So, Rick," the host said, "what are you thankful for?"
"Good friends," I said. I always say that. I draw it like a gun.
We don't do this at my house, where the pre-Thanksgiving-dinner prayer, an opus in itself, takes a pretty good while, so we don't have time for foolishness. I believe that, if we made my kinfolks wait any longer to dig into my mother's tender roast turkey and my Aunt Jo's cornbread dressing, one or more of us might fall to the floor and begin to twitch.
But I have been to other people's houses where, as part of their tradition, they go around the table, before the meal, and ask each person to tell a little story about something for which they are, in that critical moment, with dinner laid out and steaming on the table, thankful.
This would not be a heartwarming exercise in my house. People tortured by a lifetime of Congregational Holiness blessings would not hem and haw, searching for the sweetest thing to say. They would, if nothing came to mind fairly soon, make something up. "I am thankful for trees." "I, too, am thankful for trees." "Me, too." And so on, around the table.
But some people cannot think on their feet. They balk and stammer and fret so long that I have, in all honesty, wanted to jab them with my fork and snap small children with a rubber band. They stare off into space and get lost there, for long minutes, while the butter slowly congeals on the mashed potatoes and the rolls go as cold as the Pillsbury whop "em can from whence they sprang.
I have—and I'm not proud of this—actually tried to exercise some form of telepathy, some sort of mind control to nudge a bewildered person toward an answer, before the french-fried onions on the green bean casserole sogged into an unspeakable mess.
Say anything, I willed.
Say, I willed, world peace, or cats.
Maybe not cats.
But I do not possess this gift. The turkey just sits there, cooling and forlorn, its little plump drumsticks with those little paper footies on the ends sticking in the air, all dressed up and nowhere to go.
I am 57. I do not have time—or a Thanksgiving—to waste. I will stay at home from here on out, till my last one has faded, sleepily, into football on television, and plans for Christmas, and the unmistakable rip and rustle of the aluminum foil my mother will use to cover the leftovers that are never left over for long.
My mother had a hard year—battled sickness and outlasted it. As we enter this holiday season, she will again be at the center of it as the keeper of its traditions and, in many ways, its joy.
We are a funny people, in a way, mountain people, and we do not always say to each other's faces what we appreciate, and what we cannot even imagine being without. It may be we think it is bad luck, somehow, or a weakness of sorts. I don't know. But we know our own hearts.
If we went around the table, to speak it out loud, somebody would probably say trees. But at least we could eat.
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