Today is Thanksgiving, and although I won’t be doing anything to celebrate, there are plenty of things that I’m thankful for. For one, I’m thankful that my teacher friends back in the States are on vacation. Secondly, I’m thankful to have my Mass XXX weight gain shake here to replace the large turkey dinner I would be having if I was back home. Thirdly, I’m thankful that I no longer have to try and teach the story “A Christmas Memory” anymore.
Did that thought seem to come out of nowhere? Well, it did. For two years I taught 9th grade English, and easily the worst, most universally hated piece of literature in the curriculum was Truman Capote’s story “A Christmas Memory.” I don’t remember one student ever liking it. Students would turn to me, as they sometimes did, and say, “Mr. P…do you like that story?”
Usually I would emphatically say ‘yes,’ because I usually did like the stories we were reading. “Yes!” I would shout. “Gift of the Magi is classic! Don’t you think it’s clever? He buys the combs and she sells the hair to buy the watch…sigh.”
But in the case of A “Christmas Memory,” there was no defending it. “No,” I would say, speaking honestly, “I don’t like it. It sucks.” The story had something to do with a young Truman and his family having to buy rum to make a fruitcake. My students, in our inner city school, didn’t really relate to it very well. Nor would anyone, really. If there are some strange people in this world who do relate to it, I hope I never find myself trapped in a conversation with them:
“When I was young girl, I remember the fruitcakes Aunt Emily used to make. Why, Emily would give us a spoonful of rum when the cookin’ was finished, and you should’ve seen the look on Momma’s face!”
Oh, shut up! To any extent, in homage to Truman Capote’s wonderful time capsule of a narrative, I thought I’d reflect on Thanksgivings past. I’m inspired, and – call me ambitious! – with enough effort, I think I can write something just as dull and pointless. Here it goes! (PS – see if you can spot the random dog dressed up like a turkey!)
A Thanksgiving Half Memory by William R. Panara
Times were hard that year. Mom had to have an operation on her wrist ‘cause of the carpal tunnel she got from hanging j-hooks every day at her job, and Dad was spending a lot of time in the bathroom. Mandy, my sister, was having boy trouble and I was the same as always. Everyone in the house was miserable.
“We’re not doing a family Thanksgiving this year,” he might have said. I don’t know because I don’t remember. Then he might have said, “Our extended family has decided getting together for one day a year is too much. It’ll be just the four of us this Thanksgiving.”
The tradition was to go to Grandma Rheba’s house, where the whole family would eat Grandma’s soup and watch football and then we’d pass around a great big bird. The turkey was the headliner, but Grandma was famous for her homemade chicken soup. One time, Cousin Randy brought a girl along with him, and she said that Grandma’s soup was overrated. That was sacrilege, so we shot her. Hmm…maybe we didn’t, the memory is blurry. Actually, I don’t think we shot her, but we did give her dirty looks, even though we all secretly agreed.
It was sad to know that we wouldn’t be having Grandma’s soup that year. When
Thanksgiving came around, Mom cooked a turkey and all the sides. She made potatoes and stuffing and everything. We were gonna make the most of it, even if it was only the four of us. We sat down at the table, the deafening buzz of Mom’s electric knife that she bought from K-mart in 1989 filling the air. Yes, the turkey was being cut, and soon Mom started bringing out plates of food and setting them down. We each got our own Thanksgiving plate – Dad, Mandy, and me. Mom got her own plate too, and when she sat down with it, we all started eating.
Everyone was quiet for a little while until Mandy spoke up. “This doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving,” she said. “It doesn’t feel right.”
That was the truth, and we were all thinking it. “You know why it doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving?” I asked, a bright idea forming in my head. “It’s because Mom brought all the food out on individual plates. I mean, that’s how we eat dinner every night. This doesn’t feel special. We should put everything on different plates and pass them around. Thanksgiving is all about passing.”
“Billy’s right,” my father said. “We need to be passing the food. Let’s get put all the food back and pass it around the table.”
Mom was not happy. “You mean you want me to dirty every dish in the house so we can pass around the food I just spent all day cooking and serving you? And then I’ll have to wash every dish, because nobody’s going to help me. Is that what you want?”
We all nodded. That was EXACTLY what we all wanted.
On Thanksgiving, passing food is as much a tradition as eating it. My family went back into the kitchen and brought out a bunch of bowls and spoons. After that, we pushed the food off our plates and into the bowls, one for corn, one for turkey, one for stuffing, etc. When our plates were empty, we eagerly passed the food to one another.
“Mandy, can you pass me the potatoes?”
“Certainly, Bill. Can you pass the green beans?”
“I can’t believe this,” Mom said. “Look at all this work I have to do.”
We were too busy passing the food around to pay her much attention. This brings me to an important point in the story, because I don’t remember anything else that happened after that. It wasn’t the best Thanksgiving ever, but at least something memorable happened.
This Thanksgiving, with no celebrations to attend here inKorea, I’ll just sit around and think about stuff from the past. I’m not a super nostalgic person like Truman Capote apparently was, so the memories won’t make me feel as though I’m soaring like balloons into heaven.
Most memories are like that. They aren’t saccharine. They’re just there.