Lessons From Thanksgiving Past And Present

Published in The Ferndale Record, November 24, 2010

The year was 1971 and I was a freshman at a small college in southeastern Idaho. My roommates, except for the one from Indiana, had all gone away for the holiday and a kind local church member invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner.

We gathered around his table that day with other students who hadn’t made the trip home. It was crowded, sweet, and different for a girl who’d never missed a holiday with her family before. But I had my roomie, and later, we were going to see “Gone With The Wind” in a special showing at the tiny, local movie theater. I decided it was going to be a good day.

All during dinner, our nice friend gushed about his wife’s pumpkin pie, and that we should get ready for the culinary splendor which we were about to imbibe. My mom’s Thanksgiving dessert was the best ever, and I couldn’t imagine something better than that.

One forkful put every doubt to rest. It seemed our benefactor’s wife had forgotten the sugar, or the pumpkin, or something. There was little resemblance to anything of the pumpkin variety in that pie. In fact, it was practically uneatable, and for a young woman with a healthy sweet tooth, that was really saying something.

I nibbled politely and then feigned fullness. Nothing was said, but I can’t believe I was the only one who noticed something terribly, nastily wrong. My mother’s was still the best—by a very long shot.

However, that year I was thankful for a friend to share the day with, another who didn’t let us eat alone, and especially grateful for a mom whose Thanksgiving feasts were legendary, and at whose table I’d again, one day, pull up a chair.

Thirty years later, I made a solo trip to the Oregon coast for Thanksgiving. My children were with their dad, enjoying the holiday together, and I needed a getaway. It was the first time in my adult life I wasn’t with my offspring for Thanksgiving, and it stung a little. But this place at the beach soothes my aching soul, and it did the trick that year, too.

I shopped before I went to the ocean front condo, buying supplies for the few days I’d hole up and watch the waves. No turkey that year—just a loaded down shrimp salad, bread, Dr. Pepper, and a few selected goodies. Food wise, it was practically effortless, and good eats.

The weather was intense—gray winter sea roiling up to the beach bulkhead. Wind, rain, and waves pounded the sand. I talked to my kids on the Thursday holiday and stayed warm in my retreat.

That first year without my children on Thanksgiving, I was thankful for another place to be that I loved, for having the courage to try something different, and for a front row seat watching nature’s fury at sea.

This year, 2010, I’ll spend the day with my two sons, a daughter and grandson at her home. I’m supplying the homemade biscuits and our generational family favorite—my mother’s recipe for blue cheese dressing. I’ll be a guest in a home with people I love, and despite a difficult financial year, gratitude overwhelms me.

This is the year I’ve learned that one can be thankful no matter how little they think they have, and with that gratitude comes personal power, responsibility, and the quiet confidence that what you have is all you need.

Would a little more be nice sometimes? Of course. But stark, loving appreciation for what I have at the moment gets me beyond the longing, and reminds me of how much I can do without.

For me, 2010 has been full of Thanksgiving Days. I’m positive there are more to come.

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Finally, A World Series I Actually Cared About

Published in The Ferndale Record, November 3, 2010

Just when I think society is going to hell and there’s nothing I can do about it, the Texas Rangers clobber the New York Yankees in game six and take the American League Championship Series. The universe is restored to its rightful order, and everything is on track.

Not that I’m a Rangers fan, I just don’t like the Yankees. I can’t remember exactly when they fell from my personal grace, but it was sometime after the words “Yankees” and “World Series” were repeatedly used in the same sentence. It was a foregone conclusion, ruling out the underdogs.

Of course in baseball and life, you can’t count anyone out. It’s here I would interject, “..except maybe the Seattle Mariners.” But that flame of hope still burns, and I won’t go for the cheap jab, which I suppose I just did.

Even though the San Francisco Giants showed the Rangers who’s boss in this year’s World Series, that last game of the playoffs between the Yankees and Rangers was, well, historical. I particularly enjoyed seeing all of Texas on its feet, and witnessing the final out: New York’s Alex Rodriguez, humbled in a ballpark that used to chant his name for a different reason. It was sweet to see a team that’s never been to the World Series finally get a shot by beating the one club most fans expect to regularly take home another World Championship ring.

Not this year, New York.

The Yankees are, I’ll admit, a great team. Fantastic baseball is exciting and they deliver the goods. One of the best (if not the finest) closers in baseball, Mariano Rivera, is like spare, exquisite poetry. Fans of the opposing team cower when he takes the mound. I single him out because he’s just that good.

I understand that some teams often play better than others. Those players get the press, the glory, until someone else comes along, from another team, sometimes out of almost nowhere, and makes a dent—if not history. That is equally, if not more entertaining as solid baseball.

Although he probably wasn’t the only one to say it, Lou Piniella asserted that on any given day, any one team could beat any other team. While that seems logical, even obvious, I like it. It gives everyone a chance. Not just the New York Yankees.

It says that when someone’s expected to win, you can’t necessarily count on it, so you’d better pay attention, like when Mine That Bird came from nearly eight lengths behind the field to blow past all the favorites and win the 2009 Kentucky Derby. The lesson? You never know, and that’s part of what makes competitive sport so compelling.

Finally, a World Series I cared about. I’ve been guilty of over estimating the Yankee machine myself and discounted the Fall Classic as over before it started simply because New York was in the game.

The Rangers winning the American League pennant reminds me that other teams play stunning baseball, too. Like the 2004 Boston Red Sox powering through the playoffs, past the Yankees, and ousting St. Louis in four games to take the World Series. This year we saw San Francisco chalk up a few memorable moments as well.

I’m just a fan of the game. But the upsets, especially where New York’s involved, are precious. Entitled Yankees fans can blame bad calls, or poor management, but maybe they just weren’t that good this time.

It was someone else’s turn this year, and that alone was worth watching.