We had a wonderful Thanksgiving here at Still Life. Mom, Dad, my older sister, my brother, their spouses, and eight of my parents' ten grandchildren feasted at my house on a beautiful fresh local turkey, expertly roasted by my husband, sausage and vegetarian stuffing, butternut squash soup, my sister's delicious homemade cranberry sauce, and, one of my favorites, Mama Laura's pickled beets. (Mama Laura passed away last March at 95, but she left my sister her recipe. I missed her yesterday, but I know she was here in spirit.) And there were pies: apple, cranberry cheesecake, and pumpkin - and a maple pumpkin cheesecake (my husband's favorite). My younger sister and her family, celebrating with her in-laws in Connecticut, shared the holiday with us by exchanging pictures on Facebook. My mom's dear friend Sue called in from Seattle to wish us a joyful feast, just as my dad was blessing our meal. We put her on the speaker so she could be with us.
Make no mistake - we are surrounded by love here, and we know it.
After a long day of cooking, about an hour before everyone arrived, Sam took me for a ride on his motorcycle. We rode up along the Palisades cliffs to Tallman State Park, which sits high above the Hudson River just north of the New York/New Jersey border. I sat behind him on the motorcycle, holding on as he drove. The daylight was just starting to fade. The river was gray below us, and the sky was steel blue above us. A few families were picnicking in the park, and we waved as we passed hikers and other motorcyclists. It was beautiful, and just the break I needed from the kitchen. We might have to make that part of our tradition as we go forward.
The kids watched the Thanksgiving Day parade on the television while we cooked. Every few moments, I poked my head in to see a group of dancers, a marching band, or a big balloon pass by. The thought crossed my mind that, when I was a child, the floats in the parade were based mostly on literary and cartoon characters. I remember Snoopy, and the Cat in the Hat, and Raggedy Ann. Now, the floats seem to consist mostly of advertising trademarks: Ronald McDonald, the Kool-Aid guy, and the Pillsbury Doughboy.
My son, thirteen, asked why there was a parade on Thanksgiving that featured Santa. The timing seemed off to him. In our tradition, we don't usually start talking about Santa and gifts and jingly bells until at least the beginning of Advent. (Advent, the period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas, begins on December 2 this year.) All the Christmassy stuff struck my son as premature.
I had to explain to him that the parade, with its corporate-sponsored floats and its strategic timing, was all about marketing. The retail industry has taken the period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and turned it into a "shopping season." The idea is to stir up a spending frenzy among consumers, to make them believe that they need to rush out and seek bargains and buy as much as they possibly can before the "Christmas rush." The day after Thanksgiving - formerly known as the day after Thanksgiving - is now known as Black Friday. The day the retailers go into the black.
And the retailers' plan works. Macy's in Herald Square was open all night last night. People lined up on the sidewalks hours and hours in advance for the chance to get some fabulous deal on something they were convinced they needed. Something they needed so badly that it was worth going out on Thanksgiving night, credit card in hand, hoping to get a deal. Or several.
The whole idea makes me sad. It turns a holiday that's about appreciation of what we have into a holiday that's about greed. Instead of focusing on Mama Laura's beets and that beautiful turkey, and all those cousins laughing and playing together, we focus on what's on sale, what we can get, what more we think we need.
But we don't need anything more. We have a roof over our heads. Ten bright, healthy children (okay, some of them are adults already) who call me either "Mom" or "Aunt Jennie" and ask what they can do to help. Healthy, happy, indulgent grandparents, hugging the little ones and tossing the salad and saying a blessing of thanksgiving over our abundance. We have each other, and the gray river, and the blue sky, and the warm apple pie, and the happy memories. Those things can't be bought, but they are the only things I'd ever stand in line for.