Self portrait in a straw hat, by Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, 1782.
My in-laws had us over for American Thanksgiving. They cooked the turkey, mashed the potatoes, made the dessert and set the table. We ate enthusiastically. Somehow the conversation turned to refrigerators and freezers. My mother-in-law and I do not share views about how to keep them, a point I felt compelled to share (in the spirit of Thanksgiving?). On the drive home a letter began writing itself in my head.
Dear Mother of my husband (who has loved me full and well these seventeen years and then some),
Having shared so generously my thoughts about your freezers, it seems a fuller picture is in order. After lo these many years, perhaps the time has come to clarify.
Over all the years, almost without a moment of exception, I have found you a warm, generous, and open person. To a fault I find you hard working, dedicated and faithful. Do I find you a practical person? Not particularly, but practicality is overrated for the artistic temperament. I think it hinders mine and I envy your approach to all things art. I love your art. I love that all the arts are you, from poetry to paint to music.
There are moments when we are so different on a small thing that I can’t quite wrap my head around it. (Possibly this happens to you as well when the germ paranoia’s invade my psyche.) There are also moments when I think you understand my own attempts at art better than anyone I know. That in the places mostly without words we share a common core, our insides inhabited by unruly but not unpleasant muses.
You can keep buying freezers, and I’ll keep panicking about controlling contagious disease. Regardless, the years past of being family with you have been nothing but a privilege for me. I look forward to enjoying your company, conversation, insights, ideas, and inspirations for many years to come. Thanks for a wonderful Thanksgiving, take 2.
With love much more than I say,
One of the local ladies out for a stroll in the front yard this Thanksgiving weekend.
What gratitude looked like
Above is the head of Boy two, who forgot to get the eggs yesterday and was therefore pressed into service after supper, whereupon he happened across a battle of wits between young cat and young chipmunk. Although he prays often for the cat success in mice work (mostly to aggravate a sister praying fervently in the opposite direction) he has developed an aversion to seeing the cats in action. Rising sentiment culminated in the intervention pictured atop the head.
Seeing the chipmunk in mortal peril (and, “completely frozen in terror”) boy raced in, scooped up chipmunk and shooed cat. Chipmunk remained in Boy two’s hands for a split second then ran up his chest, around to the back of his neck, and up onto his head, a sensation he somehow recounts with delight. Chipmunk was content to be lookout, so Boy two commanded Boy one to call the cats, fetch me and bring the camera.
“You know you have to take a shower now, don’t you?” said mother the realist. Who likes her boys tender but find the chipmunk population a bit too hearty for her liking.
Boy two is careful not to tilt his head. “I don’t care,” he says. “It’s worth it.” This is as strong a statement of love for Chipmunk 348 as I can imagine. I didn’t know it possible. Nor if there are dangers for which he would willing shower for my sake or not. Best not to compare I suppose.
After his photo op, we went back inside. Boy two walked around the driveway content and I tried not to think about the fleas and tiny creatures numbers 1 – 10,000 merrily shipping their offspring to the new world of Boyscalp. The sun almost gone and feline predators inside, Boy two at last took off his hat. Pulsing with thanksgiving spirit, 348 did a flying leap from his hands to a nearby tree and was gone.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Despite the fleas you never asked for and the strange way you walk and bob your head, may the ample cup of the wild turkeys roaming and chipmunks delivered be yours also, filled up with all manner of good things, but especially gratitude, pressed down and running over.
Growing up we never lived close to my grandparents, but I felt their love all the same. Especially from my grandmother. As a small child, I sometimes wondered if my grandfather even knew my name, but somewhere in there, he started talking. He’s never really stopped since. I know entire extended families rather well through the stories of my grandmother. My grandfather and I share a love of silly rhymes.
I wasn’t sure how things would work after my mother died. Usually it had been my mother that kept us together.
My grandma called me on the phone. “I call my kids in order. All their numbers are on the wall. I’m too old to change from four to three. I’m putting you in at your mother’s spot,” she said.
She travelled up to meet my first baby. I travelled down with the other three when they arrived. She bought me diapers and tucked twenty dollar bills in my coat for gas. I sent pictures and letters I had never taken the time to write before. We weren’t forgetting my mother. We were loving somebody else who loved her. Along the way, we found a lot of love and joy between us. My mother would like that.
My grandfather doesn’t remember things now. He has cancer that he isn’t treating. Many conversations, he can’t follow. He joins in by telling jokes he thinks of.
This year we had an early Thanksgiving dinner together. My grandparents, my girls, and me. I brought one of our chickens. The girls drew turkey pictures and made place cards. We ate brownies for dessert and saved the pumpkin pie for the next day so we could properly enjoy it.
I went to bed afterwards thinking about books. How every chapter should be the best you can make it. Every sentence matters. But as good as it all is, if it’s done right, the last chapter is the best. Everything comes together. The beautiful intensifies to a level you had no idea was even possible back when you were reading in the middle and enjoying every page.
I am struck with my grandfather’s gentleness amidst confusion. His quiet trust in my grandmother is not a tenderness I could have imagined in him twenty years ago. He needs a lot of help navigating daily life. My grandmother learns what she needs to do, and does it. She does not spend her days grieving who my grandfather is not. She looks at the man who is present, figures out how to give him what he needs, and loves him as he is.
I have been reading the book of their lives for a long time now. So many different chapters. So much for me to learn. But this last chapter. It takes my words away and sits me down quiet with wonder. About love. And it never, ever being too late to become like the Velveteen rabbit. More real. More beautiful.