Thoughts on memory and gratitude this Thanksgiving
The morning sun takes me back.
Thanksgiving at my father’s parents in Oxmoor Hills, before my grandmother succumbed to the dark clouds of Alzheimer’s. I’m 9 or thereabouts, and I’m wondering where the turkey is. My grandmother has made her version of chicken and dumplings instead, and my grandfather’s shares a sly smile as he refers to them by his pet name: “slippy-go-downs.” My father says grace, and I marvel at the contrast of my younger brother’s small, smooth hand in my right and my grandfather’s callused, rough palms clutching my left. A football game is on in the living room, but I look forward to playing the board game Life with my Uncle David, the winding path to victory looming large as the rapid click of the spinning wheel fills the air.
Thanksgiving in Mississippi, gathered around my grandmother’s small kitchen table: My father carves the turkey while the constant chatter of the Tidwell women — my mother, my aunt and their mother — pauses only for the blessing. My brother and I punch one another under the table and carefully pile our plates with mashed potatoes, green beans, dressing, gravy, rolls and bird. We unsnap our jeans, take deep breaths and nod, racing to eat as quickly as possible under the misguided assumption that the faster we eat, the less full we’ll fill and the more food we can inhale. Our mother grimaces, mortified; dad shakes his head. Later, we’ll watch the Egg Bowl — Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State — and doze on the couch.
Thanksgiving on the road from college in Cookeville, my canary yellow VW Beetle breaking down on the side of the interstate between Crossville and Fairfield Glade, walking in the dark as cars roar by, finally getting a lift from my roommate’s girlfriend ... Thanksgiving on the road from McMinnville, my dog riding shotgun, climbing the mountain between Sparta and Crossville toward mom’s cooking and family.
Thanksgiving in Myrtle Beach, S.C., a stiff east wind blowing the smell of the sea over the Ocean Boulevard high rises to a dingy apartment where Lee and Fitz wait for pills. I’ve managed to sneak two plates of the newspaper’s Thanksgiving lunch out the door, and we sit in the dark and pick at the food, silence our only company. Later, we’ll drop acid and fall asleep to a “Star Wars” marathon.
My Thanksgiving memories are as wide and varied as this amazing life I’ve been given, and it’s hard to put into words how profoundly those memories resonate within me. This year, I’ll sup with in-laws and break bread with blood, and the memories of holidays past will be on my mind the entire time.
On Facebook this month, many friends and acquaintances have posted daily expressions of gratitude throughout the month of November. I suppose it’s a way to commemorate Thanksgiving and extend the acknowledgement of life’s blessings beyond the fourth Thursday in November. The posts have ranged from the patriotic, particularly in the aftermath of the Nov. 6 presidential election, to the familial to the spiritual. Some are simple — music, guitar chords, a favorite TV show — others are rooted in life-changing events that only those closest to the writer can truly appreciate.
It’s very similar to a recovery tool known as a “gratitude list.” Whenever we get caught up in self-pity or depression, we’re encouraged to put on paper the things we overlook when our thinking is clouded by self-pity and negativity. And anyone can do it.
It’s simple: Just get out a piece of paper and begin to write down everything for which you’re grateful. And be sure to remember the things that we so often take for granted: Our health. The ability to walk when others cannot. The job we have when so many others can’t or don’t work, even if we hate it. The people in our lives who love us and care about us, even if they do occasionally grate on our nerves. The possessions we own, even if they may not be as good or as modern as we’d like.
For me, it’s remembering to appreciate the little things: the feel of my wife’s hands on my back, gently drumming her fingers as she embraces me. The sound of my son’s laughter and the smile on his face. Sitting on my porch, enjoying a cigarette at the end of a productive day. The satisfaction of having my bills paid, even if I have very little left in the bank.
People who read this column and let me know they appreciate it. The family that supports me. The dogs that come bounding up every time I walk in the door, happy to see me no matter how long I’ve been gone. The simple joy of finding an old movie that I love on TV late at night. Finding 30 minutes to read a good book. A tasty breakfast.
The morning sun, carrying me back to Thanksgivings past.
I could go on and on. Remembering these things puts life in perspective. It reminds me that no matter how bad things get in my mind, reality is much more balanced. And it lets me know that no matter how much the storms of life may rage, there’s always a break in the clouds and a time when the sun shines through again.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all. May it be as blessed as you can perceive it to be.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.