Friday, November 15, 2013

Unexpectedly Great Thanksgivings

Have you ever had a Thanksgiving (or other holiday) that you dreaded or were sure would be less than wonderful -- and it turned out to be one of the greatest?

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!


  1. Oh, I loved each of these! What joy, planned or unexpected, in each one. Times like these give us strength and fortitude to draw on when the chips are down. We will spend this Thanksgiving like we have most others: in the homestead house my great-great grandparents built, on a very isolated ranch in the wilds of Texas, with all my immediate family as well as all my aunts, uncles and cousins from my mom's side of the family. Always, always lots of fun!

  2. It sounds wonderful, Shelly! And so great to still have your parental generation around to celebrate with you! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  3. Love reading your wonderful Thanksgiving stories… I don't have nearly as many… Our family is so scattered out --and none of us ever seem to have or find time to get together. BUT--I certainly remember those Thanksgivings growing up with a Mother who was an excellent cook… GREAT food and fellowship back then.

    Two recent Thanksgivings I cherish: 1. When I took George to Florida in 2001 to meet my brother and sister-in-law for the first time… VERY special times! AND 2. When George and I drove to Kingsport, TN on Thanksgiving a few years ago to take a good friend out to dinner. That friend died this past year --and I'll never forget that one particular Thanksgiving we had together.

    This year we are headed to FL for a quick trip --to spend Thanksgiving with George's son and family…

    1. Thanksgiving memories are so special, Betsy, and I love that you have such warm memories of Thanksgiving when you were growing up. That said, those two special Thanksgivings with your brother and sister-in-law meeting George and that Thanksgiving with the good friend who is now gone sound extra-special! I know what you mean about scattered family: my sister is living and working through all the holidays in Seattle and my brother is living and working through all the holidays in Bangkok, Thailand. So friends become family -- and my friend Tim and his daughters are very special friends/family indeed!

  4. I hope 2013 will be another great one to notch up for you.
    There’s no such day as Thanksgiving over here, but, Oh how I’d love to be around when you’re around.

    You sound like the most delightful hostess/guest - incl. dressing.

    1. I just love Thanksgiving -- which involves celebrating gratitude and connection with friends and family. And these friends with whom we'll be celebrating the holiday are very special to me. Tim has been one of my best friends for 50 years and his kids are all so wonderful. I'm thrilled to be celebrating the holiday with them this year in my childhood home! I also love entertaining. Any time you want to come celebrate Thanksgiving with us, Friko, you and your husband are very welcome!

  5. Oddly one of my best Thanksgivings did not involve family. I was in day two of a bad break up and didn't want to make the 100 mile trip to spend with family. I just wanted to wallow in my pain.
    I saw an ad in the paper about a church feeding the homeless and thought working might take my mind off my miseries so I volunteered.. It was the people I served that day who knew the real meaning of tragedy, plus the amazingly special volunteers I worked with that I still remember today.
    The rest of my Thanksgivings just meld into one warm, generic pot of family caring and sharing.

  6. Amazing, Patti! It really does help us heal when we reach out to help others and realize the tragedies that some people endure. It puts a romantic breakup, albeit very painful, in perspective. Thanks for sharing a very important comment!

  7. I've been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving this year -- It has always been a favorite holiday. I have three Thanksgivings that stand out for me. The first is the first year after both my mom and aunt died. We always did Christmas together but Thanksgiving was more individual. But we realized, we needed each other and convened in Cleveland -- the cousins and the dads. Like the "Tanzy" holiday you shared, ours was filled with connecting and remembering. It was hard and it was also good.

    The second was right after Rick's bike accident. I don't know if you were reading the Gypsy then, but I wrote about how we had no kids that year and we weren't even sure if he'd be up for much activity, so it was going to be quiet. But that morning we were doing OK, so we called two couples whose kids, like ours, were away and somehow made a turkey breast, potatoes, stuffing and probably not enough vegetable go for six. It was my first no-stress holiday. I didn't have time to be anal about things being perfect. I used mom's good crystal that I don't often, realizing with Rick's near brush with death that if I don't use it now, what's the point of having it? We all offered thanks for so many things, this band of friends. It was wonderful.

    The third, last year, not so happy for us, as Rick's tenant in the other side of the duplex completed suicide and much of the day was involved with police and family devastated by the loss. But in our way, it made the four of us, Rick, Kevin and Molly and Me, closer and more grateful for each other.

    I send you many wishes for your Thanksgiving. What a joy to be in your childhood home with people you love. It will indeed be so very special. I send you turkey hug for a beautiful time!

  8. Thank you so much, Jeanie! It's wonderful when a Thanksgiving during a difficult time takes us by surprise and helps us to appreciate our loved ones even more. But last Thanksgiving sounds like a real challenge. The fact that it made you, Rick, Kevin and Molly feel closer and even more gratitude for each other is a comfort, isn't it?

  9. I love this post. Thank you for posting it. Thanksgiving what we make of it. That is the message here. That is the message we all should take with us into the holiday season. Enjoy your Thanksgiving! I can't wait to hear all about it.