A Thanksgiving Invitation

I’m not gonna lie, this Thanksgiving Day post has been really hard to write. 

I don’t want to write platitudes about how we should remember how much we have to be thankful for. 

I don’t want to remind my readers, as I have in the past, about how Thanksgiving is a corrupt and dysfunctional holiday anyway. 

I don’t want to indulge in self-pity as I contemplate my first EVER solo Thanksgiving Day. 

I want to say something that will be of comfort to others who, like me, are wrestling with the reality of the “cancellation” of the whole winter holiday season. 

Let’s see, I could say something like: “Thanksgiving was such a hassle anyway! Did you really enjoy the pressure of producing a memorable meal and festive occasion for all those friends and family?”

Or: “Just think of how the planet is thanking us for staying home and not polluting the air with our cars and airplanes. Now we can all just visit by Zoom!”

These bright Zoloft thought bubbles waft away dismally, bursting as soon as I write them down. 

The bottom line is that despite the problems baked into this holiday, there is some ancient and fundamental impulse at the root of it: the desire to gather together with loved ones as the season turns cold and dark, meeting in circle around a warm hearth and a good meal to share the love that will sustain us through the winter days to come. 

But this year, for so many of us, that impulse will die on the vine, because gathering together is precisely what we should NOT do this pandemic holiday season.

As the gloom of this Thanksgiving Day has come into focus, I’ve caught myself trying to push away nostalgia for all the wonderful holidays in my pre-pandemic life. I chide myself: What use does nostalgia serve, for myself or for anyone else?

But mulling it over, I’ve realized that there is an important distinction to be made between self-indulgent nostalgia and purposeful remembering.

Self-indulgent nostalgia runs an endless loop of fixed, Technicolor memories, through which you remind yourself in a self-flagellating way of those good old happy days—now lamentably over and gone. At its most basic, it’s an unprocessed form of grief.

Purposeful remembering is a loving reanimation of the special people, places and circumstances of your life, which composts nostalgia into a loving tribute to the past. 

While nostalgia invites commiseration, the purposeful sharing of happy memories is an offering of nourishing nuggets of inspiration, an invitation to warm your spirit with the glow of past happiness. 

This strange pandemic Thanksgiving, I invite you to join me in creating a virtual pot luck smorgasbord, a warm and welcoming circle at which we can offer each other little tidbits of remembered joy.

I’ll go first—here’s my “covered dish”:

I remember how after Thanksgiving at my parents’ house, as the last dishes were being washed and the delicious food packed away for the next day’s leftovers, one of us would open up a guitar case, sit down by the fireplace, and strike up a song. The music would bring the rest of us gravitating to the fire, humming along, grabbing more instruments, breaking out the old folk songs that my brother and I learned from my parents as babies, and have been singing together over all these decades. One song would lead to another, from the blues to the union songs, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly and Odetta…at some point the Cognac would appear to whet our whistles and we’d keep singing, our faces flushed and happy in the warmth of the fire, until finally the music we’d been carrying around unexpressed since our last family jam had all been released, leaving us sated and soothed, in the companionable, open-hearted quiet before bedtime. 

Browdy family jam, a scene oft-repeated through the years.

Your turn next. I’d love for you to share a happy, nourishing memory from a Thanksgiving past.

Share it in the spirit of a gift to the circle, knowing that even from afar, even when we’re sitting alone, we can touch each other lovingly by sharing the warmth of the happy stories we carry in our memories and in our hearts. 

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. 

Leave a comment

8 Comments

  1. Penny Gill

     /  November 25, 2020

    ah, just can’t accept your lovely wonderful invitation…Thanksgiving was always tough with my family and when I fled, in my early 20’s, it was simple, gathering a few other “orphans” with a simple potluck. For really the rest of my life…it is still my favorite holiday, but it sheds light on too much disconnection…I’ve had to make it so simple, so without tradition, unrooted. Always a different group around the table, which I almost always hosted. I will have dinner tomorrow with two lovely dear people, recent friends..and I will be happy and grateful…

    On Wed, Nov 25, 2020 at 4:09 PM Transition Times wrote:

    > Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D. posted: ” I’m not gonna lie, this Thanksgiving Day > post has been really hard to write. I don’t want to write platitudes about > how we should remember how much we have to be thankful for. I don’t want > to remind my readers, as I have in the past, about h” >

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  November 26, 2020

      Well, without intending to perhaps, you DID accept my invitation, Penny! In very few words, you’ve sketched out a glimpse into your relationship with this complex holiday. I am so glad to know you’ll be feasting with friends today….

      Reply
  2. Jennifer, here’s a turkey story for your Thanksgiving potluck. My mom loved to entertain and she had standards. Miss Manners might have been tempted to ask Mom’s advice on how to set the perfect table and provide a wonderful meal, all the while making sure each guest felt like the most important person in the room.
    Thanksgiving was always celebrated at our house. Both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles would arrive in the early afternoon. One or the other of us would greet them at the door, put their coats away while they settled into laughter and conversation, a good pre-meal drink in When we’d gather in the dining room for the meal, anticipation was high, and always rewarded.
    Except for Thanksgiving the year after my parents divorced. Mom was busy raising my brother and me alone, settling into a life she’d never anticipated, and working hard as a new-hire, untenured teacher. In other words, she was on overwhelm, but still a trouper. The show must go on, of course, so she insisted she’d host Thanksgiving as usual.

    IN order to pull off the mid-afternoon Thanksgiving turkey dinner each year, she’d be up well before dawn to get the bird into the oven and start the rest of the meal underway. By the time my brother and I were up and about, the turkey had always been in the oven for more than an hour. This year was no exception. She had tasks for all of us, as usual, and we got to them.

    But this year she’s underestimated her own exhaustion. When she opened the oven to check on the turkey just before the guests were expected, for a moment she just stared in horror. She’d gotten the bird into the over alright, but she’d forgotten to turn it on. And we’d all been to busy to notice the absence of delicious aroma wafting through the house.

    Everyone, including her, was a great sport, though. We had dinner without the turkey, and most of our guests returned the next day for roast turkey and the previous day’s leftovers.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  November 27, 2020

      What a wonderful story, Mary Kate! It perfectly symbolizes the overwhelm of your newly divorced, working mother of two–a feeling I remember well myself! Thank you so much for sharing!

      Reply
  3. Your invitation to remember past Thanksgivings was difficult for me, too. My childhood Thanksgivings, like so many other holiday celebrations, were small and non-fussy affairs, often involving only my nuclear family of three. (Remember, we relied on YOUR family to provide the wonderful holiday traditions like Christmas dinner!) As a parent myself, as hard as I tried to make Thanksgiving a big tradition, it often ended up being only me and my husband and kids. We never felt compelled to fly back to celebrate with my parents. When my in-laws were around, we did often drive to celebrate with them, but I distinctly remember feeling snubbed one year when I made an overture to invite them to our house and was refused.

    There have been a couple of memorable Thanksgivings in recent years with more than just immediate family. But, perhaps because I never had high expectations of the level of conviviality that would be achieved, celebrating this year with just my husband and our cat seemed perfectly wonderful, and just right for us.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  November 27, 2020

      Yes, you’re bringing up an important point here Audrey–the degree to which expectations play into our experience of the holidays. My parents created their own standards and expectations of how they would celebrate, and of course their family and friends were very glad to join in for the good food and good vibes. It’s been hard on my family to deal with a Zoom Thanksgiving…but my mom still made her usual full TG dinner and offered it as “take-out” to the family within reach….

      It seems to me like this question of the expectations we have, for ourselves and for others, in relation to culturally driven holidays, would be good to explore further. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  4. Dee Marie Phillips

     /  November 27, 2020

    Pot luck as an offering is a delightful enticement to share a purposeful memory of this particular holiday given it is so prevalently about food and love! This year I held my very meaningful diet in reverence by bringing a raw vegetable dish and some baked vegetarian appetizers to a friends’ who is a magnificent foody. She loves to be culinarily creative and although she recognizes that my food choices rescued me from a life of pain, limited movement and frequent hospitalizations, she still raises an eyebrow when I refuse the flesh foods or fat laden adulterated aubergines, for example! My offerings were wonderfully well received as raw does not mean not delicious and I do not have the typical food hangover of Thanksgivings past.

    Ah, the Thanksgiving of my younger years as celebrated in the cozy home my parents put forth was beautiful on so many levels. They were a great team, my mother and father, as they were mad about each other, hence worked well together, and shared the same vision – work hard, love well. Once all the shopping was done, they dug in. Decorating, for my father, was such a joy but quietly so. First, while my mother prepared the dishes she could ready in advance, my father would tidy and vacuum, dust and shop my mother’s list of forgotten items. Then out came the white damask tablecloth with rust and orange leaves that had been my paternal grandmother’s. The crystal turkey candy dish was washed and filled with hard candy (adorable.) I still have this turkey, although I forget to use it. A overflowing tray full of nuts, in their shells with well placed nutcrackers and a wooden bowl for discarded shells was placed in the middle of the coffee table. My maternal grandmother would bring her home made fudge so, naturally another crystal dish was set out for this and always dates were stuffed with cream cheese topped with half a walnut and displayed on another etched crystal plate of my father’s choosing. Opening and stuffing the dates was a task that fell to me and I loved it. We would set the table together, but not until after all the foods were in their proper pots.

    My mother was most practical; the presentation was not her forte, although she loved what he chose. Her concern was on what was on the platters and in the bowls, all of which my father had in the ready. She took this orchestration seriously and behaved like a talented Maestro in spinning her masterpiece of a dinner. She called out orders in and even tone without taking her eye off the task in her vision and we obeyed with precision.

    My brother and I woke in whatever wee hour it was that had the dynamic duo up at the table washing, stuffing, peeling and preparing all in a hushed whisper that could be heard easily enough.. The permeating smells of the feast were present long before 8:00am. Soon came my favorite part of the day – gathering. Nana Cheney had to be picked up first as she was in a wheelchair having just one leg. What a chore it could be for my father to get her into the car, fold the wheelchair, toss it in the trunk and head home. Hoisting her, in that chair, up four steps up into the cape also fell upon my father, but this was obviously not his favorite job. They were not exactly fond of one another which was noted in an unspoken way. Not only was she reliant on others to get around, but her hearing was not so sound, consequently she did not notice my father’s comments that made everyone hold back laughter, everyone except me, of course; I have never liked sarcasm, although I am quite good at it. I learned from the best, after all. My father was peaceful and reserved enough while carrying out the mundane, but he was an entertainer when given the stage and could be a very funny man. I did not approve when it was at another’s expense. Collecting and bringing my handicapped nana into this fray was a task I felt compelled to mediate; I loved her and liked to smooth the sometimes ragged edges of her travels.

    Next we would collect my father’s parents who were always ready and waiting. I could feel love emanating long before they opened the door to greet us. So well dressed they were, she in a handmade dress, stockings and beautiful leather shoes, a classic coat with matching hat and gloves. Nothing was new but each piece was in impeccable condition. My grandfather, my favorite, was handsomely clad, as well, but it was those big, honest smiles they wore that suited them best.

    Once the house was filled with these characters the symphony of the scene played out smoothly with laughter and love and so much luscious food!

    Reply
  5. Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

     /  November 27, 2020

    What a rich, complex “dish,” Dee Marie! I instantly get the flavor of your childhood home, and want to hear more about all the characters you’ve introduced, your father and mother especially. It is fairly rare, in that generation, for a man to be so involved in domestic affairs…was that only at holiday time? What was the source of the friction between him and his mother-in-law? Why was your paternal grandfather your “favorite”?

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    Reply

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