Thursday, November 27, 2008

In Search of Thanksgiving

(Part two of a three part holiday saga)
The day, overcast and gray, reflected the undercurrent of our emotions. We both refused to allow the tide of loss to draw us under. Our talk instead embodied our vision for the meal. Soon we would return home with the prized booty--sacks that brimmed with poultry, cranberries, and fresh thyme. But after a half hour of circling our little township north of Charlotte, we realized that all of the grocery stores had, without ceremony, closed up shop and sent their employees home to be with family.
The realization of my lack, my failure to prepare a traditional meal disappointed our two sons, aged twenty-two and eleven, whose ages had surrounded their middle sister and who now had to learn to live without the sister in-between. Our missing feast stemmed from the fact that I had not come fully awake from my walk of grief. My usual take-charge vigor had stalled out months earlier. Whatever idea the boys and Randy suggested to me, I simply agreed, as though all I had to do was lift my feet and be dragged along by the current of their desires.
Randy, always the warrior of the desperate cause, convinced us all that a restaurant was out there waiting to nosh us with our annual share of turkey and yams. He prodded us out to the family car and drove us toward Charlotte.
By this time, the boys sat silent in the rear seat, glum and grumbling to one another about how poorly we, as family heads, had planned our holiday feast.
After we had passed dozens of dimly lit restaurants, a parking lot that overflowed with parked cars sparked a degree of emotion.
“Look Dad, something’s happening! Over there!” Our youngest son pointed in the direction of the parking lot of uptown Charlotte’s largest mall.
City cops directed us into the flow of traffic. We followed the stream of cars, not at all certain where we were going but glad to be in the flow of anything remotely smacking of life.
In the daylight’s melting candle, we had been drawn into a tree lighting ceremony. We watched the magic along with thousands of full-bellied families. On the lawn of the new symphony park, a children's choir serenaded us with tomes of “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night.” Just after the last ray of Thanksgiving light kissed the Blue Ridge Mountains good-night, a gigantic tree hidden by night suddenly shone with a million lights. It was as though angels had appeared out of nowhere to paste the stars among us. We smiled, warmed by the glory of children, electricity, and good will. For a moment we even forgot our growling stomachs.
I had finally begun to count my blessings when the broadcasting guy on stage shouted, "Hey kids, I'll bet you are all so full of turkey you won't be able to eat for a week!"
En masse, all of the bright eyed tykes shouted with bloated bellies, "NOOOOO, no more turkeeeey!" while over a foot away two Hickman boys groaned, "We're starving because our mom didn't cook us turkey."
Suddenly, the sky thundered like a hundred rockets. A hum of approval rippled through the audience as all eyes lifted to watch a spectacular fireworks display. The autumn night sky was festooned with lights that bloomed, glittering from fiery centers only to magically dissipate before hitting earth. During the extravagant finale, Randy led us backward through the crowd to aim us out once more in search of the phantom restaurant.
Back inside the quiet of our minivan, we wove in and around the Christmas throng and rounded a bend. I blinked, not sure of what I was seeing. From the center of a shopping strip, we saw the sign--a modest neon light flashed open . . . open.
The boys shouted, "Restaurant!"
But it wasn't really a restaurant. Not really.