In Novembers not too distantly past, my dinner table would hold two-dozen, with folding chairs and tables extending its capacity. Family-by-choice tucked napkins in their laps and indulged my insistence on the Corley tradition of announcing “thankful-fors”, youngest to oldest around the circle. A turkey would be carved, dressing heaped into a serving bowl, cranberries of all types passed from hand to hand. After dinner, one of the guests would whip cream while another carried pies to the table.
In other years, my son and I joined the gathering in the homes of friends who would have graced our table. We sometimes drove from house to house, sharing two dinners or arriving somewhere in time for dessert and coffee after a day of laughter and sharing. Decades ago, I cooked Thanksgiving Cornish hens in a wood-burning stove in the Arkansas Ozark mountains. In my college days, I collected kindred misfits without nearby family for potluck in a south St. Louis apartment. Just three years ago, I drove to Oakland for crab and vegetable soup.
But wherever I dine on Thanksgiving Day, my mind drifts to my childhood home, to Jennings, Missouri and my mother’s table. Eight children, two parents, occasionally an aunt, an uncle, or my mother’s parents. We donned our church clothes, did our allocated chores, and murmured grace in a mumbled chorus. A little hope curled in my heart, a yearning that chaos would yield to calm. I lowered my head and reflected on what I would say after my little brothers chortled their gratitude for turkey legs and pumpkin pie. I wanted to express what I felt deep within some place where my secret dreams slept. I usually clenched and simply said that I was thankful for my family, not a lie but rather less grand than I intended.
When I told my sister Joyce that I intended to sell my house, close my law practice, and move to California, she did not predict my certain failure. She suppressed speculation on my waning sanity. She refrained from persuading me to change my mind. She merely lifted one eyebrow in my mother’s image and asked if my tiny house would have a guest bed.
The GPS lady took me out of the way yesterday, around a dark levee road to the back entrance of the Sacramento Airport. I thought I could see my sister in the blaring lights of the baggage claim area but a surly officer scolded me for hovering. I made another circle. Then I clearly saw her, outside now, watching. I waved away the same agent as he approached my car. I pointed to my big sister, standing on the sidewalk with a suitcase adorned with llamas and a pink backpack in which, I happened to know, she had likely stowed a Betsy Johnson crossbody adorned with roses and skulls. He yielded as she approached.
An hour later, we teased each other over breakfast at the Flag City Denny’s. Behind the waitress’s mask, a smile bloomed and lit her eyes. Joyce and I cannot spend time together without making new friends, over-tipping, and finding thrift-store bargains. Whatever difficulties had torn the glee from my week melted away, forgotten in the happy air. I asked the server, Can you tell we’re sisters, and before she could respond, Joyce added, and she’s the snotty one! We all three laughed.
Joyce and I will dine today at the Ryde Hotel on the Sacramento River. We will doubtless find lots about which to giggle. We will put aside troubles and trials. We’ll ignore any diet that either of us might otherwise pursue and help ourselves to seconds, extra butter, bountiful sides, and multiple desserts. As the afternoon wanes, I will ask her for what she is thankful. Her response matters less than the fact that she has flown two thousand miles to answer our perennial question in the adopted of home of her baby sister.
It’s the twenty-fifth day of the ninety-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.