Thom’s Thursday Thanksgiving Thoughts

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Greetings from Arlington, VA where Tom* and I are spending Thanksgiving with Tom’s parents and siblings.

“I have to write Thom’s Thursday Thoughts,” I announced this morning at breakfast. Continue reading “Thom’s Thursday Thanksgiving Thoughts”

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. 
“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. 

Alone on Thanksgiving

Unexpectedly, a small army of my mother’s badminton friends banded together to buy several lavish flower arrangements for my grandmother’s memorial service and for my mother. A massive pot of stunning purple and violet orchids were delivered to the chapel and a few days later, a young Hispanic man showed up at our door with two smaller but no less gorgeous arrangements for our home. Together, they cost a pretty penny and my mother was grateful.

“I ought to do something for them,” she said, “They really didn’t need to spend so much money and send so many flowers.”

It was decided that to show our thanks, she would buy them little candies and I would bake cookies to put together in pretty gift bags.

I baked an assortment of holiday spiced cookies: molasses gingerbread, cinnamon oatmeal lacies and pumpkin spiced walnut cookies and give each contributor a dozen or so to share with their family. I kept the oven on for what seemed like two days straight to bake enough for seventeen people, and when everything was packaged and wrapped, my mother was delighted in the overall effect.

So were the friends at the badminton club.

She came home on the evening after all the gifts had been delivered and I asked her how it went.

“Oh they were all so happy,” she said, “especially Ju Pei.”

“Who’s Ju Pei?”

“Don’t you remember the woman with the daughter that doesn’t like her?”

I did. I had very nearly written a novella about her.

“She loved the cookies,” my mother said, then her eyes got wide, “and she ate the whole dozen right in front of me.”

I stared at my mother. My cookies are known to be larger than the average sized cookie – whatever that means – and I always end up making ten or so less than the recipe calls for because of this.

“She ate all twelve in one sitting?”

“In less than thirty minutes,” my mother said.

My mother had presented her the gift bag upon her arrival at the club and Ju Pei was there, forty-five minutes earlier than when her lesson was scheduled to start. She often did that, as she disliked being alone in her house and passed most of the afternoon at the badminton club.

“She was so happy when I handed her the bag, and even happier when she saw the cookies. We started talking and she just reached in, eating one after another. By the time her lesson was starting, the bag was empty.”

“Didn’t she feel sick?”

My mother shook her head, her expression as surprised as mine, “No, not at all. She just kept on saying how delicious they were and how lucky I was to have a nice talented daughter who took the time to bake things for her friends.”

“Wow,” I said, “Well, that’s really nice of her. I guess I can make more for her next time, since she liked them so much.”

“Yes…” my mother said slowly, “Though she plays so much badminton to maintain her sixty pound weight loss…so I’m not sure if you should make her quite so many cookies.”

After her lesson Ju Pei came to chat with my mother again, asking if my mother and her husband were free to have dinner with her on Thanksgiving.

“I was thinking,” Ju Pei began, “I’d like to take you and your husband out to dinner on Thanksgiving. To Capital Seafood in Irvine. We’ll have lobster and crab! You can bring your daughter too.”

“That’s very nice,” my mother said, and trying to phrase the obvious as gingerly as possible, “but we spend Thanksgiving with our family.”

Ju Pei’s expression, my mother said, could not be described as crestfallen, but discouraged was certainly apt.

“Who the hell invites someone to dinner on Thanksgiving?” I asked, incredulous.

“Well she didn’t know that we made a big to-do about it, because she never celebrates with her daughter.” 

“Why not?”

“She says her daughter never asks her to dinner at her house, never mind Thanksgiving.”

“That’s really a pity,” I said, feeling terrible for the woman. I thought ahead to all the faces I looked forward to seeing on Thanksgiving and how warm my aunt’s house felt, no matter how cold it was outside, no matter that we had just lost our grandmother. I imagined the woman eating alone at the Seafood Restaurant, a glistening, sautéed lobster on the table before her.

“I don’t know what you do as a mother, as a woman to end up like that,” my mother shook her head, “but I sure hope I’m not doing it now.”

I kissed my mother on the cheek, knowing that it wasn’t a so much a difference in action as it was in souls. The woman wasn’t a bad person – she had just been ill-advised and then, it seems, too narrow-minded and nearsighted. Impulsive too, perhaps. But from what my mother told me the woman was beginning to change.  She was definitely someone worth studying, but perhaps not right now. My mother and I had Thanksgiving with our family to think about.

Thanks, Giving

In kindergarten, we were asked, the day before Thanksgiving, to outline our tiny palms on orange construction paper. I remember removing my hand and seeing what my teacher promised would be a turkey and what a turkey it was! We were instructed to color in the lines of our fingers to represent the turkey’s plumage and to give the turkey a face and legs. Carefully with a brown crayon, I drew a wing, a crooked smile, and spindly turkey legs. With a black crayon, I gave it beady-eyed sight. A rudimentary leering bird: a child’s take on a symbol of gratitude.

That was the easy part, not necessarily the art.

On the back there were printed words followed by blank lines: “I am thankful for….”

Gratitude as a concept was rather foreign to me. As a four year old with strong opinions and a sense of self (which would sadly, come and go), I thought I grasped how the world worked. My relationships were simple and so was my life. School, Chinese school, screaming and yelling with my cousins took up the bulk of my time, along with the occasional spanking which resulted in more screaming and yelling.

I doubt I propped my elbows up on my preschool desk and twirled my black crayon in a thoughtful way. I doubt I asked myself: “What am I thankful for? A very good question indeed.”

What happened, (despite my memory being notoriously poor, I am certain this is 99% accurate) is I simply looked around to what my classmates were so furiously scribbling and saw the words, “Mommy”, “Daddy,” “Brother,” “Dog” and other generic words that compose a child’s world being scrawled out in illegible child’s script.

So I followed suit. Not because I was a lemming, but because my classmates reminded me then that “Hey, these bozos have the right idea! I am kinda grateful for my dad, my mother (even though she uses the belt) and my brother, (who saves me from the belt). These people/things are to be grateful for.”

An early lesson in gratitude.

Normal Rockwell Freedom from Want 1943 The Normal Rockwell Museum

Now two decades later I don’t have to think about it anymore because they are always on my mind. Give me the blank lines again and I’ll give you a book.

I am thankful for……

My job and the smiling faces (and kind-hearted reprimands) that come with it, and all the other jobs I’ve had, never for the paycheck (because for many years there was never a paycheck) but for the stories.
Life in general, for more stories.

 And most importantly, because this medium commands it, I am grateful for you literate and “very highbrow” people who make time in your busy days to read my blog. Because writing a blog no one reads is like dancing alone – which on certain days can be just the right amount of fun – but usually, it is better with company.

Happy Thanksgiving.