It’s the good time of year. I always forget about the finer attributes of this season when I’m in the throes of summer, barefoot and carefree, no homework to supervise or lunchboxes to pack. Maybe it’s just the human survival instinct to be partial to the present, whenever it is. But this is the time of family holidays, connecting the dots of Autumn to Winter, and there is much to revel in.
As soon as the Halloween candy was counted, sorted, traded and consumed, my five-year-old announced, “I hate Thanksgiving.” I looked at him, considering the source of his proclamation. I concluded it has mostly to do with the food: no one offers him “turkey pizza” or “maca-turkey-roni and cheese.” And, he wanted to know, who ruins a pie by filling it with pumpkin?
“What about being together with family?” I asked him. He barely registered a grunt to accompany a gargantuan eyeroll.
Hate it as much as he wants, Thanksgiving still came. And that’s fine by me. I have always loved Thanksgiving. (It helps that I never host it.) That honor still falls to my parents, who make room every year for up to fifty relatives. From Minnesota, San Francisco, San Diego, Orange County, Tarzana (and the occasional cameo from New Jersey and New York), we meet in Los Angeles to sing folk songs and argue politics.
Yes, folks songs and politics. Besides Aunt Barbara’s cranberry apple crumb casserole (to die for), it is what makes my family’s Thanksgiving . . . well, my family’s Thanksgiving.
Things didn’t go as expected this year. Traditions fell by the wayside. Normally, at dinner my mother makes a political speech, drawing cheers from the Democrats and silence from the Republicans. My mother does not realize her speech is an annual rite of our Thanksgiving meal. It’s just what comes out of her mouth, a reflex. I guess that’s the genesis of traditions: they express who we are so deeply, that we can’t help but repeat them.
But things were different this year. Our guitar-strumming song leaders were home in San Francisco, laid out by the flu. No singing! Not one to adapt well to change, I was bereft. It must have been a welcome break to others, because my cousin Mitch from Orange County stepped right into the void, busting out poker chips and cards and instructing the children when to hold, when to fold.
Almost as disconcerting to my sense of order, there was no political speech by my mom! Just a generic “Welcome everyone, and enjoy the food!” How could this be? I was cast adrift. No folk songs, no arguing politics? What was left but to eat dessert?
The family room was crowded with cousins saturated with pies and cakes—boysenberry, pumpkin, apple, chocolate babka and amaretto. A smallish dent had been made in the fruit salad, by those of us wishing to balance the scales of guilty pleasures. The twenty-ninth football game of the day played on the big screen television—“Is this the same game that was on nine hours ago?” my mother asked my father.
Then it happened. One of the kids said, “Let’s play ‘So You Think You Can Dance!’” It’s our newest game at home, where my husband and I have been inculcating our “dance-is-for-girls” sons into the cult of a dance competition television show. The game is simple: turn on some music, dance a silly solo, and the panel of “judges” declares, “You’ve made the Top Twenty!” and the dancer goes wild.
There in the family room, with the big-screen football game as backdrop, the dancing began. We picked the most likely to break the ice and began to chant his name, “Christopher! Christopher!” After a few moments, he stood up, took his place on the floor, and Thanksgiving will never be the same.
Within seconds everyone was laughing as he leaped, stretched, and grabbed his body a la Michael Jackson. Immediately after him came my father, who has for years maintained that he is a natural born tap dancer and ballerina. His performance demonstrated that passion for sports and love of dance are not exclusive qualities. Over the course of the next hour, our five-year-old son danced several solos, our eight-year-old son (still with a broken foot) spun on the floor in his version of break-dancing. Their grandfather came back out for a duet with his granddaughter, lifts, spins and all. Their grandmother got up for her turn, and even cousin Joe from Minnesota felt the spirit of dance take him over. All the kids spun and jumped and wiggled together in a grand finale. But my favorite part? My children watching their mother, grandfather and great-grandmother doing a kickline to Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” If that’s not a new tradition to be thankful for, I don’t know what is.