Thanks, Giving

On my flight home for Thanksgiving, I flew Southwest with a stopover in Denver. I sat next to a woman from Denver who had just spent the past month nursing her daughter back to health. The girl was in most ways, an independent woman. She had graduated from Tulane University, moved to New York to work for a luxury carpet company and had done well enough to move into her own $2400 a month studio in the Lower East Side. Her mother said these things proudly until she came to her daughter’s condition. Something about the girl’s heart. She had fainted the other day and cracked her head open on the sidewalk. She had a swift surgery and with the help of her mother, was now recuperating. The woman did not want to leave her daughter for Thanksgiving, but the girl assured her mother that she had several friends who were staying in the city and that she’d be well taken care of. She had, over the five years she’d been building a life in New York, formed a strong circle of girlfriends, most of whom were either from Tulane or from Colorado. 
“So aside from that,” the woman said, “My daughter is doing really well in the city.” 
I nodded, wondering how many yards of carpet the girl sold each year to cover the cost of living. 
“But,” the woman said, “She can’t seem to meet a man.” 
The girl had, upon first arriving in the city, gotten into a relationship that cooled almost as quickly as it had gotten serious. The boy turned out to be, in the mother’s words, “not a very nice man.” He had what are known as wandering eyes, and hands. And lips. It was not a good first year for the girl, but she bucked up, threw herself into her job, strengthened her female bonds and was soon living the life of an independent young woman in New York with a wealth of contacts, nights out, favorite wine bars and lounges she could confidently rattle off to out of town visitors, and a strong if slightly dull career path – she was selling carpets, after all. But after that first fizzled romance there were only a string of measly dates or worse, half-assed bar pickups and no follow through. 
“I don’t know what it is,” the woman said, shifting in her seat, “She’s a great girl. Smart, funny, athletic. And I’m not just saying that because I’m her mother. Her friends are all great too…but none of them seem able to meet anyone. It’s bizarre.” 
We talked about their hometown. The girl was apparently quite good at keeping in touch with her childhood friends from home, most of whom had opted to return to Denver after college and most of whom were married by now. A few of them even pregnant or with children. 
“New York is a little different, I know,” the woman said, “But goodness how could all of her friends in Denver have found men and she just doesn’t seem to be meeting anyone?” 
The girl’s friends now, when they spoke on the phone or got together over holidays, tried to convince her to move home. The girl refused. She loved the city and she was convinced that she would find someone. 
Would she consider online dating? 
“I suggested it,” the woman said, “But she’s against it. She thinks it’s unnatural. And I don’t think it’s the best way, but if she’s going out and being social and meeting people in person and it’s not working out…I just think, why not give online dating a try? But she’s so stubborn. She gets mad when I bring it up.” 
I thought about my own experiences with online dating, some good, some bad, none of which turned out to be anything. I though too about my present situation with POI, which came about because of mutual friends. 
“Yes,” the woman said, “I have asked if she has friends or coworkers who could set her up, but honestly, all her coworkers are – she lowered her voice – gay, and all her friends are single too. They don’t have two eligible single guys to mush together, amongst the five of them.” 
“Timing and keeping an open mind,” I said sagely, though in truth I had and have not the faintest clue.  
The woman nodded, “I know. I know, that’s what I tell her. I think she’s too picky, but at the same time, I want her to be picky.” 
The flight attendant came by with our diet cokes and waters. There was an hour left in the flight. I would spend it asking the woman about her own marriage to a man who built mansions in the nicer parts of Denver. They had met through friends. The man liked her immediately but the woman was not so sure. They lived close by however, and one day, after the man had left for a month long trip, she realized she missed him. When he returned they began to date in earnest and a year later they were married. He built his houses. She was a school teacher. They had two children, the eldest, a son, who was married last year to a woman he met online and the girl, Leah, who channeled Flannery O’ Conner just a few hours before the woman left for the airport, “A good man is hard to find.” 
“Shouldn’t be,” the woman said, “Especially in a city like New York.”  
“But it is,” I said.   
The view outside John Wayne Airport, Terminal C. 

My father, a good man, drove with my mother at his side to pick me up from the airport.

“Your father washed and changed your sheets,” my mother said, “He knew you would not want to sleep in old dusty sheets.” 
I smiled at my father’s reflection in the rearview mirror. 
“I bought you a new set of suitcases too,” he said, “They’re in the garage. Let me know if you like them.” 
I clapped my hands, “You are the best,” I said, “The very very best.” 
A month before, upon returning from London, I had complained to my father about how heavy my old suitcases were. He had gifted them to me when I graduated from high school and was bound for New York. They were a distinct deep maroon, recognizable on the luggage belt from far away, and I had stuffed them mercilessly for the past ten years, dragged them around the world with me. But they were bulky, heavy even when empty. In London, POI had carried the suitcase up and down the stairs of our bed and breakfast in Bath and in and out of taxicabs. 
“That shit is ridiculously heavy,” he said. And I nodded, dreading hauling the suitcase back up to my studio when I returned home. Whenever I did, without fail, my arms would always be sore for the entire next day. 
When I returned from London and called to tell my parents about the trip, I mentioned in passing that my arms were smarting. 
“What’s wrong,” my father asked, “Did you get hurt?” 
No no, I said, the suitcase was just too heavy. 
“Well, come home and we’ll go pick out some new ones.” 
But he’d gone ahead and done it for me. They were sleek silver Samsonites – a set of two: one large and one carry-on. Light as a feather and with four wheels on the bottom for vertical rolling. I would travel in style. My arms would be spared. 
At home I spun the suitcases around, then happily brought them to my room, where the bed was made and my room was left just as I had left it. My father stood in the doorway, his arms crossed. 
“Happy?” 
“Very,” I said. 
I guess I brought it with me (the rain, if you can’t see it). 

It rained on Thanksgiving day. Loving as my parents are, they had other plans for Thanksgiving dinner, and I found (or invited myself) to dinner at uncle Jimmy’s house. I picked my grandfather up at 6PM. He had not wanted to go, preferring (outwardly) to stay home alone. Thanksgiving was very close to his wife’s passing and was the first holiday he spent without her. But he came with me and was seated next to the youngest member of the family.

Grandpa, who is a fussy eater,  and baby Caden, who is not. 

My uncle Jimmy carved the turkey (from Lucille’s – a delicious deal if you’re not in the mood to make turkey).

Uncle Jimmy, the turkey, and his trademark grin. 

My grandfather had a shot of Jameson from a wine glass and began to giggle shortly afterwards. He was in a pleasant mood that night and I could tell he was glad to be there and not home alone.

“You talk too much, Betty,” is what he normally says. But on Thanksgiving, he simply said, “Cheers.” 
My uncle toasts his grandson. Good habits start early. 

The next morning, I woke to the sound of aerobic counting and found my mother, a family friend, Uncle Jimmy and my aunt exercising in the entryway. My aunt and uncle come over early at 7AM, as they’ve been doing ever since the summer, when my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Uncle Jimmy takes her and a family friend who also has Parkinson’s through a rigorous regimen of exercises. The point is to hold off on medications for as long as possible, and uncle Jimmy, who eats like a horse and drinks like a fish but is at his core a doctor of eastern medicine, drives an hour round trip every day to do this for his older sister before heading off to work or to teach more classes. My father makes breakfast for them afterward and that morning, he greeted me with a glass of freshly blended fruit smoothie.

“What fruits do you want in it?”

“Anything,” I said.

“I know just what you’ll like,” he said, and he was right.

When he learned my mother had Parkinson’s he watched her cry for a minute then told her calmly not to worry.

“I will put your shoes on for you when you are no longer able to,” he said.

My mother nodded, recalling that as a young woman she had dreamed about marrying a romantic man who would walk through the rain with her. My father hates the rain, but still, she had found that man.  

At the breakfast table, my aunt stirred her smoothie. “Your father is the nutritionist.”
“And uncle Jimmy is her trainer,” I said. 
My mother, her cheeks flushed and glowing, her forehead shiny with the faint sheen of sweat, smiled at the good men (and women) all around her. 
“A good man (like me) IS hard to find,” my father says. 

I took a walk on the road I always walk on. It had not yet started to snow in New York, but on that road it would not be strange to ask, “What is snow?”

A street near my street. 80 degrees that day. 

In the evening the entire family gathered at the Orange Hill Restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner after Thanksgiving. My brother and his wife were not there, but they were moving back from Shanghai and would join us for Christmas. We took many photos together, including the one below of the girl cousins and one male cousin-in-law, Lawrence, a new father to a baby girl. 

We looked at the photo and nodded to each other and to ourselves. Adults? Kidults? Whatever we were, we had turned out alright.

Cousins. And who is that stud? 

The next day, the family assembled again, though this time all in black. We found ourselves at the same cemetery and afterward, the same vegetarian restaurant as a little over a year ago, when my grandmother passed away. It was the funeral of a very peculiar man, my uncle Louis’s father who had smoked two packs a day until he turned ninety-six and simply decided to quit. He died quietly at 100, battling nothing really, but time.

Mr. Yang, Sr.: Laconic, stylish, (almost) everlasting. 

Later that evening, I reunited with my childhood friends in a childhood home for an annual leftover party, in which we simply show up and eat Grace’s leftovers. It is infinitely more scrumptious than I am able to make it sound. Smiling, Grace baked me a pecan pie.

She may be smiling, but she’s thinking, “The Chinese middle class can suck it.” 
Friends with pie. 

After dinner, we took turns holding her nephew, a child of improbable cuteness, and above his soft, fragrant head, talked about life and other things.

Modern Family 
One of us was working and considering buying a house. Two of us were in school, one for science, the other for art. The other made music on a daily basis, in a city whose tanned denizens said things like, “What is snow?” One of us was nearing the eighth year of her relationship and one of us was just stepping into her first. Two of us felt similar to the daughter of the woman I’d met on the plane. Bellies full, we moved to the couch and watched Jeopardy and then played charades, laughing like the kids we’d been in elementary school, where we all met. And now we had all returned to the same small town, nesting temporarily in our roots, looking up at budding branches. 
The End. 
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