Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past, Present, and Future

Special 2016 “The Year Everything Changed” Edition

My favorite of the two liquor stores in Monte Vista, its windows painted by local artist “E. Sprouse Rowe,” whose work I’ve seen in Del Norte and Alamosa. She’s basically the designated window-painting artist of the lower-mid San Luis Valley.

I came close to hating it. My personal Imp of the Perverse really wanted to hate our first Thanksgiving in Monte Vista, if only to justify my depressive foot-dragging and sour temper since we left Colorado Springs for “Gilligan’s Valley,” as I’ve taken to calling the San Luis Valley when aspects of remote, rural small-town life clash with my long-ingrained suburban, get-it-when-I-want-it sensibilities.

This two-person table-setting looks much less lonely
and sad with the light behind me, but lonely and sad
is what I’m aiming for, so cue the sad violins.
It was bad enough we were doing this without our children for the first time since 1993. When it became apparent I had no convenient streaming options for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from NBC, I nearly went over the edge. The parade and the dog show that followed had been tradition in our household for years.

But this is 2016. We now live in a remote rural valley in southern Colorado, where no broadcast television exists, and the Powers That Be at the major networks still haven’t thought to stream their network signals live on the Internet, commercials and all, like radio stations have been doing for over 15 years already. Which is to say, no shade on the SLV, but what’s up with corporate America being unable or unwilling to support a non-infrastructure intensive, no-brainer way of further exposing its advertisers?

Dinner was still hours away—bless her heart, my wife went ahead and made the full turkey with trimmings for the two of us—so I stomped upstairs, and, sure enough, the show I wanted to watch was trending on Twitter. I saw photos and animated .GIFs and film clips. And it was then that I realized something.

Our table setting from the other side. Lighting is everything. Well, that and perspective, A new color of paint on the wall would help tremendously, but that’s another can o’ worms. We’ve only been here four months.

All I was missing was another year of rolling my eyes and walking out of the room for most of the first hour while the intolerably fey and cheesy Broadway musicals promoted their overpriced product. I’d enjoy the Rockettes for the three minutes they were on near the top of the next hour, then continue to bring in the Christmas tree and decor boxes from the shed until dinner. I’d get a kick out of watching the marching bands from the high schools out of flyover country, knowing how much these kids would treasure the memory of their 30 seconds of fame the rest of their lives as they put on a show they’d worked all year to perfect.

Santa Claus closes out the parade, and, hooray, it’s Christmas. Well, I missed all that this year. Christmas is still coming, of course. Depending upon their work schedules, my children might not be here for that, either. It is what it is.

It’s ironic when I consider that the TV was on mainly to give us something to talk about when the children were in the house. Over the last couple of years, we even got into eating dinner with the dog show on, and commenting on the breeds we saw. As if we didn’t have any other way to connect. So wrong, right?
The brine recipe my wife used this year let her get away with brining the turkey for only 12 hours instead of the usual 24. The white meat was deliciously tender and moist.

We no longer live in that house, we no longer live in that town, and our children are on their own, no longer living with us. So if I never see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the following dog show again, it’s just as well.

It’s 2016. This is how things are done now.

I was nearly in shock at how readily I accepted this. Not entirely fatalistically, either, although fatalism is a necessary component of said acceptance. Apparently, I’m turning a corner. Hooray for me.

As my wife and I sat down to eat, it was inevitable that we would speak of our gratitude for raising two children who grew into lives of their own outside our house. They’ve got copies of the housekey; they can let themselves in anytime they want. If they’re 200 miles and three to four hours away, depending on which mountain pass they take to get here, it’s important to remember that there are others who wish they had our problems. Their children could be deployed overseas with the military, or absent in other ways that don’t involve mere time and distance. 

Of course, as I must remind myself every day, there are all the single people out there. I was one of those for the longest while, until I was nearly 29. Even then, it took a few years before we could recover the holiday, and make it into something we should have known we’d miss later.

As we took our customary post-Thanksgiving dinner walk, I looked at the light gilding the trees and the houses of my new town, and was immediately reminded of Thanksgivings past.
For Monte Vista is a small, poor town, and can only afford to wish you one happy holiday at a time.

As with Halloween and Christmas, there comes a time when the holiday loses that special thrill it once had for you as a child. Being the morbid sort I am, I thought back to when that likely happened. Age 21, 1982. After that year, the elderly aunt and uncle whose farm we visited for dinner were too elderly to handle entertaining all of the families that gathered to visit. Most of the cousins weren’t coming up anymore, anyway, as they had girlfriends, and were taking dinner with them.

We had Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ condo after that, but it was never the same. The families never came together again. The elderly aunt died, my mom died, and that was it altogether for my immediate family. 
A sun dog I struggled to get a decent photo of.

One by one, the elders fell away. Memories of them still alive came vividly to me as I saw the late autumn light blaze its final glory over Thanksgiving 2016. It may have been 2016, the gosh-wow 21st century they never lived to see, but the timelessness of the light brought them all back. I could imagine them walking and talking, my step-grandfather stopping to wonder at the old churches and buildings in this old farm town, not terribly dissimilar in appearance and attitude from Hartsville, South Carolina, in the early 1970s.

Naturally, it occurred to me that my wife and I are now the elders on the fade.
Second Avenue facing east in Monte Vista, on the way to what we’re now calling home.

Well, that’s the least we deserve for not dying young. If our children are not here with us, it’s because they have jobs and significant others. They’re healthier, happier, and better adjusted than I ever was, spending Thanksgiving drinking alone throughout the remainder of my 20s, with no sense to do things any differently.

I watched the red streaking the sky just like it did as we drove home from Hartsville, South Carolina, in 1968, or 1973. Of course, it’s Monte Vista, Colorado, in 2016. And I’m thankful for another fine Thanksgiving.
Part of the reason for the walk is to make room for the pie when we get home.

POSTSCRIPT: The supposed madness of the Official Start to the Christmas Shopping Season was over the hills and far away from Monte Vista, so we were thankful for that. My wife spent Saturday playing search-and-destroy with the caulking gun on air leaks around the house, so I insisted on taking her out to eat at our favorite restaurant in town. Minutes after we arrived back home, my daughter drove up with a friend of hers from Colorado Springs. They had to drive back in the morning, but the night was spent with music playing, loud talk and laughter. We awoke to snow on Sunday, but my daughter and her friend were able to drive safely out.

My belly, heart, and now my weekend are full. For better or worse, come what may, Christmas 2016 is on. Here’s hoping your season is going well. We only get so many of these.