What plans do you have to make this Thanksgiving special?
Thinking back over the years, two special Thanksgivings stand out for me -- and, in both instances, the joy of the day was a surprise.
Just before Thanksgiving in 1982, my cousin Jack, who was then living near us in the Los Angeles area, lost his wonderful wife Tanzy to breast cancer. She was only 35 and had fought the disease for nine agonizing years. Despite the fact that her death wasn't totally unexpected, we were devastated. She was such a vital and beloved member of the family who was so loving, so generous with help and praise, so wonderfully alive even through her years of painful illness.
Jack's parents -- my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Elmer -- as well as Tanzy's widowed mother and her surviving daughter traveled to Los Angeles for Tanzy's funeral. As we were visiting afterwards, I invited them to my place for Thanksgiving two days later. Initially, they declined, too overwhelmed with grief to imagine a holiday meal.
But the next day, Jack called. "We've been thinking about your offer and would like to take you up on it," he said. "It would be so comforting to just be together, all of us."
And so it was -- and was one of the most intimate, joyous and loving Thanksgivings ever. We talked and cried and laughed together. We shared favorite Thanksgiving foods and many hugs and kisses. We talked about our favorite, funny memories of Tanzy and our sadness over her loss. We teased each other gently and laughed over favorite family stories, aided by Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Elmer's shared, sly sense of humor. Tanzy's mother became a friend of mine that day -- and we kept in touch until her death many years later.
Our lovely day together also taught us an enduring lesson that Jack remembered during a recent visit we both made to his sister Caron's home in Kansas City.
"Our family has remembered that lesson all these years," he told me. "And the lesson is: the times you feel least like celebrating are the times when you need family most."
Bob and I didn't exactly feel in a celebratory frame of mind as Thanksgiving 2009 neared. We were caught up in the details and logistics of winding down our working lives in Los Angeles with a targeted retirement date of April 2010. We had purchased a new home in Arizona and were making once a month trips over, moving gradually from L.A. to Arizona, while preparing our Los Angeles home to put up for sale. We were frazzled. That's when Ryan, Bob's former Little Brother in the Big Brothers program who grew up to be like a son to us, proposed that he and his partner Sean prepare and host Thanksgiving that year with me responsible only for the dressing, which he insisted he simply could not live without.
And that's how Bob and I ended up spending a wonderful Thanksgiving with Ryan, Sean, Ryan's college friend Shar and about a dozen of their closest gay male friends. It was, in a word, fabulous!
We felt so welcome, so loved, so joyous that all the worry about the details of our lives in transition simply slipped away. We told stories, joked, had serious discussions and savored a meal that reflected the diversity of this group of friends coming together. We were so relaxed, and so thankful to be part of this warm and delightful group of people, a group so inclusive and embracing.
As Thanksgiving 2013 approaches, life has continued to change. After spending last Thanksgiving with us, Ryan and Sean ended their five year relationship just before Christmas. Bob and I are well settled in Arizona. My proposed "Therapy Cats" book just sold to a major publisher and the publisher wants the finished manuscript early in the New Year. It all seemed to add up to a prescription for a quiet holiday season.
Then an invitation too good to refuse came from my dear friend Tim and his delightful daughter Mary Kate -- inviting Bob, Ryan and me to "Come Home for the Holiday" -- and celebrate with them in my childhood home, which Mary Kate and her boyfriend Matt are renting from my brother Mike, who is now living and working in Thailand.
Tim will be flying in from Chicago and another daughter Eliza and her husband Chris, expecting their first baby in April, will be coming from Colorado. Friends of Mary Kate's who have a one-year-old baby will also be joining the festivities.
Joy will not come as a surprise this year.
This Thanksgiving promises to be another of the memorable ones as we celebrate in a special place with people we love -- and a few loving people we have yet to meet -- for a day of good conversations, song, laughter and an incredibly evolving feast being planned by all concerned via email -- and, yes, I'm bringing the dressing!
I expect that it will be a wonderful celebration of the past, the present and the future -- with two happily-anticipated grandchildren for Tim (his eldest daughter Laura is also expecting) on the horizon!
Without a doubt, this is going to be one of the great ones!
What makes a holiday great? Spending it with loved ones, having an open mind and heart, sharing and celebrating the ways that our lives are evolving and changing as we give thanks together.
Now that I've told you my Thanksgiving stories -- I'd love to hear yours!