Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past (especially this one)

Our house

From “Oprah” columnist Lisa Kogan:

I spent ten thanksgivings volunteering in a Harlem soup kitchen
because–hell, I’ll just say it–I’m one of the few women of my
generation who look really good in a hairnet. Also, I love to
cook….Oh, and there’s one more reason I went out of my way to
spend every holiday surrounded by a group of strangers: I
couldn’t bear to be with my family.

It’s not that I don’t love them–I do. They are a decent,
God-fearing lot who would walk a mile out of their way to help
if they thought you were in trouble. They recycle, they vote,
they pay taxes, they e-mail the warning signs of a stroke….But
here’s where my family and I parted company: They were all
married with children, and for the first 42 years of my life, I
was neither.

‘One of these things is not like the others. One of these
things just doesn’t belong’, goes the lyric to my favorite
Sesame Street tune. Who’d have guessed that Big Bird would end
up killing me softly with his song, but it’s true–while I
hardly qualify as the family’s black sheep, in the the race for
the odd duck I’ve broken away from the pack and am currently
maintaining a significant lead.

I am another variety of odd duck: while I see my family-of-origin as basically well-meaning people who wanted badly to love each other but just couldn’t find the means within themselves to do so, I have largely given up finding any “warm, fuzzy” feelings for them, or they for me, what’s left of ’em. Frankly, they’re kind of mean people, and I got tired of it after about forty years. So holidays have become bittersweet for me, because I remember large, extended-family gatherings when I was a kid, gatherings where people dressed up and consumed huge amounts of food and pretended to like each other, but actually (a) hated each other, (b) were terrified of each other, (c) didn’t really want some of them there, (d) were drunk, or (e) were faking it. Some or all of the above. I’ve always been a rather opinionated sort, and I freely admit that after I passed the age when I could go off and play with my cousin, who I was fond of at that point in my life, I spent much time, around holidays, wondering why these people kept trying to pretend they felt something they didn’t. But I played the game, too…

Until I was in my thirties. A single, divorced mother, until that time I took my own child to family gatherings from time to time, tried my best to keep my mouth shut, and complained to my daughter vociferously all the way home. We often would stop at the beach for a day or two, in order to emotionally detox and enjoy being ourselves again.

Eventually, I had a family, a small family, of people who actually liked each other, and while I continue to feel a nostalgia for the family I never had, I am very, very grateful for my current family, all of whom try their best to tell the truth, don’t get drunk, share a common worldview and love the same jokes. This Thanksgiving, we will cook a free-range turkey, have a glass of wine, see a good film and pray for snow, which is unlikely for this area of the country, and thus we will remember the pleasures of endless snow falling on our little house in the woods in Alaska and be grateful for each other’s company and the certainty of simple human kindness.

May all people be happy,
May all people know peace,
May all people be free.

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