Thursday, November 25, 2010

Running in the house—
Random Thoughts on Thanksgivings Past and Present

When I was a child, Thanksgiving was always my least favorite holiday of the year. Oh sure, I liked it just fine that we got a long weekend away from school, for I was always a very poor student—the epitome of Shakespeare's "whining schoolboy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school," though I don't recall my face as shining and it was mourning rather than morning. Otherwise he's captured a good likeness of my young, unwilling, snailish self. I'm not sure as to the cause of my bad opinion of school, especially given that I have spent most of my years—since being impolitely asked to vacate the grounds of Hokumburg High School, permanently—trying to sate an unquenchable hunger for knowledge. But in that time I have taken the odd class here and there with the same kind of dread, always glad of the long weekend at Thanksgiving, while at the same time not overly eager to sit down at the table and actually give thanks.

But these over the years I have begun to see things differently and come to believe that in this, as in so many other things, I have been the constant fool. These past few weeks I've been remembering family, and friends who were once like family, who are no longer with us at the table.

I live alone, so I have had much time to dwell on such things. I have dear friends and family here in Hokumburg and Gumm Creek and Burnt Duck and all around the Greater Fulp City Metro Area, and anyone familiar with the lay of this valley will confirm that, taken all together, it is not so large a place that I could not travel to visit any of them in half-an-hour or so, should I get the notion. Still, I spend an inordinate amount of time in solitude. Too much, probably. 

 But solitude spurs memory in a way that company will not allow. Recently, in the last fortnight or so, I have had strange visitors from the past sit down to my table. The ghosts of Thanksgiving past, Dickens might call them. My grandmother, for one, gone these many years. She was an artist, a painter. And it was in her home that the annual feast took place. From where I sit now I can see half a dozen paintings she did as long ago as the 1940s. Two of them are portraits of me—in one I am five and sitting a a small child's table playing with my uncle’s colorful tin cowboys, and in the other I am seventeen or so and reading a surfing magazine. Surfing was an exotic dream shared by many of us trapped so far inland that the existence of oceans demanded more faith than the existence of the Archangel Michael battling a dragon-like Lucifer with a spear, a glorious engraving of which illustrated my prayerbook at the time.

And then there was my great aunt, who was a writer and who had a fervent belief, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, that if you said "No running in the house" to children you could make it so. I see several of her books in the case to my left, and I could easily reach them without leaving my chair, and one of these days I must pull them down and read them again. My aunt comes whenever I am trying to put a particularly awkward sentence into some order where it will be understood. Such a thing has never come easy to me. Nevertheless she seems content that I am still at it—and, it seems to me, a little sad that I am no longer running in the house.

And their are others I could name, but I am starting to get maudlin and I don’t want readers to be sad on a day when new memories are to be made. But I miss them all. And I realize now that those Thanksgivings past were a gift—one that I would refuse to open for many years. I am finally unwrapping that gift this morning. It turns out it is a jumble of all the Thanksgivings I ever shared with those who are no longer here. Fragments to spark remembrance. Mostly, yes, memories of running in the house, because we were children and that is how children give thanks. Or of the old folks talking about things that happened "before you were born," and sometimes sudden laughter at a joke that I couldn't understand, "I'll explain when your older," followed by another round of laughter.

And now I am older and no one ever explained anything and I have forgotten the joke.

But not their laughter.

And after the meal we would all go into the large livingroom with the beamed ceiling, and talk for a while, and then less and less as the evening wore one. And eventually someone, my uncle John probably, would say, "Well, we should be going." And coats would be brought out of the back room. And "You didn't wear a hat?" and "No, we can't get him to wear anything but that ragged baseball cap, and I was determined he wasn't going to wear it to Thanksgiving." and "Who took my scarf?" and "You better button up, child, there's a wind coming on." and "Someone needs to take more of this pie—we'll never be able to finish it." and "Goodnight, Gaga." and "Did you thank your grandmother for the nice time?" and "Thank you for the nice time." and "Oh, you very welcome, dear." and "Goodnight Nana, thanks for the nice time." and "Robin, good to see you again." "Bye Carol. We need to get together more often." and "See ya Tim." and "You too, Matt." and "Be careful, Larry, I don't like the look of that sky." and "I will. I've got good snow tires." and "We're just going to Gumm Creek, mother." and "I know, dear, I know. But still I worry." and "Goodnight." and then finally "Goodnight all." And then we are out the door and in the car, and there are my grandmother and aunt at the window waving, and we turn on the dome light in the car so they can be sure to see that we are waving back. And then we drive slowly down the driveway and I can still see them waving, and I believe they can still see me, and then we turn onto the street and it is over. And they are gone. And I never knew how rare a thing it was until they were gone.

"Time is a game played beautifully by children," says Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher of change who died when Socrates was still a child. When we are grown I do not think we play that game nearly so well.

It is just past four in the morning here in Hokumburg. Rain drums on the steel roof that juts out over a porch below my window. The weatherman says the temperature will drop below freezing just past noon and keep on dropping into the low twenties by evening, so it is likely to be a rough go for travelers in these parts. I am sitting here alone with just the light of the computer screen to chase away the darkness. In a short time the sun will rise and shortly thereafter set again and this Thanksgiving, which now seems so real I could reach out and grab it, will refuse to be held. Except in a memory.

The home of my early Thanksgivings was sold long ago, the old folks are gone, and now—for a short while yet—I have taken their place. Current tradition, calls for those of us who are left to meet and give thanks at Jep and Denise's house in Gumm Creek. I am to bring a dessert.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. A time for running in the house.

And for remembering.

Happy Thanksgiving Hokumburg.

The illustration is The Archangel Michael and the Dragon, by the German Artist Martin Schongauer (1448-1491), and has really nothing to do with Thanksgiving. But we thought it more interesting than another picture of a turkey.


Kathleen Benton said...

Without the rituals of special days to look forward to and back upon we would hardly be human. Holidays focus on familiar faces the comfort of predictable repetition of location, menu, and activity, all in the effort to make memories that last. As much work and trouble as holidays sometime seem we need them in our entirely human effort to hold on to time, as you have so entertainingly pointed out.

My grandmother, who lived to be three months shy of 100, lived alone for forty years after her second husband died. She was fine with the situation because she had made so many memories with friends and family that kept her company. But even more importantly, as she grew old she remained active and vibrant within her family and community, continuing to make an impression upon us all with her wisdom, patience, humor, and good will. To this very day, even though she's been dead now 15 years, her life is an inspiration to me.

In your writing you have the same effect upon many, Mr. Thurmond. Turn off the computer, go be with your loved ones, and don't forget the desert (sic)!


Thank you, Ms. Benton. My spell check apparently thought my contribution to the meal was to be sand. Fortunately I have friends dropping by before I head out. Unfortunately I have to clean up the joint prior to their arrival. Computer off!


I have become addicted to your blog over the last few months, lurker that I am. But I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate this post particularly. My own memories are nothing like this, and perhaps for that very reason I needed to read this today.

I hope your day was filled with good things, including some running in the house.


Thank you. We are very fortunate to have you with us.

Louisiana Lou said...

Home again, read this installment, good to see some emotion, your diligence to loved ones and baldness.


Good to finally get together after all these years. You inspired the latter when you did the same out in CA.

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