Saturday, November 29, 2008

In Search of Thanksgiving

(this is the final installment in our Thanksgiving Saga. Thank you for joining us this week)
The boys shouted, "Restaurant!"
It wasn't a true restaurant, not in the sense that we mothers classify an eatery as restaurant. It was in actuality a singles bar. Finding the parking easy, we cautiously marched single file through the guarded entrance. A big bouncer stepped in front of me, blocking us from entering.
I asked the bouncer, “Would it be all right if we ordered something to eat?”
I don’t remember that he answered us in actual words. He looked down at me as if I was a pathetic nuisance. Then when he herded us inside—far corner to the left along with two other starving groups of parents from England--that we came to understand that we had misguidedly stepped outside the bounds of permissable culture. The bouncer implied in no uncertain terms that we should sit still and not agitate the unattached customers with our familial bliss.
Unblinkingly, the waitress told us, “You have to leave by ten. It’s kareoke night.” She glanced nervously up and down the row of single customers who stared at us from the barstool gallery, their eyes glowing like jittery rabbits.
“We promise to leave by ten,” I said. “We just need food and then we’ll be out of the way.”
The British father said to me, “We didn’t know about Thanksgiving. There’s not a restaurant open in the entire city. Our kids are about starved, as are we.”
How well we knew. We had phoned to the farthest edges of the county. Even the Cracker Barrel and the Chinese restaurant were shut down.
The bouncer explained to every incoming single customer that we would be gone by ten, locking gazes with me as he said it.
After we huddled around our table, my eyes took in the surroundings. Almost surreal, a smoky haze torched our senses while our oldest son grumbled, "This is only the worst Thanksgiving we've ever had."
“Here’s what we’ll do,” I said, feeling that somewhere in the choking cloud of fried chips and Texas Pete’s hot sauce that each of us surely had something for which we could be grateful. “Everyone share one thankful thought.”
First there was the collective groan. Then, we found a consensus. We all decided we were thankful for our family and for God's comfort. As each one spoke, my eyes kept roving to the shelf of items for sale behind the guys. Not so anyone else would notice, I made out the bar’s retail offerings--a whole plethora of little nude ceramic women clinging to cups, their limbs curving to make coffee mug handles, some upright, others upside-down or spraddle-legged with long bare-legged handles. Turquoise colored ashtrays formed to look like beds held more of the naked ceramic girls, only these ladies were sprawled across the ashtrays, gazing up flirtatiously from their tiny stark white faces. The bouncer was still managing us with his eyes. I imagined leaping in front of the display case and covering it with what fragments remained of my maternal instinct when all at once a tyke escaped from the herd of friends and siblings at the table next to us, the Londoners. The fugitive English child headed straight into a group of frightened singles. The bouncer lunged forward and grabbed the little boy, tossed him up over his head as though going for a long pass, and hurled him back at the astonished parents.
The dad, using his most distinctive British elocution turned to me and said, "They're bloody well good kids, really, once you get used to them!"
But I was too shaken by the bouncer’s cat-like reflexes to respond. Not wanting to be hurtled through the air myself, I stayed in my chair, bound to the rules for people packing children. To try and cover the nude ceramic girls with a mom’s fiery-faced quintessence was kin to social suicide. So I asked Jared to please not look at the shelf behind his brother. My youngest son sat rigid fearing who-knows-what while his twenty-two year old brother turned completely around in his chair to gawk.
Finally our food arrived. We wolfed down our Thanksgiving meal of buffalo wings and homemade potato chips, bid farewell to the mollified Brits, and headed home.
Randy surprised us by pulling into the take-out lane of a Krispy Kreme donut shop. These places are all over the eastern seaboard, turning out donuts assembly-line fashion behind an clear acrylic wall so that patrons may watch in plain sight the wondrous birth of perfection; we’re talking hundreds of donuts filing past, dropping into the log-flume-like vats and then finishing up perfectly browned and coated in melted icing. The most extreme climax of elation however is found in nearing one of these establishments and finding that the assembly lines are moving and the donuts are hot off the rollers and you know because the Krispy Kreme donuteurs alert you by flipping on the shop’s bright red neon sign that, when turned on, reads Hot Now!
We pulled into the take-out lane as the boys yelled, "Hot Now!" We ordered a dozen hot ones to-go to top off our Thanksgiving feast. Warm, delectable morsels melted on our tongues, finer than chef’s pastry.
Driving down the darkened interstate, we all told funny "Jessi" stories like the one we always told on Christmas Eve, how she used to plead for us to tell Santa to just leave the stuff outside on the porch. She never wanted a strange man in a red suit slipping into her house while she slept. Or the way she insisted that serving scarcely eaten meat on holidays was cruel to animals. Or the manner in which she saw the handiwork of God in every living thing.
It should have been our worst Thanksgiving. But somehow it was the worst and the best. Our family realized that Thanksgiving did not embody a fancy spread of poultry and stuffing but instead a feast of the heart. A thankful heart could be drummed up as simply as faith itself if we measured our blessings by the breadth of our love for one another rather than the girth of our stomachs.
Before we pulled onto the ramp that would aim us toward home, I heard Randy whisper, "Thank you, God. Just . . . thank you." I echoed the sentiment. Instinctively, he and I joined hands. Our youngest son sang another carol and his brother joined him in harmony. It sounded otherworldly and peaceful. Then all grew quiet and I thought I detected the music of stars, distant yet not so far away.

I was thankful for my family and our time together. I realized that God's grace is present even when my holiday feast is reduced to buffalo wings and hot donuts.
When served with a side of grateful love, all fare is choice. All fellowship is meat for the soul.
I hope and pray your Thanksgiving was simply joyful!