Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Giving Thanks for 20 Years

Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving is just around the corner. For me, it starts being "just around the corner" come November 1 because it's my very favorite holiday. I think other countries and cultures have a broad palette of celebrations, but here ours are mostly based either in religion or patriotism, save one: Thanksgiving. And 2008 marks the 20th year I've hosted dinner on this day.

I really like the idea of a day set aside for being grateful. A day to remember where we came from, think about where we'd like to go. A day to reflect on our good fortunes and send thoughts of thanks and goodwill to both those who have helped us and to those who need help.

Officially, Thanksgiving is the day we Americans remember that without the kindness and generosity of the First Americans, the Native Americans, our little experiment with the New World would have been over not much after it was begun. Of course, how the puritans, explorers, and opportunists would go forward and repay that generosity is another story. On Thanksgiving, we bow our heads in gratitude to those who shared their food and their seeds so that the settlers might survive.

Mythology aside, the relationships between those who were already here and those who came later were never so cut-and-dried as to have been either steadfast allies or sworn enemies. Like most of history, the truth was more complex, with individual and community alliances and disputes ebbing and flowing across the full spectrum of entanglements. There were trade agreements and raids, there was good faith and bad. For an excellent, fresh perspective on this era, I recommend Russell Shorto's Island at the Center of the World.

But that is history. Today we think of Thanksgiving in a few ways. The only two-day holiday on our calendar. Tortuous air travel. Insufferable relatives. A break from college before exams. The acceptable, although by no means common, moment to begin hearing Christmas music. Seeing our children. Seeing our parents. Shopping. And, obviously, food.

It's ironic that the way we choose to celebrate salvation from starvation is gluttony. Seems a little disrespectful somehow, doesn't it? Nonetheless, for a food-focused gal like me, That Thursday in November is nirvana. Strangely, however, each year Thanksgiving becomes less and less about the food I serve and more and more about the people at the table.

That table's gotten smaller over the years. The orphans and lost souls of our twenties and early thirties have gone on to find partners, have children, build lives and traditions of their own. But, around my table are many of the people who are truly vital to me. My wonderful husband and breathtaking son. My adventurous mom. My walking and kevetching buddy - my GGF (good girlfriend) as she calls us, and her family.

And, the woman I've shared that table with for 20 years. I invited Elise down to my mom's house in 1988 after she had just moved to Albuquerque and had yet to make many friends. We somehow managed a respectable feast on 1 stovetop burner and a sort of working oven. It was a long, fun day. We've never missed a Thanksgiving dinner together since, and we've got enough Turkey Day Adventure stories to fill a whole other blog.

When we started this tradition, we didn't know it would become a tradition. But year after year, we propped each other up through some pretty tough times, including two interstate moves. Thanksgiving became the touchstone of a shared life always in motion, always moving forward. We were two 20-somethings in New Mexico who met slopping prime rib in a "family style" restaurant. Then, college, moving, my marriage, graduate school, moving, her marriage, and beautiful sons for us both. Just like that, we're two 40-somethings in Washington.

We lead very different lives now, she and I. She and her husband are staunch city dwellers and have the worst ferry karma of anyone I know, making almost every visit to our island farm a comedy of errors. They both work full time at demanding professional jobs and are well-accomplished. They have lots of friends and lots of engagements.

Mark and I live in the country and between the two of us have maybe one foot on the career ladder. We break out in hives if we have to stay in the city more than a few hours. We don't get out much.

But, Elise's life and mine are as entwined as sisters'. We share a history and a journey and, consequently, a core. We know each other inside and out (and still love each other!) and know there's strength out there if we make a mistake or hit hard times. She's got my back; I've got hers.

We all know Thanksgiving is the time to pause and reflect on what we are grateful for. A toast to 20 years of friendship and the rich, satisfying full life I've been fortunate to build with the wind of love, hers and others', at my back.

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