by Jami Amerine
It is altogether too short. One day of thanks, marked by incidents of frenzy, oven malfunctions, a brawl between your husband’s cousin and your brother-in-law, un-rise-able yeast rolls, and an antique turkey thermometer that needs negotiated with, so everything will be perfect.
And, right on time.
We were in the thick of it. My husband, Justin, was basting the holiday bird like his livelihood hinged on it. My mom was whipping potatoes. My sister was setting the table, when my father announced, “Ten minutes to show time!” My brother sat up little tables and chairs for all the nieces and nephews.
Justin and my children, ranging from teenaged to toddler, romped on the grass in the yard. The air was damp, and entirely cool, which was curiously low for November in Houston. The children chased cousins and a couple of neighbors wandered between yards. The children skimmed just close enough to the bulk head to cause my mother to gasp in horror, repeatedly. She would then poke her head out and semi-bark, “Not too close to the edge! Watch the littles! No one fall in the lake!”
I knew that this year would stand out among others. This was my husband’s first year without his mother, who passed the day before Thanksgiving the year before. She had spent her final days in our home, which was precious and dear. Another memory peg to the occasion. out on the swing set our teenage daughter, Maggie, pushed our two-year-old adopted son, Sam, and our first foster placement, an 18-month old baby boy. Swaddled close to my body was a tiny baby girl, our second foster placement. Our numbers had decreased and increased.
Although, my mother-in-law’s presence was entirely missed, I paid tribute to her memory, and her most awful, cornbread stuffing. No one would touch it, it is made with hotdog buns, a dozen boiled eggs, and giblets. But the nod to her was both comfort and humor. Furthermore, I increased the honor, by carefully removing congealed cranberries from the can, making sure that they didn’t loose form. She had always warned; “the can imprint is part of the tradition.” I organized the gelatinous blob neatly on a fancy dessert plate and garnished it with a sad piece of iceberg lettuce. I could sense her approval in the roasted turkey scented air.
It seems most fragrant, that day. Her absence, our new visitors, and the power of the familiar, brought all the reasons to be thankful right up to the back of my throat. Occasionally, tears would burn my eyes, and then, the tiny baby wrapped to my person would shift and coo. Her warm body rejuvenated me to press into this day, thankful.
My dad announced it was time, but when I looked up to connect with the children, that they might rally and wash up, I realized something was wrong. The backyard was now a concentrated mass of children, standing in a circle. I stretched my neck to see what was going on, when our oldest son turned and ran to the porch, hollering, “Mom, Dad, come quick! It’s bad!”
Every adult sprung to action. Except for me, I couldn’t move. I willed myself forward, and cowered behind my husband, fearing the worst. Sam was balled up in Maggie’s arms. Despite his naturally beautiful caramel coloring, he looked almost gray. He clung his tiny arm to his chest. Maggie wept, “he fell off the swing.”
My dad and Justin stepped in to investigate, the lake which was smooth as glass, appeared to sway. Alas, it was me. Sam’s tiny arm was visibly and grotesquely broken. Within moments instructions were given to the rest of the family on caring for the foster loves, Justin crawled in the backseat with Sam. I cried and drove like a mad woman.
The hunger I had saved for the feast had been replaced with nausea and panic.
It didn’t take but a few moments for the Emergency Room attendants to diagnose Sam’s injuries. He sipped apple juice, cried, threw up, and lay limp, glazed eyes staring at a Thanksgiving Day Sponge Bob marathon. Hours passed and as we carried our darling, wounded boy out to the car the sky was a glorious pink from the setting sun.
When we arrived at my parents’ we were met with a sparkling clean kitchen and two plates covered in aluminum foil. The hustle of Thanksgiving was over. The prayer, the visiting, the plans for Christmas, the clean-up, and predictable carb induced nap, had passed.
We made our way upstairs and tucked Sam into bed. I set an alarm to wake him for pain medicine. I fed the foster love a bottle. Justin read to the other. We convinced ourselves to go nibble on our celebratory plates. By time we made it to the kitchen, everyone else had retired.
Justin and I sat and ate alone, in the peace of Thanksgiving.
There by the picture window, overlooking the lake, we ate microwaved turkey and dressing. We sat silently and helped ourselves to pie, and also, more pie.
And we were thankful.
We delighted in our family, my parents, siblings, and our children. We reminisced how well they love, even the strangers we brought to dinner. We praised each other for the force we exude when we are afraid. Together, we are better, and for that we were thankful.
We rinsed our dishes and prepared bottles for the inevitable 3 am feeding. Justin carefully measured Sam’s medication and set a second alarm, to make sure he would not wake in pain. We fixed glasses of ice water, Justin tasted one more pie, and finally, we managed to find our pajamas in the pitch-dark room where three little humans slept.
I heard the baby boy’s deep sleepy breath.
I noticed the baby girl had rolled to her tummy. I adjusted her back to her back, and patted the velvety pink blanket draped over her miniature body. She sighed, and her rosebud lips made a sucking motion. I giggled, she dreamt of only milk.
Justin used a small flash light to wander to the other rooms and check the children. He found them on the floor in the second guest bedroom watching Jaws, eating popcorn and enjoying each other’s company. He whispered goodnight and they chimed, “Happy Thanksgiving.”
Yes, Happy Thanksgiving.
We climbed into the quilted queen size bed of the crowded guest suite and exhaled in unison.
Of all the Thanksgivings we have celebrated, those last two will always hold great memoirs of thanks. The year before included no turkey, but mourning casseroles, and funeral plans. That year would include microwaved scraps, alone by the moonlit lake, weary from hard core parenting and bodies drenched in adrenaline. I wondered, what will the next year hold?
No matter, we will remember them with thanksgiving. Perhaps it is not so much the day or the feast, but all the events of each year that bring us to the capstone of thanksgiving. At our best, or even at our worst, it is the day we set aside for something grand. Gestures of gratitude, welcome, recollections, and prayers for the next.
I count those two Thanksgivings as my hardest, and my best.
I am grateful for opportunities to love, cry, rejoice, react, grieve, celebrate, and repent. When it is all said and done, and the turkey carcass is boiled for soup, let us never forget how to be thankful in all things. No matter the burned potatoes, mothers missed, or broken limbs, we rejoice for He who overcame the world, and give thanks for this
life in its perfection and madness.
It is indeed, well.
Jami Amerine is an author and blogger at Sacred Ground Sticky Floors. She and her husband, Justin live in north Houston. They have 6 children ages 23 all the way to four years old. They are advocates for foster care and adoption. You can learn more about Jami at www.sacredgroundstickyfloors.com