And the seasons, they go round and round and the painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on the carousel of time. Joni Mitchell
As Thanksgiving approaches and I begin my preparations, I think about how the complexion of our holiday table and my perception of the holiday have shifted over time.
As newlyweds, we celebrated most of the holidays with our parents. I didn’t have a clue how much effort it took to host a holiday. I knew only that we arrived at our parents to enthusiastic exclamations of, “The kids are here!” and we were lovingly fed to the point of uncomfortable fullness.
At some point my sister-in-law decided to take on Thanksgiving as her holiday and for many years, we fell into a comfortable and predictable routine. We ate the same foods in the same place with the same people and even the conversation barely changed. We were busy keeping young children fed, safe and entertained. And although we saw evidence of the years racing by, we barely paid any notice.
The wistful thing about life is that everything is status quo, until it’s not. Our parents began to fall away. First, my father and although his absence was keenly felt, his lone empty seat at the table didn’t overturn the dynamic. Then my in-laws.
Then my sister-in-law, Marion, became ill and asked me to take over the holiday. That first year we hosted, Marion gamely came to our house and although we worked hard to be joyful that year, the specter of her illness made it hard to feel festive. The next year she was gone.
And just like that, WE BECAME THE ADULTS AT THE THANKSGIVING TABLE. We became the adults, period. On some level I knew that this is where we were headed, but I now understand my mother when she says that she doesn’t see an 84-year-old when she looks in the mirror. I often feel like the newlywed or new mommy I once was, but the evidence is entirely to the contrary.
The little children who forced us to eat tag team are now grown; they are professionals, graduate students and college or high school students. Some have life partners. They are smarter, swifter and more able-bodied than I am. And, they are delightful company.
And now, perhaps too late, I realize that making the holiday is an enormous task, and that I should have been more thankful for those who did it before me or at least more mindful of their effort. And I should have been more grateful for those moments of togetherness. Those meals mattered, they mattered a lot because when the physical presence of those we love is gone, we are left with memories.
So, I will dig up an appropriately festive tablecloth and I’ll make the sweet potatoes with marshmallows that my nephew loves. I’ll also make the nauseatingly sweet cranberry nut pie that my son moans over and I’ll buy a pretty centerpiece for the table. And I’ll do it all in the hope that I am creating memories and connection for those who sit at my table.
As for me, I’ll whisper silent thanks to those who worked so hard to fashion my memories.
We can’t return we can only look behind from where we came. And go round and round and round in the circle game.
The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell