I have already tried to tell myself that this Thanksgiving won’t be like others because some of my family won’t be here for various reasons. I love this holiday for several reasons. It coincides with my November birthday. There is a classic photo of my husband and myself at the first Thanksgiving when our two families got together for dinner at my parents’ house. We had just gotten engaged. It is my twentieth birthday and I have long blonde hair pulled back, 1970’s style. He is twenty-four with big dark glasses and a pink shirt. We look so young.
I also love this holiday because it was the one holiday where I truly felt a part of the American mainstream. My parents were immigrants having fled Hitler’s Germany. They met in San Francisco at a dance for servicemen at the Jewish Community Center on Walnut Street. They had a sweet courtship and married during the war which fortunately ended before my father could be sent back overseas. They settled in the Richmond District in San Francisco in a typical bungalow a block from Golden Gate Park and a mile or so from the beach. We grew up spending many Saturday afternoons rolling down grassy hills in the park with our cousins who lived nearby.
My parents wanted everything for us kids and we were typical first generation over achievers. We joined Brownies and took lessons; piano and ballet besides attending Hebrew School. We were driven in school by wanting to do well though my parents did not have to tell us. It was a given we would go to college.
At least for Thanksgiving, we could go to the market and be like the other families buying for the holiday and doing what they did. Once Thanksgiving passed, it was hard to not answer when asked if I had been a good girl and what was Santa going to bring me as we did not celebrate Christmas. We did go over to our wonderful Catholic neighbors on Christmas eve to exchange gifts. I was in awe of their magnificent tree, the smell of the evergreen ranches, the piles of gifts and the wooden crèche on their mantle. They were the grateful recipients of my mother’s matzoh ball soup come Passover and her baked goods all year around.
When it came to Thanksgiving my mother fully embraced this holiday. She had a box of Thanksgiving tzotchkes which came out, little pilgrims and straw cornucopia to adorn the table. She was a marvelous cook and baker though she did not make pumpkin pie, which somehow never made it in to her baking repertoire. Our older cousins from their East Coast colleges would love to come to our home for the abundant food and her common sense wisdom
When my father died and she had long given up preparing the big meals, I took over this holiday. I have my own box of decorations; turkeys and pilgrims and straw decorations for the table. This year when I took out the box I had to pause. It is a repository of memories, some sweet, some painful. I kept the placecards of our relatives who have passed away. I chuckled over the placecard for my nephew which said Baby….. He is looking for colleges this year. Each little card representing a family member holds a story. This past year has been rough for many for a variety of reasons. We are a family like everyone’s with its ups and downs, joy and heartache.
Our oldest extended family member is in her mid-nineties and still sharp and vital. Our youngest is just a year, having been born a few days before last year’s Thanksgiving. We will get together over good food, toast with champagne, sing a Happy Birthday to my granddaughter and myself and enjoy the moment missing those not with us.