The Ghost of Thanksgivings Past

Friday, November 16, 2012

This year will mark the first time in my whole life, ever, that I spend Thanksgiving away from my family.

My family & me last Thanksgiving on
the beach in South Carolina
For as long as I can remember, we've been spending Thanksgiving at my grandparents' house in Lima, Ohio, with very few exceptions. When I was 11, the year my dad died, we went to my aunt & uncle's house in Dallas instead; I locked myself in the bathroom & wouldn't come to dinner until my grandfather, arguably my favorite family member, persuaded me to. When I was maybe 13, we spent Thanksgiving in Williamsburg, VA, to connect to our pilgrim roots, or something, & I a bad case of the flu kept me from joining the rest of my family in the old-timey festivities. Again, it was my grandfather who stayed with me as everyone else explored a microcosm of colonial America.

And last year. Last year, my grandma was going through a number of medical tests to identify the lump in her lungs. We all knew she'd likely soon be diagnosed with cancer, but I don't think any of us could've imagined that in less than half a year, our mighty matriarch would no longer be with us. She wasn't up to hosting our Thanksgiving get-together at her home last year, so we spent the holiday at my aunt & uncle's beach house in Hilton Head, SC, instead. It was non-traditional a break from the norm, which meant that I loathed it; I spent the whole time moping about & wishing we were doing it the way we always do, back in Ohio. As it turns out, 2010 had marked the final Thanksgiving as we knew it, the final time we'd all gather together to celebrate at my grandma's home in Ohio. We didn't know it at the time, but it was the last time we'd do it the way we always did it, the last time we'd feel normal before a "new normal" set in – a normal that doesn't include either of my grandparents or the rest of us all being together.

A super stellar photo of my mom, aunt,
cousins, & me at my grandparents' house
for Thanksgiving in the 90s
This year, my mom, aunt, uncle, & one of my cousins are going back to Hilton Head; the other cousin is in London for the year, & my other aunt is spending the holiday with her partner's family. Nathan & I couldn't afford the plane tickets south, nor could we bear the 5am flight departure times, so we made alternate plans to spend Thanksgiving in Virginia with our mutual friend Anthony & his mother. I should note that I'm excited for this; I can't wait to see where Nathan grew up, to meet Anthony's mom, to try her renowned cooking, to spend the holiday with two people I love so much.

Still, when I think of the Thanksgivings I grew up with, back in Ohio with my family all alive & in the same place, I can't help but feel like a chapter has closed – like part of my heart is gone. All those things I took for granted, those moment we'll never see again: The smell of my grandmother's house when we arrived & she had soup simmering on the stove, the way we'd all cram onto her scratchy L-shaped couch to watch whatever movie we could all agree upon, the Thanksgiving staples we ate every year, like the rutabagas we all hated & my Aunt Sarah's premade rolls we all loved. Sharing the fold-out couch with my cousin Grace, wrapping presents in the basement with Emily, arranging & rearranging our brightly colored gifts to one another in front of the fireplace to be opened the night after Thanksgiving. The bagels my grandma pre-toasted & left in a basket on the kitchen table so that no matter when we woke up, we'd have something to eat for breakfast. Peeling the potatoes with my cousins & plopping the naked spuds into a massive pot of water. Playing our traditional post-Thanksgiving-dinner Scrabble game, spending hours reading books & magazines on the living room couch while others watched football or cooked or kibbitzed.

Thinking about them now, it's like I can feel them, all those times I'll never get back. I miss my grandmother so much – every single day, multiple times a day. Before her diagnosis & her incredibly fast decline, she was so healthy that I almost literally never thought about what our lives would be like without her. Without her here, I fear we won't gather like that anymore, won't make the effort to spend time together, won't have that one time a year when we belong to one another. I feel my grandmother's absence regularly – when I want to call her & have to remind myself that I can't, when I see something she'd like & wish I could tell her about it, when I look at her painting on our bedroom wall & remember that she's gone – but this Thanksgiving will mark the first time I will be without her, without all of them, engaging in new traditions & tucking the old ones away into the corners of my mind.

My heart, it just hurts.

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