Monday, November 20, 2006


When I was growing up, we always held Thanksgiving dinner at our house. My aunt and uncle would come, she in her horn-rimmed glasses and oddly out-of-date (and sometimes crocheted) outfits, he with a quick wit and lively blessing at the dinner table, smelling of pipe smoke; they'd bring my grandmother with them, who was my only living grandparent and very sweet and very old and very frail, but who was also a strong Swedish woman. They were all a wonder to me, a link to my Dad's childhood, an older generation than most families of kids my age; my parents were older than most in that era, both when they were married and by the time I was born. My aunt and uncle had never had any children, which made both them and my grandmother seem older to me ... all black-and-white photos and slightly moth-balled but warm scents, all part of this homey 1950's hats and gloves and plaid car-coats and big clunky black telephone era that I wished I had been a part of. My Mom's parents had both passed away by the time she was about 20 years old, and we rarely saw her brother's family even though they lived in a close-by suburb, since they had their own four children who were a little older than me and were closer to their Mom's side of the family than we had stayed. So my Grandma and my Aunt Edith and my Uncle Eddie had to be a link for me to my Mom's past as well, since they had all known each other for close to 20 years before I was born. This was usually the only time all year that I would see them, and I would look forward to Thanksgiving for weeks beforehand, and on that day I would look out the living room windows, watching for their big green 1970-something Ford to pull up.

After dinner, my aunt and I would always go for a walk around the neighborhood - I remember it always being cold but dry, the light of the late afternoon, the crunch of leaves, the smell of woodsmoke from the chimneys. I don't remember much of what we ever talked about - it seemed more the pleasant company (she always had a smile on her face) and the sights and sounds and smells that I think she knew I appreciated just like her, even being a young boy. And then later, when it had gotten dark, I remember the sadness when they left, that this one wonderful day that I looked forward to all year long was over. And life would go back to my parents and my two brothers and I, living in the present, knowing a little more about my parents but wanting to see more of them as younger people again, acknowledging that they weren't always middle-aged, recognizing that they were young and vibrant and beautiful and interesting and actually quite incredible people. I loved knowing this about them. I love this even more now, appreciate it even more now.

Now, some 30-ish years later, that's all long past. My Mom passed away two weeks after my 15th birthday; my Grandma died two years later; my aunt died two years ago; my father passed away just over a year ago. When my Dad died, it felt like a final link to this past life had been broken. Although my two brothers still live in the Chicago area - one in the big house we grew up in, although we'll be selling it - this link to my parents, to their pasts, to some old part of myself maybe even from before I was born, was gone. It can't ever be the same. It was a comfortable, warm, grounding feeling, a sense of belonging and loving and centering and ... a past. Even as a young boy, I felt a part of myself that was my past, an old part of the soul, older than me.

So, I try to make Thanksgiving at our house have the same feeling. The same ritual of getting up early to start cooking, turning on the Macy's parade on the television, expectantly watching for guests to arrive. It's not family that comes to dinner anymore, but we try to invite everyone who doesn't have someplace to go, who doesn't have family here, who maybe needs to feel the same way I did as a child - welcome, loved, appreciated, centered. To get a break from every other day when we're all in the present and forgetting about where we're from, what we love, who we are. And I'll look at my parents' wedding picture that's in the living room and remember who they were and where I come from and I'll get a little misty-eyed and then I'll go back to everyone and know what I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful for a long list of things ... for being fortunate enough to have a dinner to share, a warm comfortable bed, material things that almost embarrass me, the ability to give to others.

For Scott and friends and neighbors and pets and their love.

For having a past that grounds and centers and defines me.

And I'm thankful that I have this picture.

Jeanne (July 31, 1929 - November 7, 1982)


Jim (October 20, 1923 - October 13, 2005)

Married September 14, 1957

Oak Park, Illinois


Scott In Iowa said...

Very touching post, Matt. The holidays seem to make us even more thankful for our pasts.

Scott In Iowa said...

How strange. I had a great aunt and uncle also named Edith and Eddie. My Grandmother's brother on my Mom's side.

Sorted Lives said...

Very sweet post. I have no doubt the friends you invite on Thursday will feel welcomed, loved and appreciated.

Kevin said...

What a great post! You are an incredible guy ... obviously.

Matt said...

Thanks for the nice comments.

Scott, we'll add that to the "100 Things". :)

Lewis said...

I'm right there with you on being thankful, Matt. I find it more and more important with each passing year (and, yes, they are truly passing...) to be reminded of my blessings and gifts that I've been given. I love the old picture. I love you reminding us all of important things.