Parables

Printer-friendly version


PARABLES

“Oh, thank heavens you’re here!” Jenny looked both relieved and embarrassed as she greeted the short, bookish woman who stood on her front stoop, balancing homemade pies in each hand. “Come in, come in!”

“Things have got to be pretty bad if I’m getting that kind of welcome,” Sarah quipped as she followed Jenny into the spacious kitchen. “Where do you want the pies?”

“Deserts go on the sideboard in the dining room,” Jenny said automatically, then flushed. “I mean, it’s where we always had them, when . . . .”

Sarah gave her friend a sharp look as her voice trailed off. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, Jenny. Just do things the way you always would.” The dining room was visible through the large pass-through Jenny had made over one of the granite counters years before. Sarah moved purposefully through the swinging door, found the sideboard and set her burdens down.

It was a big room with a high ceiling and a long table ran down the middle. Eleven chairs — five to a side and one on the end — and still there was ample space all around. The table clearly could have accommodated additional leaves; in the past, Sarah knew, it often had. But the table was bare, dark cherry gleaming dully in the morning light that streamed through the sliding glass windows leading to a weathered brick patio.

Jenny leaned against the doorframe looking tired and ashamed. “I’m so sorry. I just got overwhelmed by it all, yesterday. Too many memories. I just . . . .” She stopped and shrugged.

Sarah folded her arms. “Jenny. You’ve got nine more people showing up in two hours. Tell me you got the turkey in this morning!”

Jenny straightened. “Yes. Yes, the turkey went in. And I did get the stuffing done yesterday, so that’s all good. It’s just, you know . . . .” Again her voice tailed off and her shoulders slumped.

Sarah relented. “I know, woman. Honest. I do. But it’ll be alright. It won’t be like you remember, but it’ll be wonderful in its own way. You’ll see.” Sarah held her friend’s gaze until Jenny nodded, somewhat reluctantly. “Okay. I’m going to give Marta and Hope a call and see if they can come early to help set up. Then we’re going to get this thing organized, okay?”

Jenny finally managed a tired smile. “Yes, Sergeant Sarah. Tell you what, I’ll give Hope a ring if you call Marta, okay?” They made their calls, with Jenny’s taking rather longer. But both women agreed they would come as quickly as they could.

Sarah worked her usual magic, pulling Jenny out of the spiral of grief and self-loathing that had overtaken her best intentions and focusing her on practical matters. What was on the menu, other than turkey? What still needed to be diced, chopped, mashed, whipped, or puréed? Where, for the love of God, was the butter? The tablecloth and napkins? Silverware? Pretty soon, Sarah had a little list, and she was sequencing its items rapidly.

Hope was the first to arrive. While Jenny was tall and skinny, Hope was shorter than Sarah and round as a cabbage. Cheerful to the point of bubbly, she bounded into the house without knocking, set a large covered dish on the kitchen island, and gave Jenny a bone-cracking hug. “I knew I should have called you yesterday! I could have made my Kapusta z grzybami here, and kept you company!”

Jenny laid her cheek against the top of her diminutive friend’s head. “Thank you. I know, I should have called.”

Hope pushed Jenny back to hold her at arm’s length, the better to look her in the eye. “Yes, you should have. You know I’d be here for you. Any day, any time. Just like you’ve been there for me, about a billion times. So next time, will you please?”

“Yes, Mom,” Jenny said meekly.

Hope smiled. “Better!”

“I hate to be the one to bring this up, what with all your overflowing sentiment and all,” Sarah drawled. “But time’s a wasting, girls. Tick tock!”

“There’s the voice of the real mom,” Hope chuckled.

“If I’d raised you, you’d already be peeling potatoes without my having to ask,” Sarah rejoined, tossing a big russet specimen toward Hope on a lazy arc.

Hope caught it with a smile. “On it! Honest!” With Jenny’s help, she found a peeler and a big bowl, then she sat on one of the stools on the back half of the island and set to work on the bag of potatoes.

Jenny kept her company, trimming green beans to forestall Sarah’s intervention. “How’ve you been, sweetie?”

“Pretty good,” Hope replied. “I had a call with Brad last night. It was already ‘Thanksgiving’ in Busan, so he and Melissa gave me a call. She thinks she’s about ready to pop, but the doctor tells her it’ll be at least a week, ten days.”

Jenny suppressed her twinge of jealousy and made sure her voice was cheerful. “You must be so excited! Imagine – you, a grandma!”

Hope knew how hard it was for Jenny to hear about Brad and Melissa, who supported Hope fiercely and would have insisted that she spend Thanksgiving with them, if Brad hadn’t been deployed overseas. But they had been over this before, with Jenny insisting that she would not want Hope to self-censor just to spare her – Jenny’s – feelings. So Hope put a smile on her face and kidded in response. “I know, right? They’ll let anyone into the club, won’t they?”

They talked companionably as they worked on food prep. They had known each other for years, and they knew where all the landmines lay. When Hope was maybe a third of the way through the mound of potatoes, the door chimes sounded.

“I got it,” Sarah called out from the dining room.

Hope snorted. “Girl, even your doorbell sounds like a million bucks!”

“We got it years ago, when we brought Chewy home. The old chime set him off every time, barking his idiot head off. So I went online and got this one. Supposed to be more dog friendly. Funny thing was, it actually worked.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine Chewy being any sort of trouble,” Hope said, remembering the sleepy old Golden she met years ago, one eye clouded over and snout gone completely white.

“I know,” Jenny said fondly. “But damn, he was a terror when he was little! He earned his name, I kid you not!”

“Hi Jenny! Hi Hope!” The young woman poking her head into the kitchen was in her early twenties. Slender where Jenny was skinny, with wavy, shoulder-length brown hair, both the newcomer’s voice and her elfin features conveyed a certain diffidence that even years of friendship hadn’t completely dispelled.

“Marta! Thank you so much for coming early!” Jenny moved quickly to greet her young friend with a hug, seeing an echo of her own sadness in Marta’s eyes. Marta, too, knew what it was like to spend holidays isolated from family.

“I’m happy to help, really. Thank you – thank you so much – for inviting me!” Marta felt the prick of tears and fought to hold them back. For the first time in years, she knew she had a lot to be thankful for, and she was determined to celebrate rather than waste empty tears on the lifeless moonscape of her family relationships.

“Can you handle the cranberry sauce, hon? The recipe and ingredients are right there.” Jenny pointed to a corner of the island devoted to that sub-project.

“Sure,” Marta said hesitantly. “I don’t know much about cooking, though.”

“We’ll help you, love,” Hope assured her with a smile. “The advantage of having done a few laps around the speedway already.”

“Okay.” Marta smiled shyly and went to review the recipe.

“JENNY!” Sarah’s holler came from the next room. “Where do you hide the plates?”

“Hold tight,” Jenny hollered back as she dried her hands quickly with a dish towel before rushing out to pull things together for Sarah.

A few moments after she had bustled out of the kitchen, Marta looked at Hope. “Is she okay?”

Hope paused before grabbing another potato and fluttered her hand side to side. “I don’t know,” she said quietly. “Sounds like the blue devils really hit yesterday. Bad sleep and not much of it, and then feeling completely overwhelmed and inadequate this morning.”

“Been there, done that,” Marta said sympathetically. “More times than I can count.”

“The holidays are really hard for her. Especially this one. I managed to talk her into joining me back in 2019 — that was the last Thanksgiving before COVID. Brad was still at home, and Deb was still with me.” As Marta knew, Hope’s wife hadn’t survived the pandemic. “She came, and it was good she wasn’t alone. But . . . Thanksgiving had been all this.” Hope’s gesture encompassed the house and all the craziness— the food prep and getting the house ready, and above all, lots and lots of guests. “She was the host, you know? The center of a big, bustling family.”

Marta nodded. “That sure sounds like Jenny, alright.”

“Just . . . let’s keep her engaged, okay?” Hope started on the last potato.

“Yeah. Abso-frickin’-lutely.”

When Jenny returned, the three friends worked on the food while Sarah got the dining room in order and the table set. All three women determinedly kept the tone of the conversation light and pleasant.

But it wasn’t all that long before Hope steered the conversation to the subject she really wanted to hear about. “Okay, Marta! You have to dish, girl! Who’s this guy who’s joining you today?”

Marta couldn’t suppress a giggle at her friends’ salacious interest in her “love life,” but then reflected that maybe — just maybe — it was time to drop her mental scare quotes when thinking of that phrase. “Well . . . his name’s Gordon. We met at AACC; he’s doing night classes to become an EMT. And . . . yeah.” She smiled, trying to put the last couple of wonderful months into words.

Hope cackled. “Good start, hon, but no way you’re getting off with just that!”

Marta started stirring sugar into water heating in a saucepan. “He’s nice,” she said, her voice filled with wonder that such a thing could ever be directed her way. “We started just meeting for coffee, you know . . . and he was so sweet. Wanted to know all about . . . .” She skipped a beat, then shook her head. “All about me. My life. He even wanted to know what it’s been like for me, being trans. And . . . and he cared, you know? He actually cared.”

She began to pour the fresh cranberries into the simple syrup. Keeping her attention on the pot to hide her feelings, she said, “One night, he was walking me back to my car, and he asked if he could kiss me.” She looked up at her older friends, her eyes bright. “I mean, I used to dream about someone kissing me. I’d given up believing it would ever really happen. And here was this really sweet guy, asking!”

“I’m going out on a limb and guessing you let him,” Hope said with a smile.

“Fuck, yeah, I let him!” Marta giggled, then immediately apologized. “I’m sorry, it’s just . . . I couldn’t believe it was happening, and it was so fantastic! I didn’t want him to stop, ever.” Her smile was as big as a double-wide.

Jenny couldn’t resist pulling her in for a hug. “I’m so happy for you, Marta. Gordon’s one lucky guy.”

Sarah naturally chose that moment to come in. She shook her head in mock disgust and said, “lollygaggers! Less touchy-touchy, more worky-worky!”

Jenny smiled at Sarah’s sardonic expression, which fooled no-one there, and declined to release her hug. “It’ll be pretty confusing if you start going all Martha on us, Sarah, since Marta here is channeling Mary!”

“Don’t be playing scripture games with me, Jenny,” Sarah warned with a gleam in her eye. “I bet Jesus would have felt differently about Mary sitting on her butt and listening to his stories, if he hadn’t been confident that Martha would see to the food!”

“For everything there is a season,” Hope said philosophically.

“Exactly!” Sarah pronounced. “A time for hugging, and a time for, you know, cooking!”

Laughing, they all got back to work, with Sarah joining them since the dining room was now set. Many hands made light work, and companionship and joint activity seemed to keep Jenny’s demons at bay.

By the time the doorbell rang, at about ten of one, the appetizers were all set, the side dishes were either finished or ready to be quickly steamed, and the bread was out of the oven. The turkey was resting on the island, a fine gleaming golden brown specimen that looked and smelled perfect, and Jenny was reducing the drippings to make gravy.

“Hope, can you keep stirring this?” As soon as Hope took the spatula, Jenny wiped her hands on her patterned apron and went to welcome her guests. A mother and daughter, both rail-thin. Jeans and T-shirts that were as clean as they could make them, and deer-in-the-headlights looks in their eyes.

Jenny enveloped the mother in a huge hug. “Hey, Tanya. Thank you so much for coming.” She looked down at the daughter, catching her big eyes and saying, “and thank you too, Opal. Please, come on in, both of you. I want you to meet some of my friends.”

“O . . . Okay,” Tanya said. She looked around the house very quickly, then decided she was better off focusing on Jenny. Jenny had always been so kind. Not like so many people at the soup kitchen, who seemed so very pleased with their own generosity. When Jenny invited her and Opal to Thanksgiving dinner, Tanya knew without a doubt that she really wanted them to come. That it mattered to her. That they mattered to her.

They made their way into the kitchen, which was a stormwind of last-minute hustle and bustle. “Everyone!” Jenny said, “this is my friend Tanya, and this princess is Opal. Tanya, Opal, the lady over there who looks like she’s in charge — because she is — is Sarah, and these are my soul-sisters, Hope and Marta.”

Everyone exchanged hellos – some cheerful, some shy, but all, in a sense, hopeful. Jenny said, “Okay, so apps are all on the table by the window and drinks are on the passthrough. Everyone help yourself; we’re going to be in here for the nibblies, then move to the dining room when everyone’s here and the Turkey’s carved.”

There were nuts and cheeses, cut vegetables and dips, tortilla chips and three different salsas, sparkling water, juices, iced tea and more. It took a few minutes, but very shortly Tanya and Opal were swept into the conversation that had already been swirling.

It didn’t take any great intuition to see that Tanya and Opal were feeling a bit overwhelmed. Marta pulled Opal into a quiet conversation, sitting with her in the big bay window that looked out over the backyard. Meanwhile, Hope and Jenny worked to ease Tanya’s feeling of being out of place. Hope’s good cheer and Jenny’s gentle empathy worked wonders, and Tanya started to open up.

“We’re good, really,” Tanya told them. “Things got bad, with Martine. That’s Opal’s dad.” She looked over at her daughter, saw she was in good hands, and turned back to Hope. “Opal and me, we were in the shelter for a piece and I wasn’t sure we’d make it. But we’re staying with one of my girlfriends now, and I got the job with Amazon. We’ll be okay.”

Sarah, who had buzzed back into the kitchen while Tanya was speaking, nodded sharply. “Tough place to work, but the healthcare’s solid.”

“Yeah,” Tanya agreed. “And Opal . . . well, she needed that, you know? She got . . . well. It was bad there. Had to get an order from the court, keep him away.”

“Oh, honey!” Hope’s round face was full of concern. “That’s so tough, for both of you!”

“Well, my momma warned me, back when. But if I’da listened to her, I wouldn’t have Opal, and I can’t imagine life without her.”

“She’s beautiful,” Jenny said. “And such a sweetheart!”

“And sassy and stubborn, and she gives me gray hairs every day.” Tanya smiled fondly at her daughter and raised her voice. “Don’t you, pumpkin?”

Opal looked over and grinned. “Whatevs, momma!”

The doorbell rang again, and Jenny excused herself. At the door, Pyotr and his teenage sons Dmitri and Ilych looked ill-at-ease. They were cleaned, scrubbed, and dressed in button-down shirts and pants a step up from blue jeans.

Jenny gave them all a warm smile. “Please come in, Pyotr, boys. I’m so glad you could join us for our most American holiday.”

Pyotr took her hand in both of his. “Jennifer. Thank you for your so kind invitation. We do not know this holiday. But we are ready to give thanks. Very ready!”

“Come on back to the kitchen,” she said. “The party’s already started.” She had barely made introductions when the doorbell chimed again. Sarah took charge of getting Pyotr and his boys settled while Jenny got the door.

“Ralph! So good of you to come!”

He was short and bent, bald but for a few tufts of hair that absolutely refused to quit. His cane had a four-point end to increase stability, but he had walked all of his eighty-two years, and didn’t intend to stop now. “Thank you, Miss Jenny,” he said, his voice harsh from years of smoking. He’d quit ten years back when he had the health scare, but some damage was permanent. “Haven’t had a real Thanksgiving since my Betty joined the Lord.”

She was about to usher him in when a car pulled up and a young man hopped out, nervously combing his unruly mop of hair with his right hand. Jenny’s smile got bigger. “You must be Gordon,” she called out. “Come on in, Marta’s been telling us all about you!”

Gordon’s face turned crimson and he smiled in a kind of bashful way as he hustled up the paved walkway. “I hope she’s been saying good things!”

“The very best,” she assured him. “I’m Jenny, and this spry young gentleman is Ralph.”

“Good to meet you, young man,” Ralph wheezed.

Not knowing quite what to do, given Ralph’s firm right-handed grip on his cane, Gordon extended his left hand, somewhat awkwardly. “Good to meet you, sir.”

“Ralph. I’m too old for that ‘sir’ nonsense.” He gave Jenny a mock glare. “And too ornery to be any sort of ‘gentleman,’ thank you very much!”

“Oh, come on in, both of you!” Jenny led them into the kitchen. “Ding, ding, ding, everyone! Our last two guests have arrived. Listen up, ‘cuz this’ll be on the test! This young man is Ralph, and this still younger one is Gordon. Gordon, Ralph, this is Hope, the woman dashing off into the dining room is Sarah, that’s Tanya, and her daughter Opal is in the window with Marta. Then Pyotr with his sons Dmitri and Ilych.”

More hellos. Gordon moved to Marta like iron shavings to an electromagnet while Ralph made his way to where Pyotr was pouring drinks.

“Pyotr, is it? If there’s ginger ale there, that’ll be a blessing.”

Pyotr’s smile was not broad, but it was real. “Yes, I think . . . this is it, yes?” He held a two-liter bottle for Ralph’s inspection and began to pour when the old man indicated his approval.

“Hope, honey, could you grab me the two platters for the turkey?” Jenny asked.

“Oh, that’s right,” Hope chortled. “Pick on the shortest person in the room!”

Jenny laughed. “Sorry, hon, I wasn’t thinking.” She smiled at Dmitri, who was still looking a bit lost. “Dmitri, Hope here isn’t tall enough to get the big platters over the fridge. Could you lend a hand?”

Pretty soon Jenny had what she needed and started carving the turkey while her guests nibbled on apps and got to know each other. Starting with the white meat, she sliced both breasts off the bird entirely and began to cut them in long, thin strips with a knife she’d had sharpened just a week before. The conversation swirled and she dipped in here and there, while keeping to her task.

Gordon had captured Marta’s attention as only a young man can, and Opal had wandered over to talk with Ilych. “I know you,” she said, sounding pleased.

Ilych dipped his head in acknowledgement. He was maybe 15 to Opal’s 13, but he was tall for his age while Opal was petite. “You have lunch at the soup place, yes? I have seen you there, with your mother.”

Pyotr, meanwhile, was telling Tanya and Ralph a bit of his story. “We got out just after the war started, through Tbilisi. I knew it would suck the boys in . . . if it keeps going like it has been, they’d even be looking for the ancients like me, yes? It is not . . . It is not what we want for our boys, my Ilya and me.”

“Your wife?” Ralph tone gave the question a double meaning that Pyotr picked up right away.

“Yes. She is in St. Petersburg with her mother. The old woman is, how do you say? Frail, yes? We think, this may be her last winter. Her last Christmas. Ilya needs to be with her.”

Ralph laid a comforting hand on Pyotr’s arm. “I’m so sorry. That must be brutal on all of you.”

“It is a catastrophe, yes?” He pronounced it carefully. CatasTRO-fa. “For Ukraine, but also for Russia too. Every day, we try to get news from back home. What we hear . . . God! Boys that Dmitri grew up with . . . gone. And everywhere, police. It is like the bad old days, when I was young.”

Greatly daring, Tanya asked, “How’d you manage to get here?”

“It was crazy time,” Pyotr explained. “We were in Tbilisi for a few weeks, then we got to Rome. Weeks there, in a hostel. We took a chance to fly to Mexico City, then we walked. At the border, we applied for asylum here.”

Jenny was far enough along on the carving to break into the different conversations that were going on. “Okay, everyone! Let’s get the side dishes on the table, then everyone refill your glasses. The turkey’ll be ready to go by the time you’re done.”

Sarah, naturally, organized the logistics and Jenny was happy to let her. Then Dmitri and Tanya grabbed the platters with the light and dark meat and brought them out.

Jenny washed her turkey-juiced hands quickly, removed her apron and went to join her guests in the dining room. “Sarah!” she admonished. “You were supposed to sit at the head of the table.”

“You snooze, you lose, Chica,” Sarah responded with a laugh. “Come on, woman! You’re the hostess here!”

Jenny took her seat, feeling self-conscious. She had sat here so many times. So many Thanksgivings. She had led her family in giving heartfelt thanks for the blessings of home, of heath, of family. But they were all gone, now. The thought rose in her mind, bitter and crippling. Who am I, to sit here? “Will you do the honors, at least, Sarah? Lead us in grace?”

Sarah was tempted to reply with one of her trademark smart remarks, but when she saw the pain and doubt in her friend’s eyes she couldn’t bring herself to do it. “Jenny,” she said softly, “you are full of grace, today and every day. You lead us.”

Jenny was taken aback. It wasn’t that surprising that Sarah had declined to lead the prayer. Despite her years as a nun — or more likely, because of them — she was a firm believer in fewer words and more actions. But the gentleness of her response was wholly out of her crusty character.

After a heartbeat or two, Jenny bobbed her head, took a steadying breath, then held out her hands. Ralph took one, and Hope the other. “Sisters and brothers, will you pray with me?” She waited until the circle was complete and everyone was holding hands together.

“It is a hard world for so many. So very many! And all of you have known your share of it, I know. But just for this moment we’ve been given, let us pause to remember the many, many blessings we have been given.” She looked at Tanya, so brave, so determined to make a life for herself and her young daughter. “For work, when it was needed most.” She looked at Pyotr and his boys. “For life, when it was threatened.” Turning her gaze to Ralph on her left, she said, “for health.” She smiled, looking down the table at Gordon and Marta. “For love, unlooked for.” To Sarah she said, “for faith and friendship.” Finally, she looked at her best friend in all the world and said, “And for hope. Always Hope! Thank you for this time together, for the food we share and the many hands that made it. Thank you.”

Before anyone released their hands, Pyotr spoke, and his cheeks were wet with tears. “Let me add my own thanks for you, Jennifer, on behalf of me and my boys. And ask that you all pray with me, today. For peace. Please, friends, pray for peace!”

Everyone joined Pyotr’s prayer, then the food began to go around the table and the somber tone faded. Many were trying new dishes for the first time; turkey itself was a new experience for the Russians and they sampled it carefully. Dmitri was delighted with Hope’s contribution, a traditional Polish dish of cabbage and mushrooms that reminded him of his Grandmother’s cooking. Tanya looked at it like it might be dangerous, but Opal dived in and told her momma not to be silly.

Before long, good food and goodwill broke down any shyness and reservations, and the conversation flowed easily. Even joyously, and why not? There were stories to be shared, with people who — wonder of wonders! — hadn’t already heard them twenty times before.

Everyone at the table understood how hard life could be, but that only heightened their appreciation for the moments when love and life and joy break through. And those, of course, made the very best stories.

Always.

~o~O~o~

“Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord Amen.” Everyone said the words together, with the same practiced cadence.

“Okay, everyone. Dig in,” Mark said from the head of the table. “If we don’t linger too long, we’ll have a bit of time for touch football before the Cowboys kickoff at 4:30.”

Rita shot her brother a quick look, but decided to let it go. He was a good guy, if a bit stubborn and set in his ways. His three boys were well-behaved, mostly – certainly more straight-laced than Mark had been, at their age! Rita didn’t really get their whole family dynamic, but it worked for them, so she wasn’t going to be the one to make waves. Besides, Mark had given her a place to spend Thanksgiving, and that wasn’t nothing.

So instead, she turned to her sister-in-law, sitting at the other end of the small table. “It looks wonderful, Alice. You’ve outdone yourself.”

Alice gave Rita a smile, and couldn’t help the fact that it was a bit tired. Truth to tell, she really hated Thanksgiving. She spent hours getting the house ready and cooking an elaborate meal, and her husband and sons would go through it like a wood chipper processing pine saplings. Twenty minutes and they would almost certainly be out the door. But it was Thanksgiving and she didn’t want to complain. “Thanks, Reet. I saw a new recipe for stuffing that I decided to try this year. Let me know what you think.”

When her plate was filled, Rita tried the stuffing first. “This is really good! What’s in it?” She listened as Alice explained, making comments that were appropriately interested and enthusiastic. But for her, the only stuffing that ever tasted right was her dad’s. It wasn’t really better, but it said “Thanksgiving” in a way that nothing else ever did.

“So, how’s your season going?” she asked MJ, her oldest nephew.

He shook his head in disgust, paused to swallow and said, “gruesome. We’re one and three — and the one was BS.”

“Mark,” his father warned sternly.

“Uh, sorry!” His face turned red. “I mean, the Panthers really should have won. Don’t tell anyone I said so! But the ref’s call was, uh . . . .” he shot a look at his father before adding, “wrong.”

“Don’t be so quick to judge,” the elder Mark chided. “It’s a tough job, and he might have seen things you missed.”

“Uh, Mom?” Bill, the youngest of the three brothers, interrupted the football discussion. “Where’s the cranberry sauce?”

“In the covered dish there, honey,” Alice replied. “Right by your left elbow.”

He looked befuddled. “No, I mean the cranberry sauce. You know, the stuff you slice?”

“I decided to make it fresh this year. Try it and see what you think.”

Bill gave the covered dish a dubious look, then spooned a small amount onto his plate. A very small amount. He was always a picky eater, reluctant to try new things.

Fourteen-year-old Matt had no such inhibitions. He had smothered his whole plate in gravy — turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and peas, all coated. “Gravy’s great, Mom,” he said enthusiastically, before taking an oversized forkful of almost everything on his plate. “Stuffing’s a bit weird, though.”

Before Alice could respond either way, Mark Senior said, “What do you think, Reets? Everyone was talking up the Commanders, but I think my Cowboys are gonna do it this year.”

Rita enjoyed football and was looking forward to the afternoon game, though she’d always made fun of Mark’s fanaticism where Dallas was concerned. “I’m living in DC; I’ll back my home team.”

“The Commanders suuu . . . .” Young Mark corrected himself just in time. “Stink!”

“Maybe,” Bill said, being contrary. “But Dallas always ‘stinks.’”

His father took the bait. “That’s what you know! I remember when —”

“Dinosaurs roamed the earth,” Bill finished with a grin. “Seriously, Dad. Roger Staubach retired decades ago!”

“Even I’m not that old,” Mark senior protested.

The discussion lasted a couple more rounds before the male members of the family were scraping their plates. “Okay, boys, get this all cleared to the kitchen. We’ve got time for our little scrimmage. Matt and I against you two!”

“Tradition!” MJ sang out.

“Tradition!” his brothers responded, on the beat. “Nyah, nah. Tradition!”

The kids cleared the table cheerfully enough, ribbing each other gently as they progressed. Alice watched, amused, a smile playing on her face.

“What’s that for,” Rita asked, looking at her sister-in-law’s expression.

“Just good memories,” Alice said. “They grow so quickly. Remember that time at your parent’s house, when MJ and Sally were horsing around and knocked over the whole gravy boat?”

“Oh, God! Ashley was so mortified! Her perfect little girl, all covered with gravy!”

“You have to admit, Sally was adorable.”

“Oh, sure. I’ll even say she’s still adorable.” Rita chuckled. “But damn, Ashley needs to lighten up.”

“Then, or now?” Alice asked, with a wicked twinkle in her eye.

But Rita sobered up a bit. “I want to say ‘both, of course.’ But Sal’s seventeen now, just like MJ. And, between you me and the wall, with the looks she’s grown into . . . .”

Alice nodded, understanding. “Not the best time for Ash to be lightening up.”

“Wish us luck,” Mark senior called from the door. They could scrimmage in the back yard, but the park at the end of the street was much better, given how far Mark and at least the older two boys could throw these days.

“Luck,” Rita and Alice called out as the door slammed shut.

Alice took a deep drink from her wine glass. “Well, best go face the disaster in the kitchen.”

“Not alone, you won’t!” Rita said sternly.

Alice gave her sister-in-law a fond look. “Thanks. You know, I never had a clue, all those years when your parents were hosting all of us, just how much work all of this is.”

Rita nodded. “Yeah. With Ashley and her four, Sam and his two, Trevor and Carol, and all of us . . . I don’t know how they managed.”

They didn’t, mostly,” Alice said, matter-of-factly.

Dangerous territory, Rita thought. Still, fair’s fair. “I know it was Dad,” she said grudgingly. “Two-thirds of it, anyway.”

Alice looked at Rita thoughtfully. Should she push? At all? Was it her place? “More like ninety percent, Reet. The shopping – Dad. The cooking – Dad. The clean-up – Dad.”

“Mom worked really long hours,” Rita replied, sounding defensive even to herself. “She needed some serious downtime, whenever there was a holiday.”

Alice decided not to point out that Tom had worked as well – had, in fact, built his own business. But it was his company, and he’d always made sure that he and his employees had real time off around the holidays. She got to her feet. “Can you get the tupperware from the garage?”

“Sure.” Rita rose to help. “Of course. On the shelving units?”

“Right.”

The two women spent the next hour working to capture all the leftovers, pack the dishwasher, and clean pots and pans. About half-way through, Rita said, “This is so wrong, Alice. I mean, c’mon! The only women in the household, and we’re busting our butts while the guys play outside?” She was only half-kidding.

Alice shook her head. “I don’t mind all that much. It’s not every night, by any means. Or even most nights. But for Mark and the boys, Thanksgiving’s all about football, and I like to give them that. Besides . . . don’t whisper a word of this, but I’ve never liked football.”

Rita laughed. “You don’t like football, and you married Mark?”

Alice laughed along. “I know, right? He makes good babies, though, you brother. And honestly, he does a good job raising them, too. I just wish . . . .” She stopped herself. No. Don’t do it, Alice!

Rita gave Alice a look as she dried the roasting pan. “You wish what?”

“A million things,” Alice said lightly. “Depending on the day. So, tell me what’s up with your job? Last time we talked, you were seriously thinking about leaving.”

Rita was very tempted to go with the deliberate change of subject. She had a strong sense that she would regret it if she didn’t. But she loved her sister-in-law and knew for a fact that she was the best thing that ever could have happened to her stuffy older brother. So instead she touched her gently and said, “No, really. What do you wish, Alice?”

Alice became very still. Her eyes were turned to the window over the sink, and the view of the half-bare trees swaying in a gentle breeze, but she was seeing other days in her memory. “I wish we were all together, like we used to be.”

“Alice,” Rita said, her voice a mix of sorrow and caution.

Alice looked at her briefly, then looked away again. “You don’t understand. I was a lonely only, not like you guys. And after my Mom died, I had no family. And then I met Mark, and suddenly I had all of you, too. You, and up-tight Ashley, big Sam, clever Trevor . . . spouses, kids, all descending on that big house, and . . . and your Dad there, being so wonderful . . . .”

“Well, it turns out he wasn’t so wonderful,” Rita said, anger finally coming through.

Alice stopped herself, cold. It wasn’t her place. Families are great, until they aren’t. She had only the vaguest memory of her own father, who had walked out when she was very small. She remembered a big voice, and ice cream cones on hot summer days in the heart of Baltimore . . . and lots of arguments that she never understood. She’d cried when her father-in-law had asked her to call him “Dad.”

But whatever she had felt, Mark and his siblings were blood, and she wasn’t. “You’re right, of course,” she said, apologetically. “Forget I said anything . . . and please don’t say anything to Mark! He’s . . . well. I won’t say he’s not rational on the subject. But he’s got very firm views.”

“I won’t say anything, Alice. You know that,” Rita said quietly. “Listen, I . . . I know it’s hard. Losing all that, for you. But you understand, don’t you? I mean, think what a slap in the face it would be to Mom, if we just pretended everything was fine?”

Alice was more than familiar with the arguments; she had heard them all. As far as she could see, her mother-in-law had a good life with her new husband and his family, and had no good reason to begrudge her children a relationship with her former spouse. But the issue was still explosive after five long and silent years, and Alice wasn’t going to get in the line of fire. She simply said, “Of course I do, Rita. Don’t mind me.”

Before Rita could continue the conversation, Alice said, “We’re all set here. Why don’t you catch the pre-game show until the guys get back. If you don’t mind, I’m going to steal a minute to lie down – this took a lot of work!”

Rita felt like she had failed her sister-in-law, but this time she decided not to press. I knew I would regret it if I asked her, she thought. Instead, she said, “Of course! By all means, take a break! I’ll send Mark up when they get back, okay?”

“Don’t bother; I’ll just set an alarm on my phone. I’ll be down in forty-five minutes or so.” Alice threw Rita a smile and went upstairs to her bedroom.

Rita took her glass of Chardonnay into the family room, dominated by a truly enormous big-screen TV. But she couldn’t bring herself to power it up. Much as she enjoyed football, she couldn’t get into the mood. Her conversation with Alice kept going through her head in a loop.

Her mother had been right to leave. Of that, Rita had no doubt. And she had a right to have her kid’s unwavering support. They had all been incredulous when she had announced the divorce, but when she had explained the reason they had all backed her to the hilt. Seriously? After thirty-four years of marriage and five kids, Dad decided he was a woman? Of course Mom left!

They always planned to get together for Thanksgiving anyway, but somehow it had never happened. Mom had kind of folded into a new family. Ashley was living in Phoenix, Sam was in Seattle doing the tech thing, and Trevor was down in North Carolina. Making Thanksgiving happen for everyone was a lot of work. Maybe there were just too many memories to fight.

So they all did their own thing, now. She had joined Mark this year, but the rest of her siblings were making their own, separate traditions. Of course, Dad had invited them all, every year. Just like every few months, he sent each of them letters. They were funny, clever. Sweet, even. Same old Dad. But she’d never answered any of them. Mark, she knew, always made a point of sending his back unopened. For all she knew, Ashley, Sam and Trevor all did the same.

She sat alone with her memories as the minutes ticked on, struggling with her thoughts. She set her wine glass down, surprised to find it empty . . . again. Finally, she said, “Damn you! Damn you! Why can’t I get through one damned holiday without thinking of you!”

But her eyes inexplicably filled with tears, as memories of her father overwhelmed her. He had been the kindest, most understanding person she had ever known. She had loved him with all her heart, and he’d broken it. Shattered it into a million pieces. And even then, even after all that, it hurt to imagine him – she would not think of her dad as a “her!” – sitting in that big house, all alone on Thanksgiving.

Fuck!” She got up and stormed into the kitchen. “Alright, God damn it. Fine. I’ll make sure you have some turkey and stuffing on frickin’ Thanksgiving!” She pulled together some of the tupperware containers, put them into a shopping bag, and grabbed her coat. Three minutes later, she was driving past the park, seeing her brother and nephews deep in their holiday competition, looking happy. They didn’t look up.

It wasn’t far away. Eight miles, maybe. Across a couple municipal lines, but everything kind of blurred together in suburban Maryland. She drove carefully, aware that she might have had enough wine to spike on a breathalizer. Not that she felt buzzed. Mostly, she just felt pissed off.

It had been years since she had made the drive, but it was still a setting on her personal autopilot. The right turn onto the pike, the left by the gas station. The streets that became more narrow as the houses grew larger.

And there it was, looking exactly the same as it had the last time she had been here. Whitewashed brick on the first floor, creamy clapboard on the second, double-hung windows with forest green shutters. The winding walkway to the front door . . . The walkway she had last run down in shocked and bitter tears. How COULD you! How COULD you? Her voice echoed in her memory, bewildered. Distraught. Shattered.

She parked her car and sat for a moment, undecided. Finally, she repeated, “Fuck it,” and grabbed her bag of left-overs. She stood a little unsteadily, then shut the car door with a firm “thud.”

The walkway had been cleared of the leaves and the lawn looked well-cared for. A turkey banner hung in its usual holiday place to the left of the door, causing an involuntary lump in her throat.

Halfway up the walkway she stopped, startled by the sound of laughter coming from inside. Not just a laugh, either – a lot of laughter. Dad is having a party?

She paused for a moment, indecisive, then turned back towards her car. I’m an idiot. Why did I think Dad of all people would be spending Thanksgiving alone, just because . . .

Just because WE wouldn’t come?

She got to the end of the walkway and stopped again, her curiosity growing. Who was here? Who did he invite?

She turned back. Should I go? Should I just wish him a happy Thanksgiving? FUCK!!!

~o~O~o~

Sarah was coming back down from the upstairs restroom (the downstairs one being otherwise occupied) when she spied the woman standing undecided at the end of the walkway through the transom above the front door. One glance was all she needed. It looked like she was about to leave, so there was no time to go back to the dining room to get Jenny.

Slipping out the door, Sarah locked eyes with the younger woman and walked towards her purposefully.

Rita had a moment of panic. “I . . . I’m sorry. I’m lost,” she stammered.

“Well, congratulations,” Sarah replied. “‘Cuz now you’re found. Lucky you. Rita, isn’t it?”

Rita recoiled. “How . . . I mean . . . .”

“Because Jenny’s my friend, and she’s got pictures of you five all over that house.”

At the use of her dad’s feminine name, Rita flinched. “I’m sorry . . . I thought . . . I didn’t want . . .”

Sarah looked up at her; Rita had her dad’s height. “You didn’t want your dad to do without Thanksgiving dinner, so you brought her a doggy bag?”

Sarah’s tone was no more diplomatic than usual, and Rita felt her hackles rise. “Now just a minute! Who the hell do you think you are?”

“I told you. I’m her friend. Someone who helped to put her back together after you and your siblings wouldn’t even answer a letter. Or an email. Or even a text!”

“You don’t have any idea —”

Bullshit I don’t! I was here. You weren’t. And as for being clueless, let me tell you something. I’ve seen people like your dad – fucking dozens of them! – take their own lives, because the people they loved reject them like you did. I’ve been to every funeral. Shoveled dirt on every grave. Looked at the faces of the people who killed them – people just like you – and kept it all inside. Do YOU have any idea – any at all – what that does to me?”

Rita took an involuntary step back, completely bowled over by Sarah’s sudden and incandescent fury. “Look,” she said, bewildered that she was even having this conversation with a complete stranger, “you don’t know what he did to my Mom.”

Sarah cut her off again. “Yes, I do, and that’s between them. We’re not talking about your Mom here, Rita. We’re talking about you. Have you hurt your dad enough, or are you still looking to get in a few more licks?”

Rita was at sea, completely unprepared for what felt like a full frontal attack. She blurted out, “What do you want from me, anyway?”

Sarah grinned unpleasantly. “It’s pick your parable day, girl. What’s your preference? Do you want to be the prodigal daughter? Or one of the invited guests at the Great Banquet?”

“What?”

Sarah stepped closer, glaring up at the taller woman. “You were invited. You. Your sisters and brothers, their spouses and kids. Year after year. Didn’t even bother to respond. Well, Jenny invited others in. People who were a lot less fortunate than all of you. People who appreciate friendship, love, warmth and hospitality. So door number one? You get in your car and go home, and at least let your dad be with people who appreciate her.”

Seeing her conduct through Sarah’s eyes was uncomfortable in the extreme, and Rita wanted to lash out. But it echoed enough of her own thoughts that she found herself starting to tear up instead. “What’s door number two?”

“You fucking stop hurting her! Accept who she is. Who she’s always been. You go in there, and tell her that you still love her. Is that so hard?”

Yes!” Rita shouted. “Fuck yes, it’s hard! You don’t . . . you can’t . . . .”

The front door opened slowly. Rita turned her attention from Sarah and saw a tall woman standing in the doorframe, caught in the slanting rays of the late afternoon sun. Shoulder-length hair, all silver now, while in her memory it was all black. Tailored pants, sensible shoes, a flowing top with three-quarter length sleeves. The woman’s face was filled with indescribable longing tempered by guilt, shame and fear.

Sarah didn’t need to turn around. She knew what Rita was seeing. Her voice low and fierce, she said, “Well, she’s seen you. Hurt her now, and you’ll break her. I’ll try to pick up the pieces. We all will. But if we fail – and we might! – don’t fucking come to the funeral. I’ll kill you myself!”

Rita might as well not have heard her. She stood frozen in place. Unable to move. Unable to speak.

Jenny’s heart broke as she looked at her daughter, seeing the passage of the years on her face. The conflict in her eyes, the tears on her cheeks. She wanted to run to her, but couldn’t. I have no right. I did this to her. Me.

Sarah took a last look at Rita, sighed, and turned to face her friend. It’s killing her. Just killing her. And we’d almost gotten her through the hardest day. She made her way up the walkway slowly. When she reached Jenny, she murmured, “Go on. Whatever happens, I’m here for you. We’re all here for you. Okay?”

Jenny swallowed, and took the three steps down to the walkway. She hesitated again, then set her shoulders and walked forward, every step a torture. Her daughter’s eyes never left her face, but her expression was impossible to read.

She stopped when she was maybe six feet away, unable to bring herself any closer. Much as she wanted to reach out, to reassure her child, she couldn’t impose that intimacy on her. She took a breath and found it ragged. “Reets . . . Rita. You know you’re always welcome here.”

Rita bit her lip. “What . . . what am I supposed to call you?”

“Jesus, I don’t care! I always liked ‘Dad,’ but I can see where that might make you uncomfortable.”

Rita shook her head. “No . . . I mean, yeah. Of course it does. But . . . I can’t imagine calling you anything else.”

They stood immobile, staring at each other. Wondering whether there was any way to span the chasm that seemed to separate them.

Jenny spoke first. “I am so sorry. For this. For everything.”

“Did you have to do it?”

“I ask myself that question at least a dozen times a day, every day. I thought it was the right thing to do, getting it in the open.”

“Couldn’t you just . . . .” Rita stopped, trying to find a good way to end the sentence.

“Keep lying?” Jenny shrugged. “Maybe. Probably. I’d managed it for a long time. It was starting to take a lot more booze to dull the pain.” She could tell that Rita had been drinking . . . and not just today. Fun lot of presents I’ve given my children, she thought sadly.

“Was it a lie?” Rita’s question was colored in pain, not anger. She wasn’t accusing; she was trying— desperately trying — to understand.

“Was what a lie? I loved you — all of you. I still do. That wasn’t a lie. The person you knew, that helped raise you — that wasn’t a lie. I just let all of you think I was as male inside as I was outside. That? Yeah, baby girl. That was a lie.”

“Mom . . . .”

“Did what she felt she had to do,” Jenny said firmly. “None of this — none of it — is her fault.”

Rita barked a laugh that had no humor in it. “Yeah, that’s what she said, too, believe me.”

“She was right, Rita. She is right.”

“God, you haven’t changed a bit!” Rita shook her head, bemused.

Jenny raised a delicate eyebrow. “Uh huh,” she said dryly.

That caused Rita to let out a full guffaw. “Okay, yeah. You got me. You’ve definitely ‘changed.’ Just . . . maybe . . . not where it counts?”

“I love you, Rita,” Jenny replied softly. “That’s what counts. And it’ll never change.”

Rita looked at this strange and feminine woman who was, somehow, still the father she had known and loved. Trying to reconcile the two in her mind. Why is this so hard?

Jenny could see the conflict if her daughter’s eyes, and ached at the pain she had caused. Was causing. She raised both her hands, palms upward. Praying that a simple, familiar and human gesture could accomplish what her words could not.

Recognizing the offer in the gesture, Rita knew she couldn’t refuse it. Dropping her bag of leftovers, she took a tremulous step forward and covered her father’s hands with her own. So soft, now! “I do love you . . . Dad. I couldn’t bear to think of you all alone here for another Thanksgiving.” She shook her head. “I should have known better!”

“I’m so glad you didn’t, though,” Jenny said, smiling. “And now that you mention it . . . Will you come in and meet my friends? Dinner’s done, but we haven’t got to dessert yet.”

“I couldn’t . . . I don’t want to intrude.”

Jenny was having trouble keeping her hands from quivering, so overwhelmed was she just to be holding her daughter’s hands. “Don’t mind Sarah,” she said reassuringly. “Even she won’t eat you. Honest.”

Rita laughed nervously. “I’m not so sure about that. Quite the protector you have there!”

“She is,” Jenny agreed. “But they’re all good people, and they would welcome you. For your own sake, but also because . . . Well.” She choked up a bit as she added, “They’ll know how happy you’ve made me.”

“Oh, Dad!” Rita couldn’t help herself any longer. She dove in and wrapped her arms around her father, lowering her head to rest on Jenny’s shoulder. “I’ve missed you so much!”

“I know, honey. I know,” Jenny murmured, tears running down her cheeks.

Just at that moment, Rita’s phone went off. Suddenly recalling that she had left her brother’s house without letting anyone know what she was up to, she said, “Shit! That’ll be Mark!”

Jenny released her and watched as Rita grabbed the phone from her back pocket. She could see that the call was indeed coming from her eldest son. “Reet — just call him back in a minute, okay?”

Rita gave her a look, then let the call roll over into voicemail.

“You had Thanksgiving with Mark?” Jenny asked gently.

“Yeah . . . And, I kind of left for a bit without telling them where I was going, and, uh . . . .”

“And you were supposed to be staying for the Cowboys’ game, right?” Naturally, Jenny knew how Mark would spend the back half of any Thanksgiving, especially one where Dallas was playing.

Rita suddenly felt like she was fourteen. “Umm. Right.”

Jenny sighed. “Sweetie, you need to go back. The last thing I want to do is cause any friction between you and your siblings.”

“You want me to pretend this didn’t happen? That I didn’t see you?”

Jenny shrugged uncomfortably. “I’ve hurt you all too much already. At least you’ve had each other.”

Rita gave Jenny a long, long look, then slowly shook her head. “No, Dad.” When Jenny opened her mouth to argue, Rita talked over her. “Not this time. Look. We’re not children anymore. You raised us to make our own decisions and take responsibility for them. I’m not saying this won’t cause friction — it will — but we’ll get through it.”

“Rita . . . please listen to me! I know this has been hard on you. Really hard. But trust me, it’s been even harder on Mark. An eldest son, a father of boys . . . please, honey! I can’t bear to hurt him again!”

“I’m not going to let you do this,” Rita said. “I won’t. Mark and his family will have to make their own choice, and I promise I’ll respect it, just like I know you will. But they will have to respect my choice, too.”

“But,”

“No.”

“Reet,”

“No. Just, no, okay?”

Jenny closed her burning eyes, torn between joy that her daughter was with her, pride in the strong person she had become, and worry for her other children. She hadn’t raised any shrinking violets. Maybe she needed to trust them.

“Okay. But you still need to go back tonight. You said you’d be there.”

Rita smiled and slipped her arm around her father’s trim waist, turning her back toward the house. “Same old Dad. I will. Promise. But not until I’ve met your friends.”

Arm in arm, they walked back to the big house where they had made so many memories. Rita texted her brother, telling him she’d be back by half-time. They stepped inside and went back to the living room, where everyone had decamped to digest a bit. All talking stopped as they came into the room and Jenny said, “friends, we have one more guest after all. This is Rita Fisher . . . my daughter.”

They had known who the stranger was; Sarah had told them when she came in. But none of them had known how it would go, and like Jenny herself, they had been balanced between hope and fear. But the look of pure joy on Jenny’s face told her friends, old and new, everything they’d needed to know. There were tears, and laughter, and three kinds of pie and coffee for those who wanted it.

Half an hour later, Rita made her goodbyes and got back in her car. On the drive back to her brother’s house, she thought about the extraordinary people she had just met. Opal, whose father had been so abusive that Tanya had to get a court order to keep him away. Dmitry and Ilych, separated from their mother by a senseless and brutal war. Hope and Ralph, forever mourning partners they had lost to COVID and cancer. Marta, a young transwoman transformed by Gordon’s love, but rejected and cast off by her entire family.

And I lost my Dad, for five years, she thought. Not because of a war, or because he died or rejected me. But because I closed my heart like a fist. Because I insisted that, however much I grew, however much I changed, Dad was required to fit the image I formed when I was a child.

She knew she would have to have some hard conversations with her siblings. Maybe, even, with her mother. But she vowed that whatever they might choose to do, she would not live her own life that way.

Never again.

~o~O~o~

One after the other, Jenny’s guests departed, with most carrying leftovers. Ralph, Pyotr and his boys, Tanya and Opal, the little girl drooping from a day of excitement and more food than she’d seen in a very long time. Gordon and Marta, lost in their new-found love. Hope and Sarah were the last to go.

“Quite the day you’ve had, Jen,” Hope said. “You going to be okay?”

“Yeah. It won’t be easy sledding, with Rita. But it’s a start. After five years! A start!”

“Probably wasn’t any picnic for the Prodigal Son and his family, either, the morning after their big party,” Sarah added in sardonic agreement.

Jenny gave her a smile. “Jesus kind of left that part out. But . . . Sarah, whether my other kids ever come back or not, I don’t want Thanksgiving to be just about my own family any more. Today — today was amazing.”

“Good!” Sarah said firmly. “Good! If we all give thanks together, maybe we’ll all have something to give thanks for!”

They made their goodbyes, with Sarah as usual grumping about giving hugs. But she hadn’t driven more than a few blocks before she pulled over and lowered her head, and her hands clutched the steering wheel in delayed reaction. With no one there to see, she broke down, her tears flowing hot, her body wracked with sobs. “Oh, sweet Jesus! Thank you! Thank you! God, I can’t bear another funeral. I just can’t!”

The end

>

~o~O~o~

Author’s note: I would like to thank my soul sister, Dee Sylvan, for giving me both the inspiration for this story and extremely helpful feedback on it. Love ya, Sis!

For information about my other stories, please check out my author's page.

up
80 users have voted.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos! Click the "Thumbs Up!" button above to leave a Kudos

Comments

Thankfully conflicted

Andrea Lena's picture

or conflictedly thankful for what I have as opposed to what I have not. I'm in better shape than most. And i have three people in my life who understand, Four when I count Mrs.D, I will neve know the rejection jenny has endured. I could never be that brave.

But part of me looks back at what I set aside and wonders, perhaps guiltily, how living as 'drea would have blessed me The guilt from still wanting what I can never have while feeling a betrayal to what and who gave my life purpose. I cried very had at this story. But I would not have missed this gem for the world! Happy Thanksgiving, gentle lady!

  

To be alive is to be vulnerable. Madeleine L'Engle
Love, Andrea Lena

Conflicted

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Know what you mean, ‘Drea! But still . . . transwomen have tough choices. At some point you need to move your chips and spin the wheel, knowing that you will wonder “what if?” pretty much regardless of the choice you take.

Thank you, Andrea. Is it a coincidence that “Drea” and “dear” are anagrams? I don’t think so!

Hugs,

Emma

A very emotionally charged story.

Sunflowerchan's picture

I normally shy away from reading stories about the holidays. The holiday season is a very touchy season for most and for many of us it a season of intense sadness and lonelyness. But this story brought a smile to my face, the characters seemed so lifelike, you have the brillent gift in making characters leap off the pages and making them seem so lifelike. You can convay from the cold written word, a feelings of warmth, love, tenderness, kinship, joyfulness so many more.

Your story is a beauitful example of all transforming love, of a group of people overcoming the hardships of life, of finding enough time to put all the differences aside, and to come together to enjoy a common meal. Thank you, dear Emma, for bringing a little comfort to me this evening, your wonderful story is just what needed as I look down the barrel of a long, long run toward the finish. I hope you have a blessed holiday, one that is filled with warmth and merryment. And lastly, thank you for all you do, you are truely a treasure.

Good to “see” a smile!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

So happy that this story brought you a smile, especially as you are one of the many trans folks for whom holidays bring little joy. Thank you for your lovely comment!

Emma

I can’t bear another funeral.

this story, was just so good. thank you so much for sharing it with us.

DogSig.png

Sarah

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Sarah is crusty as all get-out, here and in Aria. But how could she be anything else, after seeing what she sees, day after day?

Thank you, Dot, for your always supportive comments!

Emma

As usual, you have me crying……..

D. Eden's picture

This has been a rough week for me, today being the worst day in a long time. I was actually wondering earlier today just what I had to be thankful for this year, and I will admit that I was having trouble thinking of anything. I haven’t been this depressed in a very long time, to the point that I have had thoughts of my own mortality and just what I have worth living for.

This story, and the words you wrote - the thoughts and emotions you expressed through your characters……

I am ashamed at my thoughts. How can someone who has been so lucky, so blessed as I have been, even consider that I have a reason to complain or be depressed. Thank you for reminding me of that fact. Thank you for reminding me that there are literally millions of people who would consider my life to be golden; people who have to worry about where their next meal will come from, or where they will sleep tonight. Those in physical or emotional distress. How dare I compare my trivial problems to theirs?

And thank you for Jenny’s prayer. Just thinking about what she said makes me feel like crying.

But mostly, thank you for making me want to be a better person.

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

Words fail me.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Thank you, Dallas. You’ve got me teary too! Let me just say that you are on my “reasons to be thankful” list. I hope that your year ends far better than it has gone so far.

Hugs,

Emma

Thankfullness

Erisian's picture

A beautiful story, Emma. Told straight from the heart, and reflecting true the difficult emotions surrounding such scenarios and all their required and painful decisions. A wonderful reminder of what we should be thankful for this week...and every week.

What I also want to comment on is the writing itself. Writing scenes with so many participants is a tremendous challenge: working in descriptions of each, keeping it perfectly pictured as to who is doing what and where, and most of all providing each character a unique voice so that they don't blend into confusion for the reader. Your gifts as a writer were well on display in this piece, as in such a short time you introduced an entire choir of characters between the two settings - with it working, and indeed working well. Kudos well-earned and then some.

<3

Thank you, Erisian!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Massive, Multi-player Scenes are among the arsenal of things I never thought about before I tried writing fiction. They take place in so many stories, and I had no idea how tricky they are to write!

Thank you for your kind words, Seraph. I don’t know whether my muse will push me to do a Christmas-themed story this year, but I am eagerly looking forward to yours!

Emma

Where to start?

As someone who has a large, brawling, opinionated family, Thanksgiving has mostly been a joy to celebrate. Your story was a powerful reminder that so many people are not as blessed. It is also a reminder that people can change, and change for the better. With a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, I have to thank YOU for keeping that flame alight in my life.

Change

Emma Anne Tate's picture

What’s that classic saying? “Change is inevitable; growth is optional.”

Keep the flame burning, Ricky. And have a wonderful, brawling, joyous Thanksgiving!

Emma

Great writing you are able to

Great writing you are able to convey a feeling along with the story, felt like I was there.

While you’re there . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

. . . could you pass some of the cranberry sauce? ;-)

Thank you, Guest Reader. I have a tendency to dive into dialogue; I’m glad I was able to give you a better sense of the sights, sounds and smells!

Emma

Canned Sauce

Erisian's picture

Speaking of cranberry sauce from a can, growing up this is what we had at Thanksgiving and now my family pokes fun at me each year for my insistence that it's the only type that shall cross my plate. They can have whatever they want, but anything else just isn't right for me, no matter how 'freshly made' it is. That gelled cylinder of sweetened purple goodness is the flavor I remember and desire, and it's my unbroken tradition.

One can of it is therefore put out just for me, and with the leftovers it's always consumed in full.

My oldest daughter is in your camp

Patricia Marie Allen's picture

Jellied cranberry sauce is all she wants. I grew up with it and never really got what people saw in it. So, while I don't make it from scratch, I do get the whole berry sauce for the rest of the family and one can of jellied for the oldest.

Hugs
Patricia

Happiness is being all dressed up and HAVING some place to go.
Semper in femineo gerunt

Ocean Spray

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Yep, OS Cranberry Sauce in a can was what I grew up with. But my lovely bride weened me off of it years ago. :)

Emma

A Reminder

joannebarbarella's picture

Why I will never be able to compete with you as a writer. This story was fantastic in its presentation of the two scenarios of a Thanksgiving dinner. It's not a tradition in my country and not something we celebrate, but I can understand how and why it is important to the people of the USA.

It's the descriptiveness that you bring to it that I could never emulate. You brought me to tears, not once but twice, with the parties from opposite sides of the celebrations, the one with its inclusiveness and respect for those who really needed the Thanksgiving dinner and the other, which was that traditional all-American way of doing it, until Rita broke the mould.

Thank you Emma Anne Tate from the bottom of my heart.

Joanna, dearest . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

You are being very silly, you know, since your stories are often very visual! But thank you for your kind words; you are incredibly sweet. I wondered whether my non-American friends would have difficulty connecting with the story; it’s difficult to convey what this peculiar holiday means to Americans of all stripes. People want to be home for Thanksgiving, with family. And home doesn’t necessarily mean “the place where they currently live,” but, rather, the place that they associate with the idea of home. Consequently, there is probably no harder day on the calendar for an American who has been rejected by family and is not welcome at the place that is “home” to them.

Thank you for your amazing support and your kind words, Joanne. Hugs,

Emma

Two quick thoughts……

D. Eden's picture

First, not all of us consider the Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Jenny’s son to be “the traditional all-American way of doing it.” True, to many that may be the norm - but my spouse and I built different traditions. We made a great effort to teach our children the real meaning behind the holiday.

When our sons were young, we would take them the evening before Thanksgiving to the site of a Thanksgiving dinner being given for those less fortunate than us. My spouse and I would trade off helping to prepare food for the next day’s meal with spending time with our young sons as they helped to make decorations for the tables and the hall in which the meal was being held - one helping cook, while the other worked with our sons, trading off midway through the evening.

As our sons got older, they would start helping out setting up the tables and chairs in the hall, or helping out in the kitchen. On Thanksgiving morning, rather than sitting and watching the Macy’s parade, we would go back to the hall and pick up meals to be delivered to those who could not get out to join the meal at the hall. My spouse would take one car and my oldest son, while I would take another car and the two younger boys.

We would be done by around 11:00AM, and then we would join family to help finish preparing our Thanksgiving meal - and then sharing the meal with family and friends. We would always try to invite someone who did not have family to share the day with.

So you see, to some of us it isn’t all about making pigs of ourselves gorging on too much food, and watching football.

Thanksgiving weekend also has always been the traditional time we started putting up our Christmas decorations as well - although this year we are doing that a week early as next weekend my oldest son is getting married, so we will not have time to decorate.

Second, one of the sad facts in this country is that suicide rates are the highest during the holiday season - of which Thanksgiving is the traditional start. This story illustrates vividly one of the major reasons for the spike in suicides. Just how many of our friends and neighbors are suffering from depression right now, thinking of how they will not be spending the holiday with their families and loved ones, we may never know.

To those who may read this……. PLEASE REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

There is always someone who cares about you - you just have to reach out.

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

Another jewel in your crown

Emma Anne. You had me wrapped up in the first part. I didn't know where you were going. The second holiday table was just as familiar to me as the first. And then you pulled them together.

I see so many good things coming from your writer's gift. Thank you so much.

Ron

Who is my neighbor?

Emma Anne Tate's picture

As I said in response to Joanne, Thanksgiving tends to be very family-oriented. But perhaps it would be a better holiday if we were less insular about it. If we associated the holiday with the idea of making the table bigger.

Thank you for your lovely comment, Ron. Happy Thanksgiving!

Emma

Sounds like

a Funeral is not so likely now.

Exactly

Emma Anne Tate's picture

In the teaser, I called this a “story of Thanksgivings.” The first two were obvious, but Sarah’s moment in her car was the third, as she gives heartfelt thanks that Jenny got through the crisis.

Emma

I Lived In Hong Kong

joannebarbarella's picture

For many years. My best friend there was an American from Akron, Ohio. He was married to a Hong Kong Chinese girl and one of the things he did was to get her family to celebrate Thanksgiving. His wife was from a typical local family, Mum, Dad and five kids, working class, not rich. Denni decided, soon after getting married, that he would show them a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey is not a usual dish in HK (or elsewhere in China) but Denni assembled the whole shebang, bird, yams, peas and carrots and, of course, cranberry sauce and giblet gravy. He did all the cooking himself and the carving and serving. The family loved it and it became a tradition for the "gwailo" (originally a Chinese insult to Europeans, but adopted by us and turned on its head) to do their Thanksgiving dinner, which eventually included the offspring of his wife's brothers as well, so about a dozen local Chinese and one European would sit down to a very American holiday feast.

My only contribution was to buy him an electric carving knife while on one of my trips to Australia. You couldn't find one in HK, so I purchased the knife and duly presented it to him. It was sold under the Sunbeam label in Oz and naturally was made in China!

My own Thanksgiving dinners while in HK took place in a bar/restaurant with an American theme (there's a chain of them with branches in HK, Singapore and Taiwan) called Dan Ryan's. Dan's did specials for American holidays and had a turkey dinner on the day. The place was always packed with both locals and expatriates. It really was an international occasion and taught me about that holiday. I used to ask them to keep enough of the bird for me so I could have a turkey sandwich the next day. They tried, but often ran out . Prior to living in HK I had barely heard of Thanksgiving.

Sadly, we buried Denni last January. He was the same age as me and died from a brain stroke. He was one of the nicest people I have ever known.

Such a wonderful story.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I am so sorry for the loss of your friend, Joanne. He sounds like a truly lovely soul.

Emma

Turkeys are native to North America……

D. Eden's picture

Domestic turkeys were bred from Wild Turkeys (the bird, not the bourbon, lol) which are native to North America and not found anywhere else. Spanish explorers did in fact bring some domestic birds back to Europe in the 1600’s, thus introducing Europeans to the taste of turkey, but for the most part only Canadians and Americans eat turkey on a regular basis.

Your tale of introducing Thanksgiving to his Chinese family is wonderful, and to me it is more the traditional meaning of giving thanks with family and friends.

Thanksgiving is not just a holiday in the USA, but Canada also has a Thanksgiving holiday - although it is not the same day. The Canadian Thanksgiving is in October - the day which we traditionally have known as Columbus Day in the USA, although now it is being referred to as Native American Day, which is more PC. In the USA, we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November - so the date changes from year to year, but it is always on Thursday. This led to the whole Black Friday deal as well, as it has been seen as the kickoff to the holiday season for decades and most retailers traditionally had huge sales on that day. Black Friday comes from the fact that many retailers operate in the red much of the year, and Black Friday was the day that many of them finally broke into the black on their balance books due to the increased sales.

Of course, Covid changed a lot of that tradition - perhaps to the better as we no longer see people lining up outside stores at midnight (or earlier) anticipating the opening of the Black Friday sales, but instead we now have retailers pushing their Christmas sales into October! I for one cannot stand seeing Christmas merchandise on a shelf next to Halloween costumes. We have so over-commercialized the holiday that it is disgusting.

Your friends celebration of Thanksgiving helps to remind us, as does Emma Anne’s story, or the true meaning of the day.

D. Eden

Dum Vivimus, Vivamus

Over-commercialized holidays

You hit the nail on the head with your over-commercialized holiday observation. During my childhood (1970s and 1980s) growing up in the wilderness of South America there was a certain sense of anticipation. The local stores had no Christmas items before December 1, or maybe the last Monday of November if the first Sunday of Advent fell on the last Sunday of November.
By 1990 all the stores would start blasting Christmas Carols around the end of October. So by the time December rolled around I was sick and tired of that whole “Christmas spirit” thing. And by the turn of the millenium I actively hated the festivity.

For the last 15 years I have not participated in any of the festivities and traditions surrounding Christmas, because I feel just to nauseated by them all. In my humble opinion the “celebration” has reverted to its original pagan tradition of excess [alcohol] consumption, and totally ignoring the essence of the supposed feast of love, redemption and tolerance.

Had me in tears most of the way

Patricia Marie Allen's picture

How can a story be both heart wrenching and heart warming? This one made it on many levels. I'm a sucker for touching moments and tears flow easily for that. I was touched and and saddened. Tears flowed for the sadness of separation and again for the reuniting of at least one of the flock.

Again, your talent shines though it all.

Hugs
Patricia

Happiness is being all dressed up and HAVING some place to go.
Semper in femineo gerunt

Life, isn’t it?

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Heartwarming and heartwrenching, and everything in between, often all at once.

Thank you, Patricia. I’m so glad you felt touched by this one.

Emma

"Get busy living,

Dee Sylvan's picture

Or get busy dying", perhaps my favorite Shawshank quote is appropriate here.

Emma, you've taken an idea and turned it into a wonderfully uplifting story. I cried even harder the second time reading because I knew the heartbreak that was coming. This really is a fascinating story, especially the way you have woven so many compelling characters and backstories together in a relatively short story.

I've always enjoyed this very American holiday. Getting together with family to give thanks and eat good food. But like Jenny, my family has chosen to separate themselves, with the exception of my middle son, who is very supportive of his crazy dad. And also like Jenny, my children are old enough to make their own decisions, so I'll make mine and move on. 'Get busy living'.

So I'm starting my own tradition and will be cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal. If any of my trans friends happen to be in SE Michigan, you're welcome to come.

Thank you again for this treasure, Emma. Love ya Sis! :DD

DeeDee

I hope . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Dee. But even more, I hope that someday soon, all of your kids find the grace to accept you as you are.

If I could join you on Thursday, I would come early to help you prep, enjoy every dish, have seconds, and stay until the last dish was clean and wine glass sparkled.

Hugs, Sis!

Emma

Making room for the less fortunate

I would like to highlight a different aspect of holiday celebration:

Inviting the less fortunate, the lonely and those without family.

Growing up in a religious community in the wilderness of central South America in the 1970s and early 1980s, the three main Christian feasts (Easter, Pentecost and Christmas) always involved huge family reunions or gatherings. And the logistics of coordinating the gatherings from all the different sides of the families could be daunting. Each of those feasts would be observed for two days: for Easter and Pentecost both Sunday and Monday were observed as “legal” holidays, and for Christmas is was December 25 AND 26.

When the average family had six children that got married to spouses that on average also had five siblings, and you are expected to show up not only to your own family's reunion but also to your in-law family's reunion. So you can see that the logistics could become overwhelming rather fast. With large families that all stayed in the same general area these gatherings could easily have from 60 to over 100 attendees. While smaller families or where there was a lot of emigration you either had a gathering of less than 20 people or you had nowhere to go, since everybody else was at one gathering or the other.

Growing up, my family usually had to attend three family gatherings at each of those holidays: my paternal grandparents, one of my maternal great-grandparents, and the descendants of my other maternal great-grandparents (only three or four families left in the area).
By the mid 1980s my parents decided to forego the big family gatherings, and started to invite people who moved in or who had no family or relatives left. Those gatherings turned out to be much more satisfying to me.

Focusing on those less fortunate and on the lonely ones gives a lot more satisfaction to ALL participants!
This is evidenced so poignantly by Sarah's breakdown in the last paragraph of the story.

Fascinating!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I’m seriously introverted; I think I would have been massively traumatized if I had to deal with a hundred relatives three times each year from late December to April or May. Yikes! But to your real point — one of the under appreciated joys of hosting strangers is that you can share stories with people who often turn out to be fascinating.

Thank you for sharing your own story!

Emma

Being thankful

Dee Sylvan's picture

Thank you for sharing Jessica. In the short time we had together, I was amazed at the life you have experienced, especially in SA.

It has taken this setback with my family to finally get my priorities straight. We in the trans community have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to contribute to our society. I just found out that trans people are 6x more likely to have some autistic characteristics. I think like many others here, I was always a bit of a nerd, and even though I've always had a very empathetic nature, often times the emotions were not evident. Since I've been on HRT, I sometimes wear my emotions on my sleeve, and that's been wonderful to me.

I am looking forward to my new journey as a trans woman. As they say, "Better late than never!" :DD

DeeDee