Call me smug and superior but I feel thankful every single day. Thanksgiving is just the year's best opportunity to quantify my thankfulness with off the charts caloric value. I get up early to start cooking and set the table. We’re having a small gathering this year. The kids will linger around the kitchen, trying to snatch a taste of something when I’m not looking. Much of the menu can't be prepared in advance and I’m in the steam of it all day. I go upstairs to shower before the guest arrive. The explosive aroma doesn't really hit me until I return to the kitchen. The kids grouse about peeling potatoes but it is pro forma. The potato job signifies that the meal is imminent. Spuds (the tuber—not the boy) will be boiled, pushed through a ricer and then slathered with cream and butter, just like my mother taught me. Although, if he doesn't clean up his friggin' room it might be tuber AND boy.
My mom was only interested in dessert. She started clearing plates when you were only a few bites in. At my house we take our time, don’t save room for dessert, but eat it anyway. Perhaps my mom behaved badly at every Thanksgiving she attended at my house because she missed getting well deserved accolades for food well prepared. I do love it when every dish comes out perfectly and people eat happily. I have retired after twelve years running concessions for Children’s Theater. I am disappointed when my offer to help out for a night or two is rebuffed. When I attend the play myself and notice that the concessions set up has a completely different face, I annoy Himself with a litany of criticisms. I do not miss the work, which is tantamount to setting up a small business twice a year, but I do miss being appreciated.
The essay submitted with Spud's college applications described Luke, a boy at school who was considered troublesome. Staff and students kept their distance. Spuds discovered Luke’s extraordinarily sophisticated tastes in music. Luke had a great ear and his observations were articulate. They burned CDs for each other and shared music magazines. Spuds wrote in his college admission essay that the “can’t judge a book by its cover” revelation about Luke was influential in his creation of believable teenage characters for a play he wrote under the aegis of a teen playwriting mentorship.
The good news from Bard letter comes in thick red folder with gold embossed “Congratulations.” Spud's play debuts the following night. He is anxious, having missed a number of rehearsals due to his trip to New York. Opening night at the children’s theater is fraught anyway with the high anxiety of fifty teenagers and their parents. Spuds is to perform in the one act he’s written and also star in another one act that's being presented. Just before curtain Spuds gets a text message informing him that Luke is dead, a suicide. Spuds gets through his performance. I am so devastated by his loss that when he gets home I am ineffectual and as broken up as he is.
Spuds attended the funerals of both of his grandfathers. He was old enough to remember both of them. He was truly saddened by these deaths but neither was a surprise. Old men dying fits in with the universal order. The loss of a 16 year old friend due to suicide is Spud's first real slap of how truly fucked up the world can be. Spuds delivers a eulogy. He paints a warm portrait of the troubled boy. He notes that his essay about Luke was probably instrumental in cinching his own admission to college. He concludes that he will benefit from the positive force of his friendship with Luke for the rest of his life. I cannot imagine anything better for the young man’s parents to hear but I don't imagine that they are able to drink it in. The Unitarian minister, a Garrison Keiller sound-alike, tells me the Spud’s tribute to Luke was beautiful. He sighs then and wipes his brow. “God, how I hate this.” He puts his hand on my shoulder and looks me hard in the eye. “Keep him close,” he admonishes.
Spuds might not be with us next Thanksgiving as most kids fly home from the East Coast for Christmas break. Two round trips will likely not be feasible. Number one son is bringing a college friend from Connecticut, a freshman, and probably away from his own family for the first time. I want the kids to grow up and have their own lives. But even before the death of Spud's friend I never feel completely settled and at ease unless both of them are physically present. I don't expect to recover from my near constant fretting about the sprats. My mother in her final days forgot my name but even her rotting brain didn't lose the sense memory of her love for me. Her ramblings grew more and more inchoate but whenever I kissed her goodbye she said, “drive carefully,” loudly and clearly.
I interpreted my mother's constant fretting about my safety and well being as a lack of confidence in my ability to navigate the world. My kids become more and more effective navigators. They even demonstrate occasionally that they've actually absorbed stuff I taught them. The minister reminded me to keep them close. Inevitably my opportunities for physical proximity will diminish. I know from my own experience that the expression of my incessant worry will be construed as a lack of faith in their competence. I try to keep my trap shut. I text them a lot.
My brain refuses to shift into neutral and I can't fall asleep. There is rustling downstairs. It is past midnight. The kids and a bunch of friends are in the kitchen making quesadillas. One of the girls is a freshman and has been on campus since August. “It's so nice to be in a house,” she says. “It's great to have real food.” The kids are sweet. I love how easy they are with each other. Even Spuds, who has been so shaken, laughs with his brother and kids around. I can't bottle this but through force of will I'll turn off the “what if?” voice I've honed for fifty five years. I understand and the kids are starting to learn, the world's horrifying capacity for random fucked-upness. I was a few years older than Luke when I felt the weight of a world that had no love for me. I took a couple fistfuls of pills but providentially a friend found me. I woke up a week later in a hospital. Even then it took years to feel fortunate to have miraculously awakened. I will think of Luke's family while I put the finishing touches on our meal. The world is capricious. Folly. Bad luck. Tragedy. Love. Miracles. Our thankfulness today is ratcheted up by pounds of butter, pints of cream, and a full house.
Wishing you happiness.