumers–that I almost lost it. Almost.
It was also at this moment that I received an email from a friend, telling me about a local farm’s Thanksgiving sale. It was a farm she had worked with throughout the year in her project to offer free CSA shares to local people living in poverty. And it was right around the corner from Emerson’s school.
When I pulled in to the farm’s driveway the next day, after picking Emerson up, I felt that Thanksgiving, in fact, could be saved. A beautiful fall day was ending (at 4pm) and while I went inside to look around at local fare and listen to homespun bluegrass in a barn roofed with solar panels, my kids ran to meet their friends at the swing-set out back and play, with the backdrop of a huge, orange harvest sun sinking through bare trees into the fields behind them.
I came home humming a happy tune, thinking that even though we didn’t grow (or even make) everything on our Thanksgiving table, at least we were keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving–as a harvest celebration, that is. As for Plymouth village and the story of the Pilgrims and Indians…it’s an interesting story, but perhaps its greatest role in history is as our country’s first urban legend. We can save that for another year (I think reading Little House on the Prairie has given Emerson more insight into American Indians’ relationships with white-settlers than that measly little story could, anyway), and there was still the possibility of travelling through the history of Thanksgiving at Old Sturbridge Village, our home away from home. I’m not sure what story they’re telling there, but I’m fairly confident that it’s not of the Plymouth village variety…
As for our Thanksgiving Day attendance, it was small (one woman down from the usual suspects with my mother in North Carolina, but one friend to make up the difference), but despite this, the number of social events leading up to and after Thanksgiving Day itself, wrapped us in enough community to carry us through.
Not to mention the fact that one of these social events was the celebration of my sweetest, little baby-girl becoming four…
Because Emerson somehow ends up celebrating her birthday at least three different days, we intentionally planned Ophelia’s party for a day that wasn’t her actual birthday, so that she could spread her birthday out a little too. On her actual birthday, we let Ophelia chose what she wanted to do for the day, which was go bowling and eat pizza at our townie restaurant…and let me tell you, watching her throw–literally, throw–that bowling ball onto the lane and jump up and down–again, literally–with excitement as it made its slow trek towards the pins, beat the hell out of anything they offered up at Old Sturbridge Village that day.
After we ate our pizza that evening, Emerson had to leave to go to a skating lesson, and Ophelia and I stayed and chatted while she finished eating at her own pace. Afterwards I suggested that we get a special dessert for her birthday and together we picked out a brownie sundae, which the waiter brought out with a little candle. We chatted some more while we ate, and lingered a little while afterward so that we could finish reading the new Flicka, Ricka, Dicka book Ophelia had just received as a gift. As we got back into our coats and hats and shuffled back into the cold, it occurred to me that, yes–there is a place for big celebrations in life, but sometimes a party of two feels just right.