By Joanna Campbell Slan
The Friday after Thanksgiving kicks off the selling season for all sorts of merchants. Pianos are no exception. My husband couldn’t leave his music store to travel with me to Florida, where my mother and two sisters lived. To be honest, I couldn’t take time off. Not really. I was working for a newspaper, and since the news is published every day, holidays didn’t really exist. When you work for a daily newspaper, you live for tomorrow, the next day when the paper will come out. You are trained not to live in the here and now. As an advertising rep, I was always thinking ahead and never stopping to evaluate the present. My income came from thinking ahead, and not looking behind.
The Alternative to Family Time
I told myself that eating at a nice restaurant would be fine. The appetizers were plentiful, the wine flowing, and a glass of champagne was in order. The turkey was moist, the gravy rich, and the pecan pie was syrupy good. But with every morsel, I wished myself somewhere else. I pictured my mother tossing celery and onions in a bread stuffing that scented the air with sage. I watched my sister making a yucky face as she cut up giblets and dropped the pieces in chicken broth to make the gravy. I could hear my other sister clanking the silverware as she set the table. Nothing that fancy restaurant could cook would taste as good as the food served by my family. Nothing.
I didn’t pout through our Thanksgiving feast, but after the meal when we were home, I escaped into the shower and cried quietly, feeling very sorry for myself. The hunger inside was the realization that life was changing. The days of being a nuclear family–me, my mom, and my sisters–was over. We’d pulled together after my father left us. We’d gone on welfare. We’d struggled. We knew how far we’d come, and no one else would ever share that particular memory or the grit that came along with it.
Reality versus My Fantasies
That evening after the phone rates went down, I called my sister Meg and reported that I’d had a nice Thanksgiving. With trepidation in my voice, I asked, “How about you? Tell me all about it.” I steeled myself for hearing about the traditional green bean casserole, the special pumpkin cake, and that giblet-based gravy. I waited and tried not to feel sad.
“We decided not to make dinner today. It was too much work. We ate at Cracker Barrel,” she said.
“What?” I was sure that I’d misunderstood her. “Cracker Barrel?”
“Yeah. It was fine, actually. I got some of my Christmas shopping done early.”
The Lesson I Learned
Then it hit me that I’d wasted a perfectly good Thanksgiving by wishing it away. I’d mourned for something that hadn’t happened, and in doing so, I’d missed the chance to be grateful for what I had.
Every Thanksgiving since that, I hear the words, “We ate at Cracker Barrel” in my head. No matter where I am, no matter who I’m with, I’ve learned to give thanks for what I have. Right here. Right now.