Thanksgiving is a date on a calendar. Beyond that, its meaning and value depends on the year (in my world).
Not this year. This one will be different.
In the early years, Thanksgiving was the optimistic gateway/family dress rehearsal to the real magical holiday a month later. Maybe like stopping at Magic Mountain for a day on the way to Disneyland.
Teen Thanksgivings brought daylight muddy football games and nights rolling around the suburbs between parties, once the obligatory hugging and eating was over.
The 20s were the real fun years; everyone came home from college and rolled straight to the bars Wednesday night. One year, after staying up all night doing something I don’t remember doing (yes, I do) I slept from 10 a.m. until being called to the Thanksgiving table, where the elders looked at me like I was dressed in a burning turkey suit.
And that was before I set the record (look it up) for time spent by a 19-year-old attempting to chew and swallow a Thanksgiving meal. It’s no fun gagging at the silent Thanksgiving table while your family looks on.
Those were years the meaning of Thanksgiving–whatever it is, I’m still not sure–was lost in the next rush of good times. Then came the family years with my own wife and kids, with their own meaning: sweaters and loud children and needing an after-dinner walk to avoid sliding into a coma (the alcohol never helped). Those were the OK-obligatory years, like showing up for a job to pay the bills. I would actually come to miss those years terribly, as boring as they seemed at the time.
As far as the concept of giving thanks, that was usually non-verbal. I suppose our celebration was our way of giving thanks … which I guess doesn’t cover the fighting.
The only time I remember giving thanks during those years was when we once attempted going around the table to say what we were thankful for.
My grandpa–with whom I lived through childhood and was an age we started to relate on a different level–was suffering from cancer. So when my time came, I said I was thankful he was still around.
He was a lighthearted guy most of the time when the demons weren’t hovering, a World War II Pacific island-hopper, who told spectacular combat lies instead of the horrifying real stories. I got a friendly half-kick in thanks under the table that is still a favorite Thanksgiving memory.
He won’t be there this year. Or will others, thanks to death, divorce, misunderstanding, pandemics … or simply falling out of love. At least as far as I know, though there will be an open chair at my table, just in case.
The main difference will be my actual giving of thanks and appreciation, which I already feel when thinking about my week leading up to Thanksgiving just two years ago.
I was sleeping on a friend’s sofa that was too short, in an unheated add-on room that was once a patio. I had to pack up and make way for his family holiday and was just hoping I could be with my own family. I didn’t know. Though I did, and spent a few more nights afterward, when I didn’t really have anywhere else.
That Thanksgiving was the start of a streak of life rebuilding that has me ready to again host a (small) dinner this year, with my kids and mom and a viciously ungrateful cat in a mostly cold room. But it’s mine and I don’t think I’ll ever give so much thanks on a Thanksgiving as this Thursday.
Follow music critic Tony Hicks at Twitter.com/TonyBaloney1967.