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Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Christmas is actually a tie, but the two holidays are so very different in their feel and meaning that comparing or ranking these two holidays seems almost crass. Thanksgiving is warmth, simplicity, piety and joy...the joy of breaking bread with family. Christmas is celestial magic, with all Creation peeking through frosted windows. The stirrings in my soul on these respective days are so very different, but both are essential to my well-being.

It was thirty years ago, exactly, when I began a family tradition. I had just purchased my first home. I was single then (divorced, actually), young and hyper-enthusiastic. I invited my parents, my sister and her husband to celebrate Thanksgiving in my modest abode. I pored over recipes for weeks, selecting each course, dish and condiment only after great internal debate and countless revisions. I shopped. I cleaned. I decorated. I spent the days preceding this inaugural Thanksgiving feast chopping, grating, slicing, dicing, mincing and scurrying to achieve perfection. I woke before dawn and began the final preparations, impatiently waiting for my esteemed guests to arrive.

I searched through tomes of poetry to find a work that would express what I so dearly wished my family to hear/understand before we sat down, lit the candles, and began to sup. By all accounts, and by a variety of measures, the day was deemed a success. I insisted that I would always host Thanksgiving dinner...and so it came to be that I always did.

The years came and went. There were different homes, different decorations, different dishes, different poems, and additional participants (wife, in-laws and a niece), but Thanksgiving always remained a day reserved for me to nourish my family with as much love as I could muster.

That great thief, Time, winnowed the guest list until very little family remained. Somewhat by circumstance and somewhat by choice, there was no dinner last year or this. I spent these past two Thanksgivings with my mother at her permanent and final home...her nursing home.

My mother dines solely on high protein/carbohydrate shakes. The few remaining teeth that wobble so shakily within her jaws cannot manage anything more. I did not eat at all. The ward she calls home is reserved for the those severely afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The sights, the sounds, the smells and the suffering are certified appetite killers.

Now that it’s cold outside, I wear my crimson knit silk scarf because she likes the color and the feel of the material on her paper-thin, translucent skin. Although the ward is oppressively hot, she wears thick knit sweaters and is swaddled in shawls. The fire that once blazed so brightly within her petite frame has been reduced to embers. Her hands are always cold. And so I sit with her for hours, clasping her hands in mine, transferring the fire she sparked within me to her. There’s not much more that I can do. I caress her head, so sparsely covered with a few wisps of silvered hair. I drape my scarf across her neck and arms. I kiss her hands, her cheeks, forehead and lips. I lay her head upon my shoulder and I sit, saying little, for she cannot hear or understand. She mumbles incoherently, but that's OK, because she smiles and relaxes and basks in warmth. And so I sit, trying to nourish her with as much love as I can muster, until the visiting hours come to an end and I kiss her goodnight...

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Ed said...

It's so hard to watch parents age, to witness their suffering ... these frail little people we once lived in awe and fear of.

You're a good son, Jon.

Thu Dec 01, 07:38:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Oh, Ed! Your comment opended a floodgate of tears. I have spent a third of my life wandering the halls of nursing homes. I wish I were a better son, a better man, but all that I have witnessed and felt leave me feeling so utterly inadequate...

Thanks for stopping by. You are one of those rare human beings who seem to leave grace in their wake. You probably don't realize how much you contribute to others' lives, but I can honestly say I am grateful for your presence in my life.

Thu Dec 01, 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gillette said...

This post reminds me of my Grandmother. She was never officially diagnosed with Alzheimers, but was not there the last seven years or so of her life.

She lived in Omaha by then with my Aunt, continually confined to her bed because of a fall breaking her hip. This happened after watching her son, husband, my father, then mother all die. She didn't want to stick around. Hortense Marie left and I don't know who showed up in her stead. It was too much.

When I visited I would sing to her. Her favorite was "When You Wish Upon A Star" and she requested it endlessly. I, of course happily sang my heart out.

It was difficult seeing her like this, her hands paralyzed claws, yelling at my Aunt. I grieve that this is my children's only image of her- a little crow of a bedridden woman, bent and demented. I remember a dignified Lady. In her furs and perfect manners, the Grande Dame of the community. They just don't get it.

It also reminds me of a book I saw as a teen, but which stays vivid all these years. It was just photographs that began with the grandfather holding the diapered baby grandson. It followed them through the years until the last picture which was of the grandson holding his diapered grandfather, oblivious to the world.

You were a really really good son, Jonas. Really good. To sit with her, hold her hand, Be. Even though she did not respond, I know she felt you and that you brought her comfort.

Thank you for your humanity. It helps us all.

Mon Apr 02, 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Thank you for your thoughtful, poignant comment, Gillette.

Mon Apr 02, 10:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Grace said...

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday...being in the Fall, my favorite season.

My Thanksgiving 1999 was much like yours, Jonas. I had all my family over...my mom and dad, my single sibling and his wife and three children. I had my own two children and a husband at the time. And I probably had a couple of stray single friends...I always like to include whoever is around that doesn't have a place to go.

I had poured over recipes, done all the cleaning, shopping and cooking, and had a KodakMoment table set. We all sat down.

I did something different that year. At each place setting was a 3 x 5 card. I asked everyone to write down at least 3 things that they were thankful for. And then one by one, we each took turns reading our cards.

My father died 8 weeks later. On the day of his funeral, I handed my mother his 3 x 5 card. Of all the things he was thankful for, she came first. They would have been married 51 years now.

Your description of staying with your mother touched me so much. As life has changed..divorces, children growing up, brother too busy with his 'family', I've now spent a Thanksgiving or two with just my Mom.

No matter how much we think we've failed, Jonas, we were there for them. And that means everything.

Wed Jun 27, 11:37:00 PM  

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