Looking today at the North Auburn home I grew up in amazes me.
As in, I wonder how the hell we all fit in there? Two parents, four boys, two girls.
Let’s go. Was he really that small?
Well, yes, yes it was. We only see these things from a distance, like when we are older. But this house never felt cramped. Because the house was big in every way that mattered. This house brought a lot of laughter, this house was a brood hen of happy memories.
Like many other people, I am wary of looking back, which clouds everything with a golden glow. I’m not big on the overly sentimental. But about Thanksgiving. I reserve the right to be downright sickening.
Because, for me when I was younger, this house, however small, seemed to grow in size to meet the occasion. And in doing so, he defined all my Thanksgivings forever, reducing them to one adjective and two simple nouns: warm home, warm family.
In the warmth of the Whale kitchen, presiding over the preparations, was my father. What can I say, the old man liked to let loose with a few – okay, a lot – of choice words. Like when the giblet sauce—the Gilbert sauce, as he called it—acted like a sauce, or when the bird threw tantrums at him. If I remember correctly, his favorite turn of phrase was to compare the future edible to the male offspring of a female dog.
Ah, but this kitchen leaked more, much more than my father’s colorful phraseology: it also exuded warm and enticing aromas. Aromas that grew stronger as the day went on, until the mere scent took on a kind of physicality, which tortured us until the dinner call finally came.
Later, once the table was cleared, we would all meet in the living room to watch “The Wizard of Oz” or “Oklahoma” for the umpteenth time. And later there would be card games or Pit.
Nothing compares to a big, loud, rowdy family to hug you.
I still have something sacred about Thanksgiving. I consider it the purest of our vacations, largely because greed has yet to find the formula to exploit it to the fullest. There’s no publicity about it months earlier, no encroachment on us when the July or August suns are burning and our thoughts are elsewhere.
I guess my family’s Thanksgivings pretty much followed a pattern common to many families.
Most of us know by now that when we were children, our elders told us the stories they were told about the first Thanksgiving and the swaggering harmony between Native Americans and Pilgrims, which was not not the case.
But this knowledge should not spoil the day.
Because, no matter what, taking the time to give thanks is always a good thing. President Abraham Lincoln saw it this way when he issued his proclamation on October 3, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War: observe the last Thursday of next November as a Thanksgiving Day.
I know Mr. Lincoln needed such a day. And U.S. too.
Here are some of the things I’m grateful for this year.
I am grateful to have grown up in Auburn, and for the river we swam and tubed in, and the many fields we frolicked on, and the children in our neighborhood.
For the late George and Irene Whale, my parents. For my wonderful sisters, Carole and Diane, my wonderful brothers, Matt and Jack, and for the memories of my late brother, Jim, aka Zack Zolloid, or JJ Humboldt as he was sometimes called when he stood on stage with his bass .
I’m thankful that at this point I seem to have pushed the cancer away. I’m grateful for my wife, Ann, who loves me, even though I still can’t figure out why.
I am grateful to be among the stream of people who go to work every day. Nothing can replace the feeling of having a part in the big dance.
And, what is perhaps unique to me, I am particularly grateful for the diversity, for the multiplicity of this world. It will be the big day in my head.
The English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins expresses this last bit much better than I am able to do in his work “Pied Beauty”, so I leave you in his hands.
“Glory to God for the spotted things –
For skies of two colors like a twiggy cow;
For all-dotted pink moles on swimming trout;
chestnut falls with fresh charcoal; finch wings;
Traced and reconstituted landscape – fold, fallow land and ploughing;
And all the trades, their gear and their baggage and their trimmings.
Quite against, original, stripped, strange;
Anything whimsical, freckled (who knows how?)
With fast, slow; bittersweet; dazzle, darken;
He begets whose beauty is past change:
Have a happy Thanksgiving.
Robert Whale can be contacted at [email protected]