Distance. Divorce. Death. Holidays are fraught with strong feelings of absence and longing. Intermingled with the festivity — and all the delicious food and lively conversation — there’s the ever-present awareness of who is far away and who is no longer around.
Indeed, this time of year is tough for Hepcat, living so far from his large family in Northern California. And while he has always enjoyed Thanksgiving with Smartmom’s relatives, Smartmom knows that a part of him pines for connection with his. To make matters worse, his father died on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1984, so he will always asssoicate this holiday with that devastating loss.
Alas, going out to California for Thanksgiving is unthinkable; it’s too short a holiday for an expensive cross-country trip.
Happily, Hepcat’s mother, sister and brother-in-law have come to New York for Thanksgiving a few times and joined Smartmom’s family for the feast. Those are the most-special Thanksgivings of all; a merging of both clans on this uber-family holiday.
As a child of divorce, Smartmom understands how it feels to be far away from a loved one on a holiday. Since her parents’ divorce in 1976, she has always spent Thanksgiving with her mother’s side of the family, which has meant that she was never with her dad on Turkey Day.
Smartmom always missed her dad on Thanksgiving — and this year, the first Thanksgiving since his death, she thought of him often.
It was hard not to. The meal began with a thoughtful toast from Smartmom’s first cousin, who mentioned the deaths of Smartmom’s father and her 86-year-old Uncle Jay, who died on Halloween in 2007. Smartmom and Diaper Diva were deeply moved by the mention of their dad and tears quickly filled their eyes.
And then the feast commenced. Smartmom’s blues dissipated as she enjoyed the food and the company of her relatives. From the first course to the last — popovers and butternut squash soup followed by turkey, prime rib, stuffing, mashed potatoes, risotto, Brussels sprouts, carrots and green beans and ending with pumpkin pie and coffee — conversation swirled around each of three tables like a content-filled tornado.
This well-informed and highly articulate family grouping, which includes lawyers, a real-estate developer, a doctor, a social worker, academics, the director of a non-profit, an arms negotiator, a set designer, a smattering of middle, high school and college students, a computer software designer, a photographer and a writer are capable of loud and lively table conversation.
Here are just some of the topics touched upon:
• Mumbai (and how awful it was).
• Obama’s foreign policy (and how awful it won’t be).
• The remarkable skinniness of Teen Spirit’s jeans (it is remarkable).
• Post-college aspirations and living in Beijing.
• Turquoise hair (of course, everyone had read Smartmom’s columns in The Brooklyn Paper).
• Election night in Providence, Rhode Island.
• A novel about the Thai/Cambodian border.
• The Turkey Trot in Prospect Park.
• Kansas City jazz.
• Skinny ties.
• Mashed potatoes (and why there is never enough).
• Empty nests (and whether they happen too quickly or too slowly).
• Working as a social worker in the South Bronx.
• The movie, ”Synecdoche, New York.”
• Educational policy in Baltimore.
Yes there was food and wine — and plenty of it. But it was the alternating and non-stop conversations that were the most nourishing and life affirming aspect of the event.
When Smartmom glanced over at Hepcat, she could tell he was enjoying himself when he was surrounded by a minyan of her relatives enthusiastically telling them about one of his recent photographic projects.
On their drive home in the car, Hepcat told Teen Spirit and the Oh So Feisty One, who were squeezed into the back seat, that one of the reasons he married Smartmom was because of her terrific family and their terrific Thanksgivings.
“The fact that I liked her family really sealed the deal. Of course, I liked her, too,” he mused.
“I should hope so,” Smartmom tartly replied.
Still, it made Smartmom happy that despite the distance and the echoes of death that Thanksgiving represents, Hepcat feels cherished and loved by her East Coast family on this difficult day.