Thanksgiving: Past, Present, and Future

Thanksgiving has always been one of those holidays I look forward to, but I’ve learned to be wary of. I hate disappointment, so I’ve learned not to be too dependent on it. Keep your expectations low and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Thoughts of Thanksgivings Past

First Grade Thanksgiving

Elementary school, first grade, our annual Thanksgiving gathering. Some of us were pilgrims, the other half represented Native Americans. Looking back, this would event would be different today. However, even as a six year old, I didn’t fit in. We weren’t of Native American heritage and we certainly weren’t white. But in first grade, I was a pilgrim. Hmmm…didn’t know much about what to make of that, I just ate the lunch like everyone else.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was part of every Thanksgiving Day early on. We lived in rural Texas. Looking at those kids wrapped up in fur coats watching, or better yet, performing in the parade gave us a little taste of what life was like living in New York City. At the time, we had no idea you probably needed a ton of money to be on the front row, but wow, those floats. And Santa waving at the end. I don’t remember the last time I watched the parade. It’s on one sister’s bucket list and we plan to make it happen. You’re never too old for a parade.

My parents worked hard. When I was in high school, Macy’s parade in the background while I helped make mashed potatoes in the kitchen, I started to see it differently. I’m making the mashed potatoes, but Papa won’t be there for the meal because it’s cotton gin season. If we’re lucky, he’ll show up for leftovers at 9:00 in the evening. Dad is working. Mom is working. We’re going to Nana’s for lunch; those of us who are old enough to help and relatives who aren’t working. Eventually, we set our own date either the weekend before or after to accommodate everyone’s schedules. Some years, it was Shake n’ Bake chicken, mashed potatoes, a can of corn, refrigerated biscuits, and pumpkin pie for lunch. We’ll save Mom a plate when she gets home from her twelve hour shift. Macy’s parade? Maybe for the younger kids. We’ll have turkey at Christmas. Or is this the year we have tamales?

My junior year of undergrad, I transferred to The University of Texas, a good seven hour drive from home. There was no sense in flying home for Thanksgiving only to have to go back a few weeks later. There wasn’t money for it either. With food service down that week, I planned for pizza dinners and trips to convenience stores for sustenance. I made the best of that first friendsgiving with girls from central and south America who studied English at the international school.

One year, a roommate invited me to Thanksgiving dinner with her parents. This was the first time I had the infamous green bean casserole. It was delicious. To me, it seemed like the perfect Normal Rockwell Thanksgiving. We ate off matching china, not styrofoam plates. We sat in a dining room with linens, not Nana’s living room couch. Matching cutlery, no plastic forks. Fancy glasses, not the red Solo cups for our drinks. A buffet table was adorned with desserts so pretty I didn’t want to touch them. Pies, they were full of pies. But I did miss the desserts in the mismatched rectangular Pyrex dishes that cluttered the kitchen.

When we headed back, my roommate thanked me profusely for accompanying her. There was something going on and she didn’t want it to come out on this occasion, thus the invitation. I thanked her profusely for the invitation. I would’ve wound up on the phone for a bit, choking back my words, pretending everything was fine, eating a frozen chicken pot pie and watching TV alone into the wee hours of the night.

I learned to do Thanksgiving on my own for a while, and now, on our own with my family of four. Sometimes we travel to my parents’, sometimes they visit us. There have been Thanksgivings at a Dallas Cowboys game, with friends, with newborns, accompanied with grad school assignments, kicked off with a turkey trot five miler and now with a teen straddling adulthood and tween straddling the teens. Still not quite fitting in, but doing the best we can to be grateful more often than just once day a year.

Thoughts of Thanksgiving Present

I’m grateful for a break. I’ve given up on advocating for a restaurant meal. Not that I don’t enjoy Thanksgiving, but we have so much food. And guess who winds up eating most of the leftovers? This year, I decided to keep quiet and let my husband cook all of the things. It’s his love language. I voted for going out to eat, but he wouldn’t have it. I call our family The Carbdashians. Instead of arguing over which dessert we would bake (I prefer pumpkin pie) I handed the menu over to him, including dessert. I might make Martha Stewart’s pumpkin whoopie pies if the mood strikes. And usually, it doesn’t. I might sign up, last minute for a Turkey Trot, although the hubster warns of rain in the forecast, but that hasn’t stopped me. I’ll stay out of the way and sip on coffee or mimosas. He wants no help in the kitchen, so I’ll do the dishes. All of the dishes because he uses everything we have.

Thoughts of Thanksgiving Future

Who knows how our Thanksgivings will evolve. Maybe the kids will start cooking something. Maybe heating up a can of canned corn. Or following the directions on a box of Shake n’ Bake chicken. Mac ‘n cheese. Maybe they’ll invite friends whose families are hundreds of miles away. Friends will pop in here and there. Maybe no one will need to work, and if they do, we’ll make arrangements to celebrate another time. And maybe some day, we’ll be in New York, bundled up in our winter gear, waving to Santa watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in person.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

A Plan for Spontaneity

My Nana could never keep a surprise. She managed to accidentally slip regarding surprise parties, gifts, events, pretty much anything she was asked to save for later. Most of us inherited her trait, which is why I decided not to say anything to anyone. Then I kept second-guessing myself. Responsible me, who sometimes over-worries, tried to keep it a pure, untainted surprise. Tried being the operative word.

Nosotros

I knew a few weeks ago, Uncle Danny would be visiting Texas. I looked at flights and compared availability with my work schedule. Nothing worked, a given in education. I could get there, but I couldn’t get back home if I flew, the best option compared to an eight hour drive plus pit stops. Three summers have come and gone since we were all together. He’d been back to Texas, but living so far from my hometown, I usually miss out on non-summer visits.

All day Friday, between classes, I mulled around the idea. If I leave right after school-impossible since I had nothing packed-and drive four hours, I can get a hotel and leave early for the second half of the trip. If I go to bed by 9:00-impossible since I decided to make homemade pizza for dinner-I can leave at 4:00 a.m. and still be there at noon-ish. Or maybe I won’t go. I’m accustomed to missing out. This is what I get for choosing to live so far away from family. I’ll catch up with pictures. There’s always Face Time. No big deal.

But it is a big deal. With everything the past year and a half has dumped on us, why not? I decided to go to bed early, despite the tedious dinner I planned on cooking. I wasn’t in bed by 9:00, but I instructed my youngest to pack a bag and get ready for bed. We were on the road by 5:30 the next morning. I turned on my tracking app and kissed the hubster goodbye.

My niece, first place winner in her mountain bike race under 18 age division. 18 miles in the heat!

No one back home knew we were on our way. I got a feel for the family gathering on Saturday after I called my mom. Driving too fast without getting caught and skipping our regular pit stops made the drive seem quicker. Until I was about an hour and a half away, I was doing well with the surprise. However, I wanted to be certain to catch everyone. We have a way of changing plans on whim and I didn’t want to wind up missing them in case they decided to leave early or go visit someone.

One sister, who is always late to everything, (I’m the other one) called me while she was on the road as well. I let her know what we were up to in case anything changed. I tapped into my inner-Nana and “ruined” the surprise. Sensible me said it was for safety purposes. What if something happened on the road?

We arrived at noon-ish, 12:14, actually. I messaged the Keeper of the Secret. The plan was to call, then get on Face Time to say hello to everyone.

I called my mom and without skipping a beat, she said “Where are you? Don’t tell me you’re parked out front.”

What in the world? Did the Keeper of the Secret leak it out?

“Yeah, I wish!” I make small talk and walk towards the entrance to the outdoor patio where everyone has gathered for lunch. Mom shrieks when she sees us and this is the start to one of the most joyful, low-key, family focused weekends since summer. Road trips are standard for summer break, but unplanned weekend road trips are a little extra—everything.

I went outside my comfort zone only to find myself in another one.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Happy Halloguin

I belonged in a family that semi-celebrated Halloween
Nana said we'd go to hell,
it's the devil's festival
But my pastor uncle, 
took us to almost every house
in our small town, 
twice
always starting 
on the good side of town,
the ones that gave out mini-candy bars
and never stopping at Nana's
Rule follower me
reminded him we'd already been
to this house or that
"They don't remember, 
go get you some more candy!"

Once, my mom took us trick-or-treating-
one round, no fancy houses, quick-
there are other things to do
"There's candy by the door," 
she instructs Dad.
But it's Monday Night Football 
and the Dallas Cowboys are playing
We return home with our bags
all the lights out
darkness
Where is he?
In the bedroom, 
under the bed
a portable black and white TV 
flickers
mini-figured gray football men, tackling
Dad,  
a pillow propped 
under his chest
lying on his stomach, 
mesmerized.
A bowl full of
black and orange 
paper wrapped
peanut butter nougat candy
untouched,
waiting for us to split it.
"I didn't want anyone to interrupt me."
We give him some of our Snickers, 
his favorite.

I became the family 
makeup artist 
the year all the younger cousins 
were clowns,
costumes cheap
to assemble
and there was enough face paint 
to go around 
transforming my little brother
into a skull
Charged with getting everyone 
out the door, 
I don't remember them 
paying me 
with candy.

I got married 
one Halloween
my engagement ring 
cost a dollar
A white fuzzy pipe cleaner 
looped into a circle
a rock salt crystal gem
hot glued 
to the top
"I do." 
"I do."
And that was that,
teen-aged Halloween carnival vows
without the promise of forever
Tuesday, October 26, 2021

I’ve Got (Too Much) Mail

September 28,2021

I’m working on decluttering my personal inbox. I gave up on my work email. I try not to look at the number of unread or unopened emails. I unsubscribe, but for some reason, it doesn’t work. There are tips and tricks to manage the beast, but that takes more time than I have. I sign up for different kinds of groups (mostly writing), hoping to get inspired. And I do…when I read an entire email. Last week I read through one newsletter and I decided to only choose one of the embedded links. It was about journaling, something I’ve been doing most of my life. There was good information. I saved it. It’s hard not to dig through my digital trash looking for other valuable bits of knowledge I tossed haphazardly. But my brain can only take so much. If that information needs to find me, it will come around. Probably into my inbox.

Spanish à la (Apple) Mode

This afternoon I officially passed on my elementary library Twitter account and set up a new one for my middle school library. It took most of the day to compose my farewell tweet-it’s book fair week and we’ve been busy. I wanted to end my post with “adios amigos” and wound up with “Adoos ambiguities!” I had to save my draft and that’s what welcomed me when I returned. It prompted me to compose short Spanish phrases and let autocorrect fix everything for me.

Here are a few samples:

EnglishSpanishApple Autocorrect
I enjoy going to the movies.Me gusta ir al cine.Me enchants it’s al cone.
You are my friend.Tu eres mi amiga.Ruthie weeks mi amiga.
I need a cup of coffeeNecesito una taza de cafe.Necessity una Taz a de cafe.
Hello, how are you?¿Hola, como estas?Hola, ComicCon estos?
I’m very hungry.Tengo mucha hambre.Tengo muncha ham Bre.
I have a headache.Tengo un dolor de cabeza.Tengo un dolor de caveman.
When will we eat dinner?¿Cuándo cenamos?Chandigarh cenamos?
Happy birthday.Feliz cumpleaños.Felix cumpleaños.
I like to eat pizza.Me gusta comer pizza.Me gusts comer pizza.
Learn Spanish à la Apple Mode!

The things I do to entertain myself. ¡Adoos, ambiguities!

Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021

Which Story Do I Tell?

Of all the tiny stories that make up a day
a week, a month?

Do I tell the one about being unable
to make it to my cousin's funeral,
the one who was like a sister when we were kids
but somehow we grew up and drifted
our separate ways like a dandelion seed
puffed out of someone's wish?

Do I tell the one about how I missed 
first day of school pictures?
The one my husband took that wasn't full
of smiles and eager tween bubbles giddy to meet
friends in person once again?
The one with one less in the picture because
that one is enrolled in the University of Life?

Of all the tiny stories, which one do I tell?

Do I tell the one about the caterpillar in its
terrarium?
The one I caught wriggling and undulating,
pumping its whole body,
hard,
to shake itself loose 
of its old skin for good,
embracing its metamorphosis
instead of fighting it?

Do I tell the one of all the ordinary things
that add up to a melting pot 
of emotions
and reflection 
and trudging along,
embracing changes but dreading them 
at the same time?

Of all the tiny stories, which one gets to fly?

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge II-Texas Style

Stonehenge II-Ingram, Tx

Father’s Day, 2019. My husband’s “gift” was a weekend trip to Kerrville, Tx. Nostalgic for the hot summers in the Texas Hill Country where he spent some of his summers as a camp counselor, he wanted to share some his favorite places with us.

As our trips tend to go, there was bickering on the way there. I wanted to stop in Fredericksburg to stroll into the shops on the way there. I packed sandwiches and drinks so we’d have a nice picnic lunch at a park. We get there, the kids are hangry, we unpack our lunches, the flies start annoying us and everyone is grumpy. I mange to snap a few selfies because no one wants pictures.

Dooley’s, Fredericksburg, Tx

However, we popped into Dooley’s, a legit five and dime store. I swear I stepped back into my childhood. This is a place where you can still buy polyester day robes, the kind my grandma used to wore way before yoga pants and stretchy bands were a thing. Even the store fixtures time warped to their original tasks. I’m not sure if they were there in the 70s or earlier. My kids found souvenir keychains. And candy cigarettes. The kind I used to “smoke” when I was a kid that didn’t ever turn me into a real smoker. They each got a pack, the grumpy lunch experience soon forgotten. Word of advice if you go: Take cash or write a check. They don’t accept cards.

While on the road, we realized we departed for our weekend adventure on June 21st, the Summer Solstice. We also had no idea Ingram, near Kerrville, housed an art installation perfect for the occasion–Stonehenge II, along with Easter Island statue replicas.

Finding quirky roadside attractions is my favorite part of a road trip. I don’t remember how I found it. I think we were discussing the solstice. I must have searched it on my phone to read about its history and found information about all the people who travel to Stonehenge each year. It popped up on my search results and we added it to our itinerary. We were the only people there that late afternoon and ran into Chet of The Daytripper, who happened to be filming an episode for his PBS show. My son was more interested in the show and the video equipment than the replica of Stonehenge during the Summer Solstice. Sigh…

A volunteer community theater performs along the Guadalupe River. That summer they performed Madagascar-A Musical Adventure. The kids enjoyed it more than we expected. Buy the kids popcorn and soft drinks and it elevates their experience. Buy Mamma a mini bottle of wine and everyone’s happy. Like the ups and downs of the hills we travel, such is the way of a road trip. We find gems along the way, forget the grumpy parts, and take the good memories with us.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Road Trip 2020-Corona Style

“Best friends don’t necessarily have to talk every day. They don’t even need to talk for weeks. But when they do, it’s like they never stopped talking.”

Unknown

Last summer, less than a week after visiting family in the Texas Panhandle, my former college roommate called for a chat. We have the sort of friendship where we go long stretches of time without calling each other only to wind up on hours long phone calls to catch up. With social media, we keep up here and there, but it isn’t the same as an actual conversation with periodic interruptions from spouses, kids, or barking dogs.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Michele!” my giddy self shouts.

Laughter follows and we catch up. This is how we always start. On a whim, she needs a break and wants to visit her sister who happens to live in the same town as my parents. With my husband working from home and the kids old enough to need supervision, but independent enough to keep themselves busy, I accept. A birthday gift from me to me, myself, and I. I’d hang out with my parents again, get more time with my sisters, and have much needed bff time.

It’s a good seven to eight hour drive for me. Coming in from the Houston area, it’s a longer drive for her. We agreed she’d make a pit stop here, we’d have a sleepover, and we’d be on our way in the morning. And off we went, in the 111 degree Texas summer heat, perfect for road tripping. Queen blasting on the radio, we reverted back to our college selves.

It’s so hot!

We were finally taking a proper road trip. We had money, actual real money! Our summers in college meant we went back home and worked a fast food stint so our families wouldn’t drive us crazy. Plus, you know, tuition and books. The summer after our freshman year, we both got jobs on campus working the summer camps for the high school kids. We didn’t have a proper summer vacation because we were broke. We didn’t even own cars. So this is how it feels to go on a summer road trip with a bestie.

We only stopped for bathroom breaks and poked around in a Wal-Mart stocking up on hand sanitizer and snacks. No one ever outgrows road trip snacks. We talked non-stop all the way to our destination. Non. Stop. We laughed so hard we cried and re-lived hilarious memories and stopped cold when we understood things we thought we knew but didn’t know at the time, especially the part about understanding how broke we really were. And here we are.

My sisters have adopted her as a sister as well. We learned more about each other on that trip, things we thought we already knew. Deeper insights, but with more maturity. On our way back home, we stopped by our campus. I only spent two years there before transferring to The University of Texas. It looked the same, but different. We pulled into a parking spot in front of Stafford Hall, minus the Stafford Hall. It’s gone now, and in its place is a parking lot. The fine arts building grew. The cafeteria still stands and we reminisced about all those Belgian waffles we ate for dinner, long Saturdays of sleeping in, but setting the alarm so we wouldn’t miss lunch that day.

Life was easier then, but it wasn’t. It’s easier now, but it isn’t. We could’ve gone anywhere, but our time in the car was what counted most. What we needed most. What we still need.

Tuesday, July 19, 2021