Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving. Have a Happy One.

Thanksgiving is always about family, right? Well, usually, anyway. Family and food. And football.

Early in my creative career (read: when I couldn't afford to go home because I was a struggling actor without two nickles to rub together), Thanksgiving was about what we now often refer to as "tribe." Community. My peeps. A circle of friends, lovers, cast-mates, and theatre orphans that had one thing in common -- each other.  Well, that and we were stuck in LA together on a big holiday. If we pooled our money we could buy a turkey and some Almaden Savignon Blanc (or Carlo Rossi Burgundy if none of us had worked in a while.) Of course, my roommate and I would always have a bottle of Jameson in the house for special occasions and an orphan's Thanksgiving was always one such event.

For the last 20 years or so, Thanksgiving has been about driving 1000 miles (one way) to visit my mother and her long-time significant other. My younger brother in Las Vegas would also make the trek (500 miles one way). Our older brother lived very close to Mom, as did a couple of cousins, so we got a lot of obligatory "visiting family" points on Turkey Day. As the years passed, Thanksgiving morphed into an inconvenient few days off each year that took more and more planning to execute successfully. The holiday needed to be stage managed like some exotic expedition.

Logistical issues aside, a three or four day visit to Mom's was always just a little bit too long for me. Her computer was slow, she cooked with too much salt, and if I had to hear one more time about how my lawyer brother was a better actor than I was because he was  lawyer... Ack! Enough already.  Then again, this was my mother, my brothers, my family. So familial guilt made me believe that a couple days was never quite enough. I love my family, but (and let's be honest, here) there is a reason we live 1000 miles away (one way).

But we suffer through. We bitch and moan. We eat. We laugh. We drink a little too much knowing we can sleep it off during the Detroit Lions game. We bring up old memories and ancient feuds that continue through the years with no resolutions in sight. All of these things are part of what family means.

The great thing about Thanksgiving has always been the lack of any real pressure. Oh sure, there is the complexity of shopping. Try to find a 16 ounce can of anything. Can't do it. Don't make 'em anymore.  All the recipes still call for that size, though, so you have to figure out how to adjust recipes. I should have paid more attention in math class. Prepping and cooking can be stressful, but by the time you are an adult, you pretty much have your mojo working on the traditional family stuff. Try anything new and adventurous and you are on your own. You should know better anyway. Stick to the basics. Cleaning up is usually where the party breaks down. Once the food and drink is gone so are most of the helping hands you were counting on to scrape the bones into the trash and make sure the wine glasses are dry. Generally speaking, if you play your cards right you can drop a few hints that will let people know they are expected to, at the very least, carry their place setting into the kitchen without dropping a turkey leg for the dog to get. If someone does happen to fling some stuffing into the fish tank, just know that they are going to blame it on the youngest person there. Or the oldest, if there is a nasty aunt that no one likes.

Compared to the other holidays, expectations for Thanksgiving are relatively mild. Navigating a mall to buying Christmas presents is like being in a real Lara Croft video game - shimmying past the slow moving wall that is the family with corn dogs and pretzels; tripping over the old biddy with the fake "service dog" as she jerks it away from the fresh puddle by the perfume kiosk; digging through piles of unsorted ladies lingerie at Victoria's Secret looking for something in a red or black lace that is sexy but not slu...uhm, wait, oversharing. I digress. Shopping online is not much easier. So many choices. Is shipping included? Calculating delivery online can be like one of those sixth grade story problems that I sucked at. "A hoodie being shipped from Stamford, CT at UPS Ground will save you $5 if your total order is greater than or equal to X. Solve for X."

Then there is Valentine's Day. A whole day only for people in relationships. That is just sad. Sorry single people, you have to wait for New's Year Eve. Oh, and guys, don't get lazy on this one. Pay attention and you'll do alright. Fourth of July? Those parades are terrible, but the neighbor kids are gonna be on the Boy Scout's Statue of Liberty float, so you are obliged to go. And, by the way, admit it, you never get the best seat to watch the fireworks at the local park. Your kids always have to run around the family with the pop-up tent and the portable Weber kettle or you have to distract them from staring at the couple making out two blankets over.  Memorial Day? Veteran's Day? Stock up on flags, because if you don't people will think you are not a patriot. You can make up for it a little with some red, white and blue cocktail napkins, but nothing says patriotic holiday observance more than a faded flag that you only trot out a couple times a year.

Thanksgiving is the one. Camaraderie and canapes. Wine and wisecracks. Human beings sitting around a backyard fire-pit or a well appointed dinner table just enjoying one another. Somebody spilled something on the new sofa? No problem. A toddler reaching for some whip cream just broke a wine glass? You probably had that glass long enough anyway.
My Mom is gone now and I miss those ridiculous trips to Colorado. Yet, I am so thankful for them. My family has grown in a very special way the past few years, so this Thursday in November lets me ponder that. I have gotten closer to some family members and more distant from others. My tribe is changing. Sure, there are the founding members of my tribe/my family that have remained constant. There are the close friends and the friends that are close. Friends that were and are again. Friends that all but disappeared for decades but by some magic force of the universe become practically neighbors. Family members get married, divorced, married again. Some move away, others move in. Tribe is the right word. Thanksgiving, by it's very nature, is meant to be tribal. Whether it's the tribe you were born into or the tribe you choose for yourself - maybe both - you come together for the most basic of human reasons. To eat. To tell stories. To enjoy each other while you can.

Don't worry, as sure as you will have left over turkey, the Detroit Lions will probably lose and things will go back to normal on Monday.  But for a few days, enjoy the characters that make up your tribe. Give thanks for each and every one of them. Oh, and pass the sage and sausage dressing. It's my favorite.

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