I’m sitting next to a steaming cup of peppermint tea, freshly showered and curled next to my 7 year-old pomapoo, Noah J., marveling at how my life has changed. How the only thing I have to be worried about tomorrow is this ridiculous breakout on my forehead (when does acne finally quit)?
I’m thinking about how I intentionally fasted today until 5pm today to reset my gut health in preparation of tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast. My ten-year-old self would think I was mad- who actually chooses not to eat when there’s food in the house? (Don’t worry, fam, we follow safe guidelines to this new health practice).
I think about all the Thanksgiving Eve’s I spent when I was younger, in eager anticipation of visiting my aunt’s house on Thanksgiving Day. Auntie. Our family’s matriarch, our heartbeat, our nucleus.
When I was little, I loved the way her home smelled- like cinnamon spice potpourri. I loved her living room- the pink pastel couches and matching cockatoo painting.
The soft and shaggy sheepskin rug I could melt into under her glass coffee table, spying my favorite glass bowl of decorative fruit above. Plastic grapes and pears. Shiny wax apples. We weren’t supposed to touch them, but when no one was looking, I loved squeezing the grapes. I’d crush them one by one, then watch them slowly pop back to their original shape. Sometimes they didn’t, so I plucked the misshapen ones right off the vine and stashed them in the bottom of the bowl- a secret remedy for my mischief.
I loved digging my small fingernails into the soft wax apples that looked good enough to eat. At auntie’s, we were supposed to always use a coaster and never run while her German Shepard was around because he might chase us and jump on us, which terrified me.
Thanksgiving was never a day of hunger, not like so many other days I could recall. We would dress our best and listen to daddy moan and groan, ordering up a list of things not to talk about (like his job, our roommate Danny, his last argument with our landlord). Every year he’d say to mommy, “E-Chan, we’ll go this year, but we’re not staying all day!”.
He would slam things around, sulk and swear all the way there, but us girls knew that once we got to auntie’s, he’d relax. In no time, he’d take center stage with his lively stories, and everyone (including him) would burst into fits of guffawing- laughing so hard someone eventually dissolved into tears. Daddy smiled with his eyes at his big sister, and every year the sun set hours before we departed. We’d fall asleep in the backseat of our car, snoozing gently with full bellies, returning home under the starry November sky.
My aunt is the type who loves to dance and hug and kiss you squarely on the lips. Her daughters- our first cousins- were in their early twenties when we first met, and my sister and I loved them instantly. They were lipstick and glamour and wild, curly hair. They were the ultimate cool, they loved us right back.
Our cousins bustled into Thanksgiving dinners with belated presents (my birthday is Nov. 26th), smelling of perfume, and there was nothing I admired more than the striking beauty of these big-haired cousins, who always picked out the perfect gifts. Robotic puppies on leashes, beautiful dresses and accessories to match. One cousin wore a leather-fringe jacket and had perfect blonde hair and blue eyes, just like my favorite Barbie. Her older sister had her own little baby girl who was just near our brother’s age. Every year, we played hide-and-seek and gave the little ones piggy-back rides and pushed one another on the big swing out back.
Thanksgiving meant our Irish family. Who would be there time and time again. From the first rescue (shortly after Thanksgiving ’91) when my aunt brought us to Arizona on a red-eye flight from West Virginia, Child Protective Services nipping at my parents’ heels. To two days ago, my first ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes coming from Galway.
Growing up, Thanksgiving became a holiday from our real lives. A day we could slip off our fears- fears about money, empty pantries, whether mom was taking her medication. Our parents’ late night screaming, the phone and electricity being shut off. Strangers coming in and out. Dark bedrooms.
Even into my mid-twenties, Thanksgiving Eve carried more hidden worries- facing my ex-husband’s family, having enough gas in the tank to make the drive across town for my family’s dinner. Worries about Black Friday in an exhausting retail environment. Worry for my mom’s unpredictable and erratic behavior. My sinking depression. And in 2011, the worry that my dad might not make it through another hospitalization after his pill-seeking failures threw him into a near-fatal withdrawal.
But here I am, 8 years later, on the Eve of Thanksgiving. My Prince Charming is in the living room, playing his favorite video game. Soft piano music is playing in the background. My 12-year old, who has never known hunger a day in her life, is sound asleep in her bedroom. The fridge is full of chocolate pie and homemade chicken soup that we made together tonight.
And even though Ireland called my family home and we won’t be together tomorrow, I sit in gratitude for the countless ways my life has been shaped because of them. I wonder at all the ways my siblings and I made it here- healthy and whole and incredibly happy. I thank my parents, who did the best they could, who did a lot of things right. I count every blessing- every. little. thing.- like warm running water, full pantries, cars that start every time. And I marvel at the steadfastness, the blessing that is my family, giving me strength beneath my own two feet.