Thankful Anyway……

Thanksgiving is such a lovely day. We gather with people we see not so often, and some  we see daily, and we break bread together and smile alot. I always wonder what is behind those smiles.  Around the table there are so many stories. Stories that are not being shared, well because if we were that real, we might not get invited back next year.

There is cousin Jim who is spending his first year without his wife and kids. Those firsts after we lose someone are always so very difficult. Definitely the hardest. Cousin Jim has been through so much, and yet he smiles and walks on. How does he do it ? First, he lost his dad to illness. He never knew his dad until he was in his 40’s. His dad abandoned the family when he was very young. Just when his dad was getting his life together, and Jim was getting to know him, he got alzheimer’s. It came on quickly and before long he didn’t know Jim as his son . Had no idea who he was  Abandoning Jim all over again. But that abandonment was only one of many in Jim’s life. In fact, abandonment seems to be the story of Jims life. Jim’s wife and kids were hit head on by a drunk driver, as they were returning from church. They never knew what hit them. It all happened so fast. Jim has felt numb since the day he got that dreadful call. But he is here this year, alot different than last year. We just never know. I am reminded of this as I look across the table at Jim. Brave Jim. Showing up must be so hard.

Our table demographics change so much each year. This year I smile because it looks like the United Nations at our Thanksgiving celebration. My how things change. We have an exchange student from Europe visiting, and my sisters friend from China is here. They don’t do Thanksgiving, but she sure likes that pumpkin pie. Cousin Kim that I am going to tell you about in a minute, she fosters children, and has twins from South America with her this year . My brother and his husband adopted a child from Russia. So stinkin cute.

Then there is Aunt Sue. What an amazing woman. Her whole life has been an uphill climb. A climb she just does, never once thinking she has any other choice. Her mom died of cancer when she was 9 , then she went to live with her grandmother who died of a stroke when she was 12. She couldn’t live with her dad because he was found dead in the family swimming pool when she was 4. Alcohol was involved. She was an only child and with no family that could finish raising her, she was sent to boarding school ,then prep school. This is where she met her husband. He showed her attention one day when he came to work on the air conditioning in her dorm room. They became close, and she thought it was love, so they eloped. Shortly after, she realized she had married her father, that oedipal thing. Her new husband was mostly married to the bottle, and most days and nights she was alone, which of course was better than when he was there, because the days he was away were days he was not beating her. The kids began to come. Tom, Andy, Dorie and Mary. Only one is here this year. Tom is in prison for drug related reasons. Andy is dead from an over dose. Dorie is not here because Mary is, and well , they don’t speak. No one knows why. It’s been this way for ten years. Aunt Sue by the way , she got the courage to leave her first husband, after he set her car on fire Christmas Eve so she couldn’t take the kids to see the live nativity at church. She raised those 4 kids all alone. How did she do it? Still scratching my head on that one. She had no college education, and no work experience, but her home was always so full of love and joy. She always made ends meet. Her third husband isn’t here. He is very honest about preferring football and beer to our family gatherings. I always admired his honesty.

My favorite brother is not here this year . He has a new girlfriend, and they are with her family. Oh my, that caused some real drama. Him not coming was almost as traumatic for mom, as my great Aunt Mae showing up drunk. Actually, I think it was more dramatic because it went on for two weeks. My mom talking to different family members via email and texts, about this being the first year in her whole life, that my brother was not present. Except for the time daddy didn’t bring him home for Thanksgiving as scheduled, after his court ordered week of visitation.

Uncle Mark is here and that is surprising, because he has not left his home in years. He is sitting the closest to the door. He has his groceries delivered, and amazon brings the rest of the things he needs to live alone in his apartment. He has not been able to leave the safety of his 4 walls, since he had that breakdown after his wife disappeared, taking his 2 little girls with her. It was just too much.

Cousin Kim always arrives first, and she is smiling as usual. She has two kids and both are special needs children. Life changed drastically for her when they discovered one was autistic, and the other had a congenital heart disease. How can that be?  Is that more than one person can bear? I  guess not, because every year she is here and grateful and gracious. Always the one to offer to clean the table off and wash the dishes. She has the least, yet I notice she gives the most.

Jan is here for the first time in a few years. She has been in and out of rehab several times, but this time we hope she is really finally clean and in recovery. We’ve been down this road before , so many times. It began when she was in highschool, first alcohol, then marijuana, then ecstasy, and this last time it was heroin. She had a child while in the last rehab facility, and her parents are raising him. She is still just not well enough to tackle that. The child is sitting beside her, but he doesn’t know she is his mother. He thinks she is his aunt. That’s just one of the family secrets at our Thanksgiving table.

Grant is sitting on the far left corner seat. He’s always quiet. I wonder sometimes what he is thinking.  He is not family. He’s a neighbor my mom invites every year. She always looks for people who need someone to eat Thanksgiving with, and invites them over. He went through a very contentious divorce, and his wife made it her life’s mission to turn all of his kids against him. She was never home when they were married, and he was mom and dad to their kids. She disappeared for weeks at a time, even moved to another city and left him with the kids for a while. My mom felt sorry for his kids , and she helped out as much as she could.  He begged his wife to come home, but she said no. She always said she was going to spend all of his money, then leave him. One day he finally gave up and filed for divorce. Her divorce lawyer pointed out to her,  that she would get lots of child support, with so many kids. And so she went back and played mommy of the year, until the divorce was settled and she got the farm. Then she was absentee mom again, parentifying the oldest child to raise the others.   She never lets them see their dad. Too them it’s just not worth the drama their mom causes. She told him if he ever got tired of her shenanigans and left, she would make him pay. Like he didn’t already pay every day of his life, married to someone so crazy.   He is such a nice man. I wonder how such nice men get caught up with women like her?

And finally we get to Rose. She is always cheerful. She has such interesting stories to tell about her life. She lives in NYC, and it seems she has finally escaped this small town and lives a life full of diamonds and pearls. Her stories are so outrageously unbelievable. Actually, maybe they aren’t believable. Maybe her life is just not that perfect. Maybe her kids are not so special as she says, and her husband that is not here, maybe he is not really on an unexpected business trip. The same as every year. Lots of maybe with Rose, when it seems to good to be true. Maybe it isn’t.

This Thanksgiving was like all of the others. Many gathered around the table. All doing life, with it’s struggles and joys. All managing in the best way they know possible. All aware that life is not linear, it’s hills and valleys. All trying to keep their wagon between the ditches. Until next year……