November was a mad dash to the finish line for NaNoWriMo, so I never got to make a post about my favorite holiday of all time: Thanksgiving. Here’s a late holiday post from a self-described Scrooge.
Holidays are stressful.
We’re under a lot of pressure to be happy and relaxed and spend time with our families, and that doesn’t always happen. Life gets in the way: someone gets sick or injured, you go broke, your car breaks down, Great-Aunt Oggie refuses to drive any further than Connecticut so someone winds up meeting her in a gas station off the highway to take her the rest of the way because you can’t just leave the old lady there… And then it starts snowing.
The unexpected happens.
What Scares Me
For me, the unexpected happened in March.
My family and I went on a long vacation in Scotland at the beginning of this year. My parents returned a day before I did, due to various odd planning reasons. It was a great trip. The night before I left, I went out with a bunch of linguists to a vodka bar in Edinburgh. On the way back, my seatmate and I made full use of the plane’s mini wine bottles: I’m terrified of flying, so that’s about the only way I could handle a trans-Atlantic flight on my own. I never got fully drunk, but I don’t think I was 100% sober until we touched down in DC.
At the time of the call, this is my status: faintly hung over, exhausted from a long flight, exhausted from the terror that accompanies turbulence, and frustrated with airports as we taxi around in circles.
I turn on my phone, and I have a message from my mom. She tells me that my grandfather collapsed a few days ago and is in the hospital: his pacemaker malfunctioned and his heart rate had slowed to below 35 BPM. He’s stable but not doing well. His heart apparently stopped a few times on the operating table. And he’ll be in recovery for a while. We don’t know how long he has.
I go through customs and grab my bags, all the while trying to process that. My grandfather is dying rings through my mind like a bell. Everything I know of the man crowds into my head, like I’m afraid I’ll lose it: his passion for history, his time in the Navy, his smile, the way he used to smell like cigarettes but quit cold-turkey after decades of smoking. My grandfather is dying. How he’s bounced back from trauma after trauma like a cat with nine lives. My grandfather is dying. How we’ve worried for a while. My grandfather–
I’m close to my grandparents. I try to see them all at least once a year on my own– not during holidays or at other events, but just me. I’d been sending out e-mail updates to family of our trip to Scotland, primarily for my grandfather. He’s always wanted to go, and never managed to.
Needless to say, customs was a blur that day. We visited my grandfather as soon as we could.
What I’m Thankful For
My mom and I usually cook Thanksgiving dinner. Usually we end up with ten or so relatives, although sometimes the number’s higher. I make home-made butter and the mashed potatoes, sometimes biscuits. This year I made four loaves of bread. Mom does the turkey and the gravy.
This year we made Thanksgiving too, but we drove out to Maryland to have it at my grandparents’ house. My grandfather, who nearly died in March, is doing extremely well. He tires, but he’s clear-headed and just as boisterous as ever. His nine lives are down one more but he’s still kicking: he tells me all about the family history and makes my grandmother a martini at 5. The man’s as strong as a bull.
I was very grateful to have this Thanksgiving with him. I didn’t think I would. And this year, the holiday was delightful. But it was more than that.
All day, my mind kept going back to that half-mad wander through the airport. And all day, I was most thankful for the memories of Thanksgivings we’ve had before. For the visits I’ve had over the summers. For all the chain e-mails and phone calls. Everything, in short, that really had nothing to do with the holiday: the day itself was pretty arbitrary.
The point is this: holidays aren’t really that special. It seems sort of silly to try and cram a year’s worth of memories into one day for the sake of having memories.
So this year, while you shop for presents and plan dinners and buy plane tickets or sit in traffic, don’t stress. The people who love you will love you no matter what, and when they’re on their deathbeds you won’t be regretting the one time they didn’t get you a perfect gift.
The Holidays Don’t Matter.
It’s the relationships that mean something, not the arbitrary days.
And no, this entire post isn’t an excuse to my friends for their getting their Xmas gifts in August.