They say that everyone has some kind of horror story related to Thanksgiving—missed flights, dysfunctional families, burned turkeys, and so many other flavors of chaos that rear their unwelcome head whenever this particular holiday comes around.
My own history with Thanksgiving is not nearly as sensational, but when this day rolls around each year, I always take a moment to pause and reflect.
When I was a kid, I used to get sick on Thanksgiving, every single year. I can’t remember exactly when it started, but I’ll guess and say I had to be about 12 years old. My great-aunt Florence had Thanksgiving at her house in those days, and for almost the entire duration, I would be sequestered in the guest room bed, wageel (metal bowl) beside me, trying to shut out the fragrant aromas wafting from the kitchen as I vomited into the bowl, over and over.
Being the gourmand that I am now, it seems almost cruel that I was shut out of these dinners, and indeed, I have no memory of ever eating anything at Thanksgiving for many years, simply because I could not keep anything down. The repetition of this event was bizarre, and baffled both me and my parents, as there seemed to be no reasonable explanation for the cause of it.
…And then it stopped. The Thanksgiving after I graduated high school, I didn’t get sick. At all. Nor have I gotten sick on Thanksgiving since.
For the longest time, I’ve wondered why or how this could have happened. All those years of getting sick like clockwork, and suddenly it ended, with no warning. Well, realization does not always dawn; sometimes, it thwacks, and that’s how it was when I figured out the reason why.
I think that my social skills problems and the teasing/tormenting that I endured in junior high/high school were so bad that, by the time Thanksgiving rolled around each year, my body responded to it by just completely shutting down. Then I went off to college, and the teasing went away…and the sickness went along with it.
So, with all of that behind me, I was finally able to build a new image of Thanksgiving, which included enjoying the fabulous feast that, well, is pretty much the sole purpose of the holiday. But the shape of Thanksgiving was radically altered yet again, when my grandpa passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2003.
It was my junior year of college. My grandpa had been sick for some time, and my dad and his siblings had put him in an assisted living facility. He was a diabetic, and he was slowly starting to lose his vision, and even as I grieved his loss, I knew that would have been an intolerable state for him to be in.
I remember my great-aunt Lollie (Grandpa’s sister-in-law) walking into the kitchen in her white Florida sweatshirt, her voice breaking into tears, and my Aunt Nancy right behind her, also crying. I’d never seen my aunt cry before, and it took everything in me not to fall apart on the spot when she said that, when she’d seen him, my Grandpa had looked just like he was taking a nap.
The house I was in at the time was my dad’s cousin’s here in New Jersey, and that’s where my parents and I have gone for most every subsequent Thanksgiving. The memory replays itself whenever I find myself sitting at the counter in that kitchen, and as a result, Thanksgiving Day itself will always be tinged with a certain sadness. Eight years later, and I still miss my Grandpa so much.
What does Thanksgiving mean now? I can’t say for sure. It is ever-changing, evolving, as is my place among my family and in the world. I’ve told my parents that I would like to have Thanksgiving at our house one year, because they have always gone to New Jersey, time and again. One tradition that I do love is that, in addition to turkey, we always have Italian and Syrian food with the Thanksgiving spread, and I want to keep that alive.
My passion for cooking especially means that Thanksgiving is more or less my Oscar season, and I want a chance to step up to the plate. I hope that I will be able to do most, if not all of the cooking for it one year, which would be my way of showing the people I love how thankful I am for them. Yes, the days of being a passive, distant observer of Thanksgiving are long over; now, I am an active, eager, and willing participant.