None of these things happened this year because we were sequestered with the flu. Two hearty doses of it, as a matter of fact. Evan fell ill on Monday and, just as he seemed to be heading for the light, I was hit. Fortunately, I am never taken to my knees quite as dramatically as he is—he’s one of those people who doesn’t get sick often, but when he does, he does it with real vigor—though hit I most certainly was.
Since I had mostly melted by dinnertime, our Thanksgiving supper was cereal and Mallomars. And tea. Yum.
I’m not a huge fan of Thanksgiving anyway. I don’t like to see a turkey lying, plucked and sans head, in a place of honor on the dining table. I haven’t eaten red meat in a hundred years and have had trouble of late eating chicken and turkey. I think some of it has to do with feeding our chickens every morning, chickens we name and protect. They are parts of this funny little family. We worry about them when they’re sick and miss them when they die.
This summer a baby chick was left on our doorstep, in a sense, by the kind nanny of a family in the summer colony next door to us. The chick was one of many purchased as “summer pets” by some moronic, doting parents there, and she was the only one to live. The nanny cared for the chick with the help of one of the little girls in the colony, until fall approached and the family began preparing to head back to the city for the year.
We raised the little chick in the house, taking her outside into the sunshine every day, putting her in the “playpen” Evan made for her, hoping, hoping, hoping that she would survive. Evan, a lifelong lover of animals, had warned me about the high mortality rate among baby chicks. It was too late for me immediately, though, because we had named her—Audrey (Hepburn, of course)—and, as you know, once you’ve named someone, feathered or not, you have a whole new level of attachment.
But, happily, Audrey got bigger and stronger and more chicken-like with each day until, finally, one day she clucked and we knew she needed to be outside with the big girls. Now she sleeps in the chicken coup with them and roams the yard, running up to us when she sees us, just to say hello.
And then there are the wild turkeys that come into the yard in the early morning to feast on the seeds and corn we put out for them.
After watching them wander out of the woods to eat, knowing they feel safe here because they have, over the years, always been welcome, the ritual of eating one of them has become absurd to me.
So, Thanksgiving dinner this year, as always, wasn’t about the food (though, I will admit, it would have been about the pie—I missed the pie). It was about the family. My parents were in from too far away, where they live now. They were at my brother’s house, only a four hour drive from me, while Evan and I were here, sick and planted. We had planned to spend some days with them and then to see those in Evan’s family who had gathered in the city, but, instead, we moved in very small circles all day, feverish and groggy.
Even without a headless turkey lying plucked and baked on the table, I know what I’m grateful for. I don’t need the mashed potatoes smothered in roasted garlic and sour cream, or the yams glazed with brown sugar, or the flaky crusted pie—as much as I’d love a piece (chocolate, please)—to know what’s important in my world.
But if I needed reminding about what makes me feel good about my life, watching Evan lay out warmed pletzel, sliced cheese and grape tomatoes for us in an effort to counter our crappy cereal dinner certainly would have done it. So would have thinking about my parents, so loving and kind that their only concern was that we get well, even though they had traveled so far for a long discussed, much needed Thanksgiving together. Reliving moments shared with my siblings and their families, and feeling the warmth of those I hold among my friends and of those who call me friend are all the things that offer me a good, swift kick in the ass if I need to be reminded about the things that are valuable.
In the end, I am so happy that I did get to see my parents and two of my brothers when I dragged my sorry, snotty self down to my brother’s house yesterday. (How happy they must all be to have my sorry, snotty self sneezing and sniffling all over their now formerly healthy selves, but, hey, isn’t that what family is all about?)
And in this moment of gratitude, I want, too, to remember to make things better, to do instead of simply planning, to hold those who are dear closer while letting go of those who, in the end, just don’t matter. It seems easy, like something we should know, but, for whatever reason, sometimes we need reminders and nudges. If the absence of a headless bird on the table serves as the kick in the ass I need, then I’m happy for that, too.