Friday, November 25, 2016

I'm Thankful For....

It's the time of year once again when we eat too much and everybody cooks a large bird nobody really likes to eat.  Seriously--who actually likes turkey?  The white meat is dry, the dark meat tastes gamey, and you need to put a ton of seasonings or a heavy sauce on it just to choke it down.  Turkey is just a protein canvas for other things.  This is why I prefer to smoke my turkeys and use the meat in a spicy turkey salad I used in sandwiches.

But no, on Thanksgiving we eat the shitty turkey and a whole bunch of bland, heavy foods because that's our tradition.  I mean seriously, would it kill somebody to put some jalapenos in the mashed potatoes?  Or maybe a little ghost pepper jelly in the stuffing?

Every year it's the same boring food with people who mostly piss you off while you lie about how great the past year was because if they knew the truth of it, you'd look like more of a loser than you already do.

And then there's football.  I hate Dallas and I hate Detroit.  Worse, I'm a Bears fan and they always seem to lose on Thanksgiving.

I used to hate Thanksgiving as a child.  My family would be drunk and singing old songs from the 60's I couldn't stand.  They would be shouting and laughing while us kids tried to find ways to keep from being bored.  I would always end up with a headache.

There's a scene in the film Easy Rider that perfectly depicts these family holiday gatherings from my perspective.  I can't find the clip on Youtube, but it's where they're at the commune, and everybody is off in their own little corner.  Dennis Hopper is wandering around, looking for a place to get comfortable, and just relax.  Some people are on a stage drunkenly singing a song and awkwardly grabbing him.  Another group is having a private conversation and they don't want him around to hear it.  Another group is just wasted out of their minds.  After a while, he goes to Peter Fonda and tells him he just wants to leave.  It's chaos and he doesn't belong anywhere.

That, to me, represented the family gatherings when I was a child.

Or there were the trips to Nebraska to visit my dad's mother.  Those trips were pure hell.  First, the family car back then was a 1976 Chevy Nova with the 305.  It was a horrible engine.  Plus, it was the first year GM made cars for unleaded gas only, and for some reason they put a two-barrel carburetor on it.  It didn't get good gas milage, it wasn't fast, it had slow pick-up, and it cramped.  Add to that, mom and dad were heavy smokers.  Dad would chainsmoke the whole way and the inside of the car was like Cheech & Chong's van only without the payoff.  Seriously, even Texas pitmasters at BBQ competitions would have said it was too much smoke.  It was insane!

We would drive I-80 across Iowa.  That has to be the most boring drive in the world.  The highlight was sometimes Dad would take a bypass to drive by the Iowa State Capitol so we could see the golden dome.  Worse, we would actually arrive at Grandma's, and I was too young to drink the entire time.

Grandma was a horrible cook.  She was obsessed with left-overs.  If there was any leftovers, she would ran them at you two meals a day over and over until they were gone.  One Thanksgiving, she cooked the entire meal a day ahead, then deboned the turkey, covered it in a thin gravy, and re-heated it on Thanksgiving Day.

On another Thanksgiving, the same grandmother kept going behind my mom's back to alter the temperature of the oven baking the turkey, for some unknown reason.  It was horrible.  She would lurk and pounce over and over.  My mom was constantly having to re-adjust the temperature but the damage was done--it was the driest turkey ever.  The family was furious about it.  My other grandmother was furious and when she complained, the crazy one said, "I know, isn't it wonderful?"

Yes.  She loved her turkey dry as a fucking box of cat litter.  And worse, my dad said nothing to her about it.  We had about fifteen people over for dinner that day and every single one but her was furious at the ruined meal and my dad said nothing.

But the insanity eventually ended.  That Thanksgiving eventually slid into an awful Christmas.

After that, something wonderful happened--I got old enough to start my own traditions and made all new memories.  Some of them were pretty cool, too.  My first Thanksgiving in Korea was at Osan Air Base outside of Suwon.  I was with fellow Americans and it was incredible.

There were other Thanksgivings.  Some were better than others.  A couple of them I spent alone and I was okay with it, or so I told myself.  I told myself that it was okay to spend that day alone because I was tired and needed a day off.  In truth, I was lonely, and it really hurt.  That was back when I slipped into workaholism and worked a dead-end job seven days a week because it was easier to do that than try to fix my horrible life.  It was easier to work close to 70 hours a week than examine just how bad my situation was or how bad I felt.

Thanksgiving Day is a marker for us in our lives.  It's the day when we take pause, look around, and compare that day with other days from the past.  And for me, it was always a hard one for that very reason, because things weren't that great.

But things change.  I began to appreciate some of my family members.  Sure, some still piss me off, and I'd rather just avoid them.  And there's a lot fewer people at the gatherings due to age, divorce, and the grind of life.  Best of all, I became thankful for things I never would have noticed twenty years ago, because I took them for granted.

I'm lucky.  I'm one of the luckier people you'll meet.  Sure, I've never won the lottery, but it hasn't been that kind of luck.  The luck I've had has been in great people who were just the sort I needed being in my life at exactly the right times.  It didn't matter how rough the road got, there would always be a friend who just happened to have experience with those situations or had the perfect solution right there waiting for me.

You hear people talk about having an "attitude of gratitude" and while that phrase bugs me for its pithiness, the truth behind it becomes self-evident.

I'm lucky and I know it.  In recent weeks, it not only became more apparent, it came through in the form of simply feeling better.

I feel good.  Great, even.

The depression that has been eating away at me for months on end, for years, actually, has begun to lift.  I'm happier now than I've been in many years.  I won't say it's because of little things.  I don't believe in little things.

To talk about "little things" is to place a value on events in a world where small events can leave a large ripple.  There are no "little things" in the lives of people.  Everything and everybody is important.

Tonight I spent time with a cousin who is more like a little brother to me than a cousin.  I ate some good food (fucking turkey, again) and I finally got my mom some ice cream to try.  Sure, Dallas and Detroit won, but they can't lose all the time.  And I found out my car is capable of longer trips than just a few miles out of town.

Thanksgiving is about many things.  I'm thankful, yes, but probably for a long list of things that have nothing to do with this day and most likely would be ignored by others.

I'm thankful for people who read this blog.

So thank you, dear reader.  I hope you had a great time and if you go shopping on Black Friday, make sure you get a video of the chaos so we can all laugh.

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