Over the River and Through the Woods?

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It is that time again. Over the river and through the woods! Family expectations. Time honored traditions. The busiest travel day of the year. Black Friday. Macy’s Day Parade. The kickoff to the holidays. Just how are we going to do Thanksgiving this year?

Thanksgiving in a pandemic is more than a tad problematic. For the sake and safety and health of our elders, this year’s Turkey Day may be a quieter one. A smaller one. A tamer one. Maybe a good time to reflect on Thanksgivings past and to exorcise a few ghosts.

Growing up at my house, the surgeon carved the turkey. Though Dr. Peacock preferred a scalpel, on Thanksgiving the electric knife would do just fine. And fine was what everything had to be. Not just fine — but refined.

My father, fussy to the nth degree, demanded orange zest in his cranberry sauce, oysters in his stuffing, and lemon peel in his coffee. My mom, an incredible, creative and messy chef, even though bipolar, managed to oblige. Mary Lou laid the table with Lenox china and Irish linen. The same Lenox china I still have to remember her by.

But before we could sit down to eat turkey, each of us had to “remember that we were peacocks.” We had to be spit and polished and get all dressed up. My brothers, all in suits and ties. My sisters and I in smocked dresses and patent leather shoes. Hair curled and tied back with a bow. All of us — beaming in technicolor frozen in a silver frame.

Perfectly pretending that we were perfectly fine.

When it was so perfectly not so.

There was always yelling before and after and even during the meal. The turkey was overdone. The stuffing was dry. The relish was runny. The sweet potatoes bland. The pumpkin pies burnt. The kids misbehaving. The relatives rude. Everything half arse backwards and nothing quite up to snuff – for my Felix Unger kind of a dad.

Not everyone gets to have a Norman Rockwell kind of Thanksgiving.😊

I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Doing the dishes and cleaning up afterwards were my favorite parts!

I swore that when I grew up, Thanksgiving would be calm, cool, and collected. At the tender age of seventeen, I married into such a family – par excellence — the Clark family. Their lives seemed so blessedly routine – so blissfully quiet. One of six kids, I married an only child! The boy next door – yes, the boy next door! No more chaos. No more dysfunction. No more crazy Thanksgivings.  At least, so I thought.

But every family has its own kind of crazy and the Clark family Thanksgiving was the buttoned down kind – the extremely buttoned down kind.😊 Kind of hard to manage with our three kids in tow – but for years and years somehow we did.

Until the fabulous year that Jacob threw up!

Rolling down George Washington Parkway, our Subaru Station Wagon was packed to the gills. All three kids were bundled up and buckled up in the back seat: Zach with his comic books; Colleen with her Barbie; Jacob with his pacifier. All was right with the world until Jacob erupted all over his brother and sister. Projectile vomited everywhere.

Thanks be to God.

It was just about the best Thanksgiving we ever had.

We turned around and went back home. After hosing down the car and the kids, we made dinner from whatever food we found in the refrigerator and some random canned goods in our cabinets. We ate dinner in our pajamas while we watched “Ernest Saves Christmas” (a classic!) on TV.

The kids dozed off in their sleeping bags on the living room floor. And William and I had a little glass of wine before turning into bed.

Now one of my favorite movies is “Home for the Holidays” – with Holly Hunter, Robert Downey, Jr. and some other really good actors whose names I don’t remember. The characters — all grown — return to their childhood home for Thanksgiving: The neurotic sister. The gay brother. The rebellious teenager. The single mom. The uptight in-laws. The batty aunt. The alcoholic dad. The codependent mom. They all get together for a hellacious holiday.

It’s not exactly “A Wonderful Life” but it is wonderful movie and I recommended it to a friend. Appalled after seeing it, she asked me how I could possibly like this movie. The family was so terrible, she said. Just terrible people, she said.

These are my people, I said.

And these may be your people too: a bipolar brother; a schizophrenic sister; an obsessive compulsive cousin; grandiose grandchildren; traumatized spouses; paranoid partners; manic relations.

And some people may be hard to break bread with. It’s a blessing if you do. It’s okay if you can’t. And it may be a blessing if you don’t. Being bipolar myself – being a little crazy myself (a term I affectionately use) – I understand there is only so much crazy any one of us can handle — especially at Thanksgiving.

So for sanity’s sake, this year, whether on Zoom or in your dining room, celebrate the ties that bind and not simply the crazy making rituals of yesteryear.

Smaller is good. Tamer is good. Calmer is good. The pandemic is reminding us that we have so much to be grateful for. Here on the cusp of winter, to be present and grateful in the moment.

And in that spirit let me share a wonderful song. Click here to listen to the beautiful words written by Carrie Newcomer. (Part of this week’s online Emmanuel at Home Morning Prayer for November 15.)

Let me read it to you here, as if a poem, as if a prayer.

It took dog days and years
To catch a moment when it’s here

And that the hay bales just might be made of light.

And that leaves can fall like shining golden coins.

I can feel it in the hollow spaces
In the quiet places
Where the light comes down
I can see it in strangers’ faces
In the lines and traces
On the winter ground
Where the light comes down

It took awhile before I saw
That the world is mostly made of ache and awe
And that some nights hum with sound
And sometimes silence is a noun
And that dust and snow can swirl like falling scarves

I can feel it in the hollow spaces
In the quiet places
Where the light comes down
I can see it in strangers’ faces
In the lines and traces
On the winter ground
Where the light comes down

Ashes fall and waters rise
Seasons change before our eyes
It took awhile to finally know
That a luna moth will quickly come and go
And that distraction is a thief
Of all that are shining and brief
Gone in a brilliant startle of wings

And isn’t this great time to create new traditions!

So “thank we all our God” for the people at our table and the people not at our tables this Thanksgiving. Thank God, that God loves our unloveable relations and that God loves our unloveable selves — even when we cannot bring ourselves to do the same.

Maybe next year will be different. Maybe not. We’ll have to see.

Happy Thanksgiving 2020!!


Mental Health Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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