Saturday, November 30, 2013


taken by Ben on Thanksgiving
"Let's not bow down to tradition," I told our son Elliot.  "Let's make this easy."

He had phoned from college, feeling hassled.  Had no time to spare these days. Was busy with classes and papers and various theatrical productions, also with a part time job.  Had no time even to do his laundry.  Had to work every available minute, even on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.

And I was busy too. I was sitting in the car when we had this conversation, having raced to a second location between teaching two college classes in order to conduct a library book club. I had fifteen minutes to spare - just enough time to eat a quick lunch in the library parking lot and talk to my son.  The last several months I'd taught morning, afternoon and evening, and when I wasn't teaching, I was proofreading my novel or grading papers, pausing to relax only when walking dogs, cooking meals or practicing yoga.

"Let's make this a different, odd man out Thanksgiving," I told Elliot. "It doesn't have to be a three ring circus."

He laughed.  He always laughs when he recognizes the truth in something, and has done this since he was a little boy. So I knew he felt relieved.

All right. For once, I would not be cooking. Besides, our other two kids now live in countries that do not celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. And they would not be with us.  And our relatives in America are quite far flung - in New York, Massachusetts and California. This year was indeed going to be an odd man out holiday.

I reassured myself.  I grew up in England and we don't celebrate Thanksgiving there. And during the years Ben and I lived overseas, nobody celebrated the holiday much. Not even us. Sure, we remembered in Moscow once inviting Russian friends to a Thanksgiving feast and that was lovely. Also very long ago. And we couldn't remember how it went.

I felt a little sad when one of my students observed this week that the holiday is not about thanks so much as it is about food.  Yes, there are those who call it "Turkey Day".  But the name Thanksgiving, corny though it may sound, always makes me think twice.

I'd be thankful for release from tradition, then. Thankful to celebrate togetherness differently.  Wouldn't bow down to the gods of cookery and football games, to the slaughter of turkeys and roasting of vegetables, to the obligatory assembly of loved ones near and far.  I wouldn't bake pies. Oh - all right. I might bake a couple of pies. And I'd take one down to Elliot.  That would be my concession to the occasion.

So in this spirit, Ben and I drove down to Richmond Virginia for Thanksgiving with Elliot. We more or less eluded traffic and arrived at our son's  empty apartment shortly before noon. It was warm there, empty and surprisingly clean. I gave him the new set of sheets I had bought and we put those on his bed.  The sheets made Elliot happy.

Then we decided to go to the Museum of Fine Arts and take in a Hollywood costume exhibit.  The museum is beautiful - full of light and space and we felt enlarged by that experience, spending an hour and a half in that wonderful exhibit, and enjoying it thoroughly.  Then we went to Tarrants - a little French restaurant where Ben had made a reservation - and there we had food and laughter and conversation, all overlaid with a sense of commemorating something important - something in addition to food.

Mind you, I might not do it every year this way. That would be missing the point. I wouldn't entirely do away with tradition.  But it was a beautiful reminder that nothing gold can stay.  Even Thanksgiving must move in cycles.  The holiday gets a little bogged down with a sense of ceremony and sentiment if that outweighs its true substance.

Similarly, I refuse to make Christmas  all about buying things. Didn't shop on Friday. Instead I holed up in our library, reading a new book written by my friend Anna.  I sat with the dogs and with the heater on and the bare trees just beyond my window.  In due course Ben and I went for a walk.  It was cold outside and the dogs were also cold and I was glad for my gloves.  Our greyhound was dressed in his coat.  Ben had on his balaclava. Builders were busily constructing a new house on Meridian Street - trying to finish their outside work before winter sets in. A neighbor  across the street strung Christmas lights in his trees, while his toddler bundled in hat and gloves looked on.

Later I drove to a local nursery and bought a wreath for the front door.  Then I came home and Ben put the wreath up, and then I came back upstairs to the library feeling very thankful:

Thankful for my teaching work, for classes which are going well, and will be wrapping up soon;
thankful I took up Bikram yoga and no longer have frozen shoulder; thankful my novel will be published next year; thankful for meeting the girls in a class of juvenile offenders I've had the privilege of teaching this season. Thankful to be part of their journey; thankful for the enthusiasm of dogs, for my husband and children and friends; thankful for rooms full of books and bookshelves for warm rooms full of pictures and conversations, for beds full of sheets and pillows, for cold on the outside and heat on the inside. Thankful I'll see my family in California at Christmas when we visit. Thankful all my children are living their lives with confidence and joy.

Conscious of all we've been given.

Not an odd Thanksgiving after all.
taken by Ben on his morning run


  1. What a beautiful piece, Amanda, and so true. Love your reference to 'Nothing gold can stay' - a reminder that all we possess is fleeting, even cherished traditions. I'm saving this post to mull over. Perhaps I'll be inspired to change our family's Thanksgiving celebration next year..

  2. So love your piece, Amanda. We made a similar choice. No renting a car, fighting traffic and doing the same three-ring circus we've done for decades. Bruce, Nick, Sam and I see each other so RARELY anymore as the fabulous, original four. We went out to dinner in a cozy,hundred year-old restaurant in Brooklyn Heights. Walked over. Walked back. Bliss. Gorgeous food. The best company ever. I give thanks to my wonderful family.