I have been reading with interest the vast number of Facebook posts expressing gratitude for any number of people, places and things over the past month. I haven't participated in the daily postings, but I have been doing a lot of pondering about thankfulness, traditions and transitions that occur - especially at holidays - as one's life progresses.
My own Thanksgiving "tradition" has been evolving and changing over the past few years. What once was a gathering at my parents' home with my sisters, grandparents, aunt and uncle, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and eventually my wife, with obnoxious amounts of food, followed by Black Friday shopping marathons and visits to Santa, and a return to my own home to decorate and usher in the Christmas season, has undergone dramatic reduction over the years. We lost members of the gathering - first my youngest sister, an infant niece, then my grandfather, my father, and most recently my grandmother. We don't "do" the Black Friday shopping anymore, my aunt and her husband are celebrating in their own way, my sister is single again, and my niece and nephew are grown up teenagers with busy lives and work schedules, and shared time with their dad. So this year, we celebrated - the food and family part - on Wednesday. We've done that for a few years so that the kids can be with their dad on Thursday. Instead of my mom's house being the gathering point, "everyone" came to our house. "Everyone," in addition to us, has become my mother, my sister, and the kids, and since my nephew had to work, it was just "us girls." It was pleasant, the food was good (if I do say so myself), as well as the company. But it was different. No family gathered around the table looking at sale ads in the paper, no big card or board games. And that's ok. It's just another transition. I've been learning to live in the now and not in the past. But it hasn't stopped me of thinking of, and being thankful for, people from the past that I still miss now. And I know a lot of my friends and students are experiencing similar transitions that are resulting in changed traditions.
Not to be maudlin, but having a day of Thanksgiving which is more of a quiet day with the Frau rather than a full day of family festivities is giving me some quality time to be thankful for the people who are no longer with me, but have been an important part of my life.
I'm grateful to have known my sister, Sharon, who was hit by a car and killed just a couple of months shy of her 18th birthday on October 29, 1986. She would be almost 44 if she had lived, but she is frozen in time at the age of almost 18, and in addition to her great, bright, and giving personality, she reminds me every day as I deal with high school students of the unpredictability of life, and that there are no guarantees for a long future. Her loss impacts the kind of teacher I have become. I'm thankful she remains a part of my life, if only in the shadows of memory.
I miss my dad, Carl, every day. I quote him a lot in class, since our life's work is similar. And I'm thankful for his gift of laughter, and playfulness, and love of music, games, and gardening that he passed on to me. He never really understood my love of reading, and especially at the holidays seemed to get mildly irritated that I'd rather read a book than entertain him. He usually managed to pout or badger until he won that little battle of wills. But he was always ready to take some time off from work when I arrived home on a holiday break to go see a movie - especially if it was one we knew my mother wouldn't enjoy, and eat a Double Steakburger and a Very Strawberry Shake at Steak 'n Shake. Sometimes we would go to the local Denny's together for breakfast, and I would always order the breakfast sandwich there called "Moons Over My Hammy" - I liked it, but I would never (and still don't ever) order anything else, because it caused him to cackle with such laughter when I ordered it. I don't go to Denny's often these days, but when I do, I always order the same thing, just to hear that laughter in the shadows of my memory.
My grandfather taught me to love golf and a good cigar, and my grandmother and I developed a bond in my adulthood that I never had with her as a child. I think I miss her at Thanksgiving more than any other time. She was always hell-bent on getting everyone's "Christmas squared away" before the weekend ended. That little 4'10" and 80 pound bundle of energy could outlast us all, and set the pace for the mad-house of post-Thanksgiving shopping. And she could eat us under the table when it came to left-overs, especially the pies. I think she fueled that little body on sugar. When I was teaching in Texas, and after my grandfather had died, she and I would usually fly to my parents' home together for Thanksgiving. While we waited to board, she would invariably spot some family or group of travelers that she found intriguing, and she would excuse herself to go to the restroom. On the way back, she would walk slowly behind the object of her attention, and sometimes just stop and stand for awhile and listen. When she had enough, she would make her way back to me, and I would ask for a report from the Nosy Rosy Detective Agency. She would laugh like a giddy schoolgirl and tell me everything she learned. I miss those days.
I'm missing my mom a bit these days, as well. She is still with us, and still acting stubbornly independent. But she is aging, and it is starting to show in her health, in her memory, and in her social encounters with the world in general. This is a transition that I'm finding harder to handle. But I'm learning. Some of my closest friends are in similar situations. We commiserate with one another, are thankful for our aging parents, understand that the transition is just as difficult for our parents, and try not to long too much for the days when we didn't have to juggle finding a way to be respectful of, and responsible for, our parents.
I've always been a traditional person and for many years have fiercely tried to cling to those sacred family icons. Finding the person with whom I now share my life has helped me to realize that people are more important than tradition, and losing people has taught me thankfulness and the necessity for transition and new traditions.
In spite, and because, of the circumstances, gifts, gains and losses, traditions and transitions of my life, I truly am thankful and blessed. And I wish the same for you.