Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Popcorn and jellybeans

Popcorn and jellybeans
Originally published on November 6, 2014

One of the most lovely and haunting sights at the park this season is the bittersweet bursting with oranges, reds, and yellows as it finally has the opportunity to show off a little.  Autumnal weather has withered my garden and with it, my chores have changed.  No longer needing to weed and water, I've been pruning and purging and raking for the past several weeks. Wrapping burlap around the shrubs.  Covering the flower beds with a blanket of mulch. This season, I saved the biggest job for last, or rather, I waited for the bitter north winds to do half of the job for me, transforming the wild trumpet vine that grows along the backyard fence from a lush and vibrant privacy hedge into spindly twigs and woody stems.
Last year I was incredibly busy, so my neighbor, Dean, was kind enough to do the honors of taking the vine down to the studs.  This year, I repaid his kindness and did the job myself.  After two and a half days, the work is finally done, and I've said a sad good-night to my gardens which are ready to sleep the winter away until next spring.
Still, November has its charms as my favorite holiday is just around the corner.
At the grocery this past Friday I happened past an older woman who was perusing the Christmas displays.  "I'm all for getting my shopping done early," I admitted.  "But I sure do wish there was more attention paid to Thanksgiving."
"I do, too," the woman nodded.  "It seems like it's just getting swept more under the rug each year.  Too bad our culture can't take even one day to be truly thankful."
"I couldn't agree more," I smiled.
The woman patted my hand.  "It's good to see young people with that attitude," she said.  "It seems everyone nowadays is only interested in buying more of this or that instead of taking time to just enjoy what they already have."
The United States was the first country in the world to establish a national holiday to give thanks.  But it seems our country's great expectations for Thanksgiving have shifted from "Where's the turkey, stuffing, and yams?" to "How many stores are going to be opening early so I can get Black Friday deals that much earlier?"
Over the weekend I watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  Curled up in bed with the electric blanket toasting my toes and a mug of hot tea on the bedside table, I had much to be thankful for already.  Yoga classes are going well.  The novel I started this fall is beginning to take shape.  My health is good.  I have a warm and comfortable home.  I'm content with who and where I am in life, so in watching this show from my past (I was only seven when it was first broadcast on CBS), it was effortless to see it from a different perspective and still enjoy the whimsical story of Charlie Brown sharing an unusual holiday dinner with his friends.              
When I was little, we didn't have VCRs or DVD players.  I can distinctly remember taping Happy Days and other shows I didn't want to miss with a small cassette player situated as close as possible to the speakers of our huge cabinet set in the basement.  Each year when the Charlie Brown holidays specials were shown (usually on Fridays or Saturdays), my sisters and I would take our baths early, make a pan of Jiffy Pop on the stove, and eagerly wait through the Dolly Madison snack commercials until Vince Guaraldi's memorable music would fill the room. 
Then and now, it's great fun to watch Snoopy commandeer the kitchen, joyfully toasting up bread and enthusiastically popping a mountain of popcorn.  When he proudly serves the eclectic meal to a bewildered Peppermint Patty, I feel for him when she bitterly complains, "Look at this! Is this what you call a Thanksgiving day dinner?"
Of course, the message of the show is to be thankful for friends and for what we already have.  To know that our expectations of what a holiday is "supposed to look like" can't truly be met, particularly if we put no effort into the process.  And perhaps most importantly, to understand that while Norman Rockwell might have meant well, I doubt that even his family had the type of fictional holiday experiences he often painted on canvas. 

Great expectations aren't reserved for those who buy into media-based ideas of what a perfect family life is meant to be.  And of course, the American family is changing rapidly.  As a single woman, I know what it means to be on the outside looking in on my friends' experiences with their husbands, wives, and children.  As someone who has been estranged from my parents and sisters for over five years, I've had to redefine what it means to be a part of a family.  Not that it's been easy.
Like the wild and gnarly trumpet vine that needs a thorough pruning every autumn, my expectations of who I am and what I should be doing this time of year have had to be taken down to the studs...again and again and again.  There have been those who don't understand my choices.  Those who pity me or project how they might feel if they had to face the holiday season alone.  But I don't know any different, and over the years, I've redefined what this time of year means to me.
Last week, one of my friends asked, "What are you doing for Thanksgiving?"
I smiled.  "Well, I'll probably take a walk at the park and then sit in silence for a while.  I may write in my journal or do a little yoga.  Usually I think about the year gone by...and all of the things that have happened and not happened.  All of the things I have to be thankful for -- mostly the things you can't really see with your eyes."
"That's really what the day's all about, isn't it?" my friend said kindheartedly.
I don't eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal anyway...and haven't for years, so when friends invite me to their homes for dinner, I gently decline, saying I'm perfectly content to be alone.  However, I do remember a Thanksgiving meal I shared with my friend, Sandy, in the late nineties.  Colleagues at Greenwood, we had just finished the very long and tedious process of putting together the annual First Grade Feast.  The celebration went off without a hitch on Wednesday and we decided to spend a quiet day on Thanksgiving sipping tea and talking about anything but schoolwork.  Sitting in Sandy's kitchen, we watched the sunset through the darkening window.
"Do you want anything for dinner?" she asked.
The year before I had made a pot of vegetarian chili and this time it was her turn to cook, although we had been having so much fun doing nothing, the day slipped by.
"Sure...but don't bother to make anything," I said, grabbing my coat.  "Let's head over to Food Town and see what they've got left."
Fifteen minutes later we were back in her home.  Sandy enjoyed a warm and wonderful meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.  And what did I have?  A very memorable meal of baby carrots, hummus, and a little bag of chocolate-covered almonds.  It was the best Thanksgiving Feast imaginable.  At least for me.
"Spending time with good friends...and sharing a quiet day," I said, smiling at Sandy.  "This is what Thanksgiving is all about."

Sandy's since moved away, but sometimes my friend, Barb, comes over for Thanksgiving breakfast.  I'm not sure what I made the last time around, but while I'm writing this blog, a loaf of gluten-free banana bread is baking in the oven -- a test run for the big day in a couple of weeks.  I'm trying out a new brand of flour and pray the bread turns out a lot better than the hard-as-shoe-leather cookies I made a month ago that my friend ended up feeding to her eager and happy dogs.  
But even if it's not perfect, I'm sure Barb won't mind.
I look forward to decorating the table with simple place settings.  Brewing a pot of tea.  Creating a light and delicious breakfast for a friend who has been a great support this past year.  We may not be sitting at a ping-pong table enjoying a plate of popcorn and jellybeans, but the sentiment will be the same.  For as Marcie said to Charlie Brown, "We should just be thankful for being together. I think that's what they mean by Thanksgiving."
 So this year, I'm thankful for Dean who took the time last November to do an incredibly difficult job that made this year's fall clean-up that much easier.  I'm thankful for yoga students who grace my own house with love and light.  For my health and my pets and work that allows me to heal and become more whole.  For all the quiet and unseen aspects of my life that I no longer take for granted.
Mostly I'm thankful for my friends.  Near and far, they're all a part of my wonderfully eclectic extended family.