Thanksgiving week 2013
Brad Pitt. Newt Gingrich. Sylvester Stallone. George W. Bush. Eminem. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. Frances Bean Cobain. They have much in common with us. They all experienced embarrassment at the hands…or mouths…of their mothers. It used to be more embarrassing for celebrities but now – with the maternal mastering of Facebook and Twitter – mothers can also embarrass us to the world.
Sissy and I have set up folding tables across my small living room as we prepare for the coming feast. The Big Kids are out on South Beach. Baby J and my son used to be the Little Kids. Then my ex had two children who became the Little Kids thus elevating the older two to the level of Medium Kids. When our recently discovered sister Dina had a son and then a daughter – these children evolved into the new Little Kids On The Block. Everyone moved up a level. The Medium Kids are now campaigning to become Big Kids but you really do not get that title until you are old enough to get into some kind of trouble, triggering your parents to admonish, “You are too BIG to be giving me all of this aggravation!”
Tonight Sissy and I are prepping solo. Mom is recovering from her surgery and doesn’t want us to change our plans. “I’m sitting this one out. I just want to rest, recover and read.” We will have a houseful of guests even though Dad will be in St. Petersburg. The last two years our parents have stayed home because Olivia gets nervous if she has to get all dressed up and go on a long trip.
Olivia is their fancy-dress-wearing dog. She has a terrible underbite and is shaped like a toppled over question mark but we are never to insult her.
“Don’t listen to them, Olivia!” Mom tells her. “They’re all jealous because you’re so pretty!” Mom has pictures of Olivia all over the house. Olivia with Santa, Olivia at the beach, Olivia wearing bows. I have inquired about the whereabouts of our pictures.
“Oh, they’re around,” Mom says casually. We have been replaced and I secretly think Olivia’s underbite is her way of mocking us.
Truly, it is just too far a trip, so Dad will have Thanksgiving with his daughter and her family where he will have only one well behaved Big Kid at the table instead of my house – which he calls “The Circus.” Family, exes, crew folks, Big and Medium kids. We understand. He and Mom can play ringmasters when we all converge on them at Christmas.
Sissy and I wonder about the Time Capsule.
The Time Capsule (really just a thick envelope of sealed envelopes) has been found. I’d wanted to have the participants add little items, just like the old elementary school project. But much like with my son’s first-grader class, that idea never really got any viable traction.
“What kind of thing?” Dad demanded. “Like money? I’m not putting money in there. In ten years these kids better have jobs!”
“No Dad, not money. Something special, a small thing like…”
“I’ll tell you something else, you can’t put food in there. Food will rot and then you’ll get rats. Terrible idea!”
I was getting exasperated. “I didn’t ask you to put FOOD in a Time Capsule!”
“You don’t know if there will even be food in ten years!” Nana interrupted. “I was reading about food shortages all over the world. By 2005 we may have to resort to cannibalism!”
“Oh for God’s sake, Alice! What the hell is the matter with you?” Dad is not a huge Nana fan. He turns the television volume up.
Nana leans in to me and jerks a thumb in Dad’s direction. “Soylent Green is people!” she stage whispered.
“Nana, ‘Soylent Green’ is just a movie!”
She shook her head. “So YOU say! I say cannibalism! Put some Twinkies in there. My research shows they last one thousand years because they are made out of petroleum.”
“RATS!!!” Dad bellowed.
I gave up. No trinkets or treasures. “Just write the letters please, Dad.”
On the patio, Mom was working on her letters to the grandchildren, several who had not been on their best stellar behavior of late. She tapped her pen against her chin. “What should I write?”
Thanksgiving week 2013
The letters written by grandparents in 1995 were originally supposed to be opened in 2005 for all to read and enjoy. But I had misplaced the envelopes and now there was discussion about how much enjoyment we were really going to experience.
“I wonder what they wrote to the kids?” Sissy says as she pushes the end of a whole clove into the skin of a juicy Clementine. The little fruit is already lined with neat rows of cloves. The house is filled with the wonderful aroma of citrus and spice. “Remember when we made these with Mom?”
I do. When we were kids, Mom brought home a book. “How To Make Flubbers, Etc.” It is a fun read about making art projects on the cheap with household items. Although at first glance it seems dated, we love it. We chose page 10 for our retro centerpiece. Sweet Petes. A clear glass bowl filled with spicy clove oranges and fresh cranberries.
“So what do you think about the Time Capsule letters? Now or later?” Sissy asks me.
The letters gave us two concerns. The first was that now so much time had passed and their grandparents were elderly, we wanted our children to take seriously what had been written almost two decades ago. I didn’t want my parents to be uncomfortable. And I didn’t want our kids to open up an envelope that might detail embarrassing kid stories. I shouldn’t have worried on either count.
I consider this. “I say let’s give the Big Kids their letters after dinner Thanksgiving and save Mom and Dad’s on Christmas Eve.” My older niece Nicole would also get her letters then as she was in Colorado.
Thanksgiving morning we slipped into my son’s room and left the letters for he and Baby J to read while we banged around in the kitchen, hinting that it was time for them to get up. It wasn’t very long until we heard an uproar of laughter in the hallway.
The Big Kids were delighted with the letters, their only complaint that they were too short. My father detailed teaching Baby J to ride a bike and Mom’s included some of J’s kid drawings. Photographs. My son got to read a little of what life was like in the past and his grandparents’ bright promise for his future.
“Look! Look!” They laughed as they passed pictures and crayon drawings back and forth. “OMG! This is great!” I was happy but now wished I’d waited until Christmas.
After dinner was over and the guests had gone, my son brought out the sealed envelope from his late grandmother Eve, his father Mitch’s mom. With his Dad, stepmom and the Medium Kids gathered around the table, He began to read aloud. We eventually had to pass it around the room and take turns. It was splendid to read Eve’s words and sad as we wished we’d asked more questions when she’d been around. Unlike us, Mitch’s southern family members are not masters of inquisition techniques. Everyone in his family just minds their own business. What a concept.
“I hope this letter finds us all well. There are a few things I’d like everyone to know…,” began Eve’s letter to her grandson. I will paraphrase the rest because the wonderful, very personal letter was not to me.
Eve lost two husbands over the course of her life. She raised four children and a grandchild. She loved her father, she wrote, and told us about growing up in the South with her family. She worked at a government job until she retired and gave us a view into the workplace in the eighties. “Don’t let anyone tell you that sexual harassment isn’t real It is! I experienced it but I didn’t take it!” You gotta love her.
Lost in a grandmother’s message, enveloped by the comforting fragrance of Sweet Petes and holidays gone by, we read on.
As private a person as she was, I don’t think Eve would deny you the wise words she used to close her letter. They are worth repeating.
“In my whole life, I only ever loved two men. And each of them loved me back. I am very lucky. I wish this for you. Love and be loved. And I love you. Grandma.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. How lucky Eve was!
In less than one month, I would read Mom’s letters aloud.
Author’s note: I love Thanksgiving. It is the only holiday that everyone comes to my house. My tiny apartment has held up to 40 people on any given Turkey Day! But I could never get through it without Sissy! And a lotta help from my friends.