It’s the time of year when I either write about my mother, who would have been 95 tomorrow, or the turkeys, who give themselves to us the Sunday before Thanksgiving. That would be today.
It was five years ago when I decided that if I were going to eat meat I needed to be closer to it. Having always felt like I was born in the wrong century, I wanted to take the homesteading gig one step further. I have a big vegetable garden and chickens for eggs, but wanted to be able to raise and butcher my own meat. Turkeys seemed to be a good place to start. Their growing season was short, they don’t take much room, and I knew others who had done it without much fuss. And, a fresh, organically-raised turkey was expensive to buy. This seemed the perfect place to start.
I can easily nourish myself without animal protein, but I don’t want to. I like eating meat. I feel better when I eat meat and don’t feel badly about that, but I do feel badly about how our meat is raised, butchered, consumed, and wasted in this country. If everyone had to raise and butcher their own meat, how little would be squandered! We’d appreciate and honor it more. We’d be healthier. We’d eat less of it. I’ve learned I am not going to have the room to do a pig or cow here, so that idea has gone by the wayside, but turkeys, I can do. And growing from the mound under their shelter, next year’s pumpkins will appreciate them too. It’s satisfying.
The holiday will be different this year. The kids have lives that don’t allow enough days off to make the trip. The family who gathers here this year will be mostly a family of friends.
When my marriage ended thirteen years ago, I thought I’d die before I could get through the holidays. My whole notion of family had been destroyed and I was having a hard time letting go of it. After having to face the fact I would have to check the D box under marital status on applications, I couldn’t bear the thought of my intact family existing no more. That Wednesday evening joy I felt when everyone made it home safely and we were all together again was one of the hardest things for me to let go. I felt like there would always be a gaping hole there and sadness funneling through it.
During that time of grief, my friend Carl took me away to his summer place for a couple of days. He patiently listened to me cry. He had invited some neighbors over to dinner, one of whom, a historian, had written a book called A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values. Carl let me borrow that book and it has forever changed the way I look at holidays and family. That invitation and dinner reinforced my belief, that if I’m open to it, whatever I’ve truly needed has come to me.
I learned that “family” as we know it, is a recent notion. I realized how much of my grief was related to our society’s reinforcement of a limited concept. My family was only taking on a new form. It still existed. It was filled with friends as well as relatives. It still was rich and wonderful, if I could let it be so.
My dear friends from England have traveled across the pond to spend Thanksgiving with us. When planning the trip, they said they always wanted to experience an American Thanksgiving, a holiday they don’t have. I got a little nervous about the pressure to make this fabulous. I told them, “You realize the holiday is just a meal, right? Before you buy your tickets?” Yes, they knew that, but hearing me talk for years about how much I love this holiday they wanted to experience it.
So we’ll have a table filled with food grown close to that table, and chairs filled with the new concept of family. Practicing gratitude. Thankful.