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November 24, 2005

A Remembrance of Thanksgivings Past

Having grown up as a child of immigrant parents, I always eagerly anticipated celebrating the holidays like most of my classmates.  Not that I knew how they actually celebrated the holidays but my perceptions were based on all the novels I'd read or films that I'd seen.  In my mind, everyone was celebrating Hallmark-type family holidays except us. 

Especially not us.  And especially not on Thanksgiving.  I do give my mother credit one year for giving into her child's desires and attempting to give me and my brother the Thanksgiving that we always wanted.  I was about 6 and had been begging for a real turkey with all the trimmings.  My mother, either in a fit of sympathy or a desire to end this whining once and for all, somehow decided that the best way to cook a turkey was to boil it.  Needless to say, it was completely inedible.  Of all the possible ways to cook a turkey, I think it's pretty safe to say that boiling it is definitely not the way to go.  And I'm no gourmet chef but I'm pretty sure you're supposed to remove the feathers first.

Family lore has yet to decide whether she really was that bad of a cook or perhaps, in a move of cunning genius, she was feigning ignorance to ensure that she would never be asked to cook on Thanksgiving again.  Either way, her cooking skills led us to decide to have Thanksgiving catered the following year.  Apparently, my father had a good year at work and, in his usual manner, decided he could solve all our problems by throwing money at them.  This worked out semi-ok.  We actually had a real turkey with chestnut stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.  On the surface, everything was great.  But the sad thing was that all this food was prepared for only the four of us in my immediate family.  And my parents not being great conversationialists, we mostly ate the meal in an awkward silence as complete strangers served us our meal.  I think I spent most of Thanksgiving dinner under the kitchen table talking to one of the busboys.  And I don't even speak Spanish.

After that Thanksgiving, we pretty much gave up.  The holiday became just an excuse to have a week off from school in November.  We celebrated the holiday by taking short vacations or ordering in some Chinese food (because they're the only ones open on major holidays).  My brother and I usually ate quickly and retreated into our rooms to read together.  And soon after, it became apparent that we might as well just give up on Thanksgiving.  It wasn't really working out for us.

Now, I don't know if any of you have friends of Korean ancestry.  But let me tell you something.  Koreans hold grudges like elephants.  If you cross one of them, they'll put a Fatwah on your ass faster than you can say Salman Rushdie.  And family members are no exception to this rule.  So growing up, my brother and I pretty much never had any interaction with relatives on either side of the family.  Everyone was estranged from everyone!  I bring this up only because my next Thanksgiving memory occured in my late 20's.  By this time, we had renewed the annual dinner and our parents informed us that a few people would be joining us this year.  Naturally, we asked who specifically would be joining us.  Imagine our surprise when we learned that it would be my father's brother and two cousins WHOM WE NEVER EVEN KNEW EXISTED!  Not only did we not know of their existence but it turned out that they lived about 20 minutes away from us and had been living there all of our lives.  Since we were so used to the family dysfunction, this didn't really faze me or my brother.  We were curious and looking forward to meeting these newly-discovered blood relatives.

Well, it became clear from the start that though we shared the same genetic code, our cousins were much different from us.  We were all in our 20's then but that was pretty much where the similarities ended.  Somehow, our cousins had become born-again Christians.  They were newly bathed in the Glory of God and could not have been more different from me and my brother.  While they were good-hearted people, we couldn't get them to open up or talk about ANY other subject besides church.  Finally, my brother and I gave up and we started drowning ourselves in one of God's better creations...double scotches. 

It was around this time that my brother and I decided to start our own annnual Thanksgiving celebration.  We decided to have small post-Thanksgiving dinner parties at our apartment for any of our friends who were free to come by.  And since there are more than a few dysfunctional families living in Manhattan, we'd usually end up having about 6-8 friends come over every year.  Everyone brought over a bottle of wine or booze, and we'd just hang out and party until the wee hours of the morning.  And like they say, friends are the family you choose.  So for my brother and I, these were fun-filled festive Thanksgivings that we'll always cherish.

But now, life has changed.  I have the greatest partner in life, the BossLady, and every day I realize how lucky we are to have found one another.  Together, we're raising a beautiful, healthy 13-month old daughter who can melt the Devil's soul with her smile.   And finally, after 37 years, I'm realizing that Thanksgiving isn''t about the turkey, the Pilgrims or a 4-day weekend.  It's about taking time to realize all the things we really need to be thankful for.  And with a loving wife and a new baby daughter, I realize every day just how much I have to be thankful for.  By understanding this, I've learned that every day is Thanksgiving (just with less turkey and Pepto Bismol)

So from myself, the BossLady and the Peanut...Happy Thanksgiving, Internet!  May we use this day to count our blessings and ruminate on how much we all truly have to be thankful for.  All the best to you and your families. 


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