Looking today at the North Auburn home in which I grew up fills me with wonder.
As in, I wonder how in the heck we all fit in there? Two parents, four boys, two girls.
C’mon. Was it really that small?
Well, yes, yes it was. We only see such things from a distance, as when we’re older. But that home never felt cramped. Because home was big in all the ways that counted. That home held a lot of laughter, that home was a brood hen over happy memories.
Like many other people, I don’t trust the backward glance that mists everything in a golden glow. I’m not big for the overly sentimental. But about Thanksgiving. I reserve the right to be downright sickening.
Because, to my younger self, that house, small as it was, seemed to gigantify to meet the occasion. And in so doing, it defined all of my Thanksgivings ever after, reducing them to one adjective and two simple nouns: warm home, warm family.
In the warmth of the Whale kitchen, presiding over preparations, was my dad. What can I say, the old man liked to let fly with a few — okay, many — choice words. Like when the giblet gravy — Gilbert gravy, as he called it — was acting ungravy-like, or when the bird was giving him fits. As I recall, his favorite turn of phrase was to liken the future edible to the male offspring of a female dog.
Ah, but that kitchen leaked more, much more than my dad’s colorful phraseology: it also leaked warm, tantalizing aromas. Aromas that gathered strength as the day moved on, until mere fragrance assumed a sort of physicality, which tortured us until the call to dinner finally came.
Later, when the table was cleared, we’d all gather in the living room to watch “The Wizard of Oz” or “Oklahoma” for the umpteenth time. And later on there’d be rollicking games of cards or Pit.
Nothing compares to having a large, loud, boisterous family to wrap you in its arms.
There remains something sacred to me about Thanksgiving. I consider it the most pure of our holidays, in no small part because greed has yet to find the formula to exploit it to the hilt. There is no advertising about it months earlier, no encroachment on us when the suns of July or August are burning and our thoughts are elsewhere.
I suppose my family’s Thanksgivings roughly followed a pattern common to many families.
Most of us know by now that when we were kids, our elders fed us the stories they’d been fed about the first Thanksgiving, and the ballyhooed harmony between Native Americans and the pilgrims, which wasn’t.
But that knowledge need not spoil the day.
Because, however it came to be, taking time to give thanks is always a good thing. President Abraham Lincoln saw it so when he issued his proclamation on Oct. 3, 1863, in the midst of civil war: “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving.”
I know Mr. Lincoln needed such a day. And so do we.
Here is a handful of the things for which I am thankful this year.
I am thankful to have grown up in Auburn, and for the river in which we swam and inner-tubed, and the many fields on which we romped, and the kids in our neighborhood.
For the late George and Irene Whale, my parents. For my wonderful, sisters, Carole and Diane, my wonderful brothers, Matt and Jack, and for the memories of my late brother, Jim, aka, Zack Zolloid, or JJ Humboldt as he sometimes called himself when he stood on stage with his bass.
I am thankful that to this point, I appear to have beaten back cancer. I am thankful for my wife, Ann, who loves me, though I still can’t figure out why.
I am thankful for being among the stream of people who go to work every day. Nothing can replace the feeling of having a role in the great dance.
And, perhaps peculiar to me, I am particularly thankful for diversity, for the multifariousness of this world. It will be on my mind on the great day.
The English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins expresses that last bit far better than I am able to do in his work “Pied Beauty,” so I’ll leave you in his hands.
“Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Have a happy Thanksgiving.
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.