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Counting the Places at the Thanksgiving Table

November 25, 2011

It is one’s duty to be thankful at this time of year. I see and hear so many statements of thanks. Enough to create more than just a little dissonance when I see them pasted next to pictures of our real world. Still, maybe today’s lesson is that thanks is not the antithesis of those sometimes sad pictures. Hard days sometimes accentuate those things.


This Thanksgiving Day was, like many others, was spent at my parents’ house. Mom and dad have made a good home, always a good place to be. It is a good place to visit, for me. It has proven to be a great place for others whom we have invited over the years and my parents are people who I love to show off.


This Thanksgiving morning, my son and I rode up to mom and dad’s, a happy escape from a hard week. It was a quite drive, this time with no radio and only a book in my son’s lap, leaving his hand-held video games unlit beside him. The silence let in a lot of thoughts from the previous days, things I guess I needed to talk about and may tell you later—and some that I will not, but all things that I need to process. (Maybe some of today’s stories will make enough sense and find the right emotional space to retell, and maybe, with time, wisdom will tell me that there is no story.) Apart from the half hour slowdown as we left the outer ring suburbs, the speed of our trek let my thoughts disappear in the slipstream and vaporize on the freeway.


Grandma was so excited to see her grandson, the first of three grandchildren to arrive, she almost forgot to greet me, her first of four children. The other grandchildren would follow, with their parents. What was different this year, is that there were no friends, no neighbors, and no strays who mom and dad so kindly invite into their home on a day that should be shared.


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a holiday where everyone is supposed to be welcome without having to fake obligation to a particular religious perspective, and a time when people can just get together to be with each other around a special meal. And be reminded why everyone who joins us around that table is special. No obligation to buy the right gift or spend money we need but don’t have on things we don’t have or need and no code besides a heightened idea of how we should treat and enjoy people we know well or met for the first time.


What is missing is more than just the chance to show off mom and dad—two people who are more than worth showing off; more than the stories we get to retell to guests who have missed the previous 40 Thanksgivings at our house, but have to be shared, especially the ones that embarrass one of us.


This year, there were few stories. This is the first time in a couple of years that we’ve been guestless, and as much as I love my family, my siblings, my nieces, my parents and my son, this year’s empty places at the table left an empty place in my heart and a lots opportunity to share the a great spirit with which I was raised with people who are special by their being there.


I am thankful, without grudge, for the blessing of having this place, this home to call my own and from time to time to give to people I love and people who need to receive the love that lives at mom and dad’s. Driving home, the freeway, I am left again with my thoughts, including all the reasons why there were no Happy Thanksgiving visitors, but, also why and how I am blessed to have the place share.


It has been a hard week and I know I have a hard week to come. And, yes, I am still thankful.



4 Comments leave one →
  1. Carla Hagen permalink
    November 25, 2011 12:24 pm

    Thanks for a bittersweet look at Thanksgiving, also one of my faviorite holidays. I agree that inviting strays home for dinner is one of its best features. My father always did that; my brother keeps up the tradition. I’m sorry it was not part of your celebration this year. May your son grow up to gather in people when he hosts Thanksgiving dinners, not so many years from now. I know you will have taught him well.

    • November 25, 2011 1:14 pm

      Watching the grandchildren, they are teaching me a little as well–or at least remembering how we were as kids–remembering how to have fun.

  2. November 25, 2011 6:59 pm

    you say, “yes, i am still thankful” as if you are doing life a favor. not very believable …

    sorry you’re having a tough time XoXo

    • November 25, 2011 7:28 pm

      I’m doing a favor to the people around me who might get caught up in a downward swirl of the most ridiculous form of sad: self pity. I AM thankful for the capacity for sadness and to exercise minor lessons of grief while being buoyed by and not miss some good things of life. To take my warm bed for granted tonight is a luxury that I will require earnest attention tomorrow, so I will ruminate today.

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