As I write this, my daughter is zesting oranges gleaned from our neighbor’s tree, which hangs over our driveway and provides us with all the oranges we can reach during two separate seasons of the year. Next to her is my boyfriend Paulie, using coconut cream as a hopeful substitute for butter in his rum-drizzled sweet potato recipe in an attempt to make it vegan for his teenage son, Griffin, who recently made a quick and unexpected transition from basic vegetarian to strict vegan.
My son Jonah is wrapped in a fleece Detroit Tigers blanket made by my best friend and his favorite honorary Auntie, Jessica, while he builds an impressively accurate replica of our home in Minecraft. I am here, at the kitchen table, writing while drinking a small mimosa made from prosecco and sparkling clementine juice.
Perhaps needless to say, it is Thanksgiving.
Rather, it is our third Thanksgiving, this one two days after the actual calendar day. On that, the ‘real’ Thanksgiving, Paul, Griffin and I were traveling home from a near-week in Bonaire, a small island in the Caribbean Sea. When we realized it was Thanksgiving, we were spending a four-hour layover on Aruba exploring and had stopped at a bar surrounded by turquoise water and tanned beachgoers. We were watching the vacationers in wonder, the boats ferrying them to and fro, the kids bouncing on inflatable trampolines floating on the water, the dozens of shacks calling out to sell one adventure or another to the rum-sweating, bikini-clad passerby. The contrast from where we’d just come was immense. We took it in smugly, believing we’d chosen the better island, and in deciding whether to have a second cocktail I remembered that it was Thanksgiving.
“It’s Thanksgiving!” I said, and the two men looked up from their phones, eyes surprised, and we all said Happy Thanksgiving and clinked glasses. A few hours later we had a sushi Thanksgiving dinner in the Miami airport. Paulie used chopsticks and their wrappers to build a sushi-turkey in honor of our country’s dark holiday.
Our first Thanksgiving was more than a week before the real thing, with another family we love and are thankful for, and whose matriarch would also be out of the country on Thanksgiving itself. Our dear friend Spring was preparing for an arduous trip to Lesvos, Greece, to do what she could and whatever was needed to help in the comfort-making of the refugees arriving there daily. Yes, her excuse for missing the holiday was much more noble than ours. But we seized the opportunity to bake a turkey and celebrate together just the same.
Major holidays, in general, give me anxiety. Growing up they meant waking early to clean the hopeless house before family arrived. Once they did, we would all sit for a while, then eat the turkey and ham and steak and scalloped potatoes and goulash, and then sit again, tired and trying to make simple small talk but often failing. Thanksgiving in particular was tedious and mind-numbingly boring until I became old enough to beg a ride or eventually drive myself to my second-best-friend Frank’s house, where his family hosted a huge, boisterous and happy feast in their basement, complete with silvery bloated bags of wine which his uncle always served to us kids along with the adults.
Since that time I’ve been fumbling to find my own yearly holiday traditions – those long afternoons at Frank’s planting a seed of hope that obligatory gatherings could hold some special element to them which, when built year by year in small blocks of warm memories, became something to actually look forward to. I have gone through phases of success and failure in that goal, mostly failure. I imagine this is why I bristle a bit when faced with Thanksgiving celebrations – the heavy expectation to sit around a table, oohing and aahing over food that frankly, if it was really that good, we’d eat it more than once a year. There is always a topic everyone is avoiding for the sake of ‘getting along’, or a family member reliably in a sour mood, or a hushed or loud, drunken or sober confession which no one wants to hear.
Most tedious for me is the anxiety that someone will inevitably suggest that all those present share, one by one, what we are thankful for. I have an immensity of things to be thankful for and I say as much at the close of every day, privately. Doing so in a crowd makes me feel hot and embarrassed, like we’re all just looking for accolades from those around us. It’s almost more than I can bear – by the end of these occasions I feel like a kettle about to boil over, which is why, as the holidays approach, I naturally find myself looking for ways to escape. Sometimes it’s to an island. Sometimes it’s to a mimosa. Always it is to the fantasy-based idea that if only we had a tradition – something we do every year that we actually like and want to be doing – the holiday would then, finally, be more enjoyable.
Looking back though, to our first Thanksgiving, with friends, and our second Thanksgiving, with the Caribbean lapping below us, having a third, albeit more obligatory, Thanksgiving with family suddenly doesn’t feel so daunting.
I’ll have one more mimosa though – here, in this lovely moment with only me and mine – just to be on the safe side.