I’m certainly no Grinch come Christmas. But growing up, Thanksgiving was another matter.
I was the youngest in my small family, and for that I drew the short straw in holiday rituals. Each year, our dinner began with my mother, always the teacher, locking her eyes on me and instructing, “Jerry, would you tell us the Thanksgiving story?”
I’d like to tell it now, but it could take years of therapy to resurrect. I know it had to do with corn and gracious Indians (this was the pre-Native American era), warm and loving pilgrims, and a rock near Plymouth. It was all, in short, straight from a course in American fantasy.
Following mom’s prompt, I’d stand (that was part of the deal) and recite. The old German ladies who flocked to our house, Dora Berger, Aunt Talle with the little foxes around her neck, and my grandmother, Anna Lichtenstein, whom we called the Duchess, would watch approvingly. Then came the meal.
Mom’s turkey came in three varieties — dry, dryer and driest. She was a disciple of the China school of child-rearing (as in “remember all the starving children in …”). So all those foods I tried to skirt — beets were the worst — ended in my mouth no matter how far I’d push them to the lip of the plate.
This year I’ll be spending Thanksgiving at cousin Margaret’s house in Marblehead, Mass. Those of us who can make it from my still small extended family — my brother, two cousins, spouses, kids and now three grandchildren — will share this and other stories around the table. And we’ll howl. Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday. The food, mostly cooked by Margaret’s younger daughter, is sumptuous, the laughter spontaneous, the music around the piano loud and raucous, the stress of gifts put off for another month.
We have just one tradition. At the start of the meal, we raise a glass to our parents, and grandparents, and others who have passed on before us. This Nov. 16 was the 10th anniversary of my mom’s death. I still miss her, particularly the little notes and clippings she’d send in the mail each week, instructing our girls how to treat acne or me how to lose weight. (We hated those, too, at the time.)
To this day, I’ll sometimes catch myself thinking, “I’ll have to ask mom about that. ”
Today, given the anniversary, I think it’s only right to tell her: “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings when I said ‘never again’ to that Thanksgiving story. ” It was the early ’60s by then, and in truth, it sure did feel liberating.