I spent most of the early evening tonight helping coordinate a "Turkey Brigade" from our Tae Kwon Do school to families in need in the Waltham area. LOTS of food was donated and many folks donated cash as well, which was so heartwarming. I ended up delivering three of the full Thanksgiving meals replete with frozen giant turkeys. I drove around Waltham with two of my fellow black belt candidates, who are male and aged 13 and 21 respectively - the 13-year-old is bigger and stronger than me and the 21-year-old put together, so I felt extremely well-protected. Plus I didn't have to struggle with a huge box full of turkey dinner all by myself. I was very thankful for that help tonight. I also felt so thankful for a bunch of other things - primarily that I don't have to worry about where or whether I will eat my next meal, but also for my home and my family too.
Though I've chosen to spend a quiet Thanksgiving at home with my husband this year, to take a day off from our crazed schedule, I have a lot of good memories of more raucus T-days past. High school football games come to mind, especially the year my sister Yvette was in the color guard -- you know, the kids who march ahead of the band with the flags. In Quincy, their role was also important as the official instigators of trash talk. They had a favorite chant that went this way: "We're going to smash the Raiders like mashed potatoes." Two things to understand: first, the North Quincy High Red Raiders were the archrivals of the Quincy High Presidents; second, in Quincy, "Raiders" rhymes with "potatoes" (try "RAY-duhs" and "buh-DAY-duhs").
Family events were no less crazed. Six people with one bathroom made for a kind of hypercharged existence on a normal day. Add to that a bunch of other relatives and ten or eleven things cooking in the kitchen all at once, and the vibe was quite jangly. My very, very favorite thing that happened one Thanksgiving when I was about eight or nine was when my Uncle Paul sat in the kitchen demonstrating his mighty strength by palming whole walnuts, squeezing them in his fist, and crushing the shells. I ran to share the news with the adults who were finishing dessert in the living room. "Mom, Dad!" I cried. "Uncle Paul's crushing his nuts in his hand!" Even if I didn't think this was funny at the time (or ever), I would never be allowed to forget it.
Though I might possibly have resented the fact that our small house always necessitated a kids' table for seating, I don't remember this bothering me much. In fact, by the time the siblings and cousins were in our teens and early twenties, we were all very delighted to still be at the kids' table so we could gossip and joke and generally get away with conversation inappropriate for older ears and avoid the annoying prodding from our parents and other adults.
The only Thanksgiving where I was ever truly miserable was one spent in England as an undergrad. The university tried to give its sizeable minority of American students a dinner that would replicate the holiday meal. At least it is difficult for even the British to really mess up turkey, so the food was reasonably edible. But it was a formal evening meal, at cocktail tables set with white linens, inside a museum space that looked like a glossy airplane hangar. Where were the mismatched chairs and the elbows bumping mine at the too-crowded table? Where was the dog or cat begging for scraps? How was I going to get my late-night turkey-stuffing-cranberry-sauce-gravy sandwich fix? It would have been much better for them to stay truly British and ignore us bloody colonials altogether. Some of us foreigners got together later in the week and made a meal that was much more realistic, including a bit too much alcohol, fighting over the best way to make gravy, and wonderful family stories shared at table.