Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Giving of Thanks

This is certainly the most benign of holidays and the one I most look forward to. We gather, feel gratitude, said or unsaid. We eat, drink. We celebrate being here instead of there…. though, at times, elsewhere seems like my true address. We embrace at least two of my favorite deadly sins, gluttony and sloth.

Yet my mother, in her infinitude, decreed that Thanksgiving was a goishe (gentile) holiday somehow akin to Christmas. Maybe she never learned how to cook a turkey or Murray the chicken-plucker and kosher butcher didn’t know from turkey. In any case it was to be ignored.

In fact all holidays were unobserved in my childhood. I am a product of the Dis-identification Generation. My mother regarded holy days from Yom Kippur to Passover as being Old World and she was 100% American…except for vestiges of the shtetl which would cling to her until the end

My first Thanksgiving was at age 21, on the other side of the continent. I remember driving to the home of friends in Burbank having worked that day at Thrifty Drug Store in Beverly Hills. It was so foggy I drove off the freeway into the landscape. I was a pilgrim making my way to the new world almost landing on a rock with my Plymouth.

Somehow I untangled myself from the shrubbery, found the house and fit myself into the picture I had from Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post Cover. In my mind this was the model American family. Later that year the host couple divorced and the father of my friend shot himself. So much for Americana.

It is now time to finally thank my mother for giving me material to write about. She must have done something right. I don’t suck my thumb or stutter and eventually I learned which fork to use for the salad. I even get re-invited now and then…particularly if I bring a $25 jug of wine. As Dorothy Parker said, I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

My mother protected me from wild turkeys, Indians, the Salem witch hunt and runaway covered wagons whom she suspected of being potential assassins. I’m grateful for all that. She had a mouth on her that left me a legacy of insults. Momzers (landlords) should burn in hell and merchants were also doubly cursed as gonifs (thieves). Others were deemed khazers (gluttonous pigs) or schnorrers (money grubbers). She also cursed God for God knows what.

And where was my father during those bitter winters on the Great Plains? He kept us from the almshouse and me from the workhouse. He also taught me to turn a semi-deaf ear to my mother’s complaints and declarations of enhanced aggravation I had somehow caused her. She suffered mightily and loudly, poor Mom. I should ask the Lord to hasten and chasten his will to make known as he blesses our table.

When I was 55 years old I was fully orphaned. My mother mellowed considerably during her last several years. She surrendered her sword and shield and I saw the frightened little girl she always was. Thanksgivings might have been therapeutic for her. It would have been a great pleasure passing the cranberry sauce and complimenting her on the table she laid out. Maybe she would have taken a wee drop of spirits while we all joined hands in gratitude for our atypical family, mishagosh and all, just like any other.

Maybe the agreed-upon lie is Normalcy as per Norman Rockwell. The older I get the more I cherish our craziness

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