Friday, November 13, 2020

The Uninvited Guest

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite day of the year. It is not only the endless supply of the foods that your mind can even now almost taste. 
It is not just seeing the family break into pods, some sitting in the room where the Dallas Cowboys, the Detroit Lions and other footballers run on endless loop year after year. 

It is even more than merely the hugs, the touch, the feel of a lifetime of memories and shared experiences, of being around those who know you best and need the least explanation for your actions the past 12 months.

It is the sense that you are safe here, that in this space the troubles of the world are not welcome. That, for at least a single day, there is a calm to which each of us is entitled.

This year there is a desperate need for this momentary respite, a longing for something that allows us to wipe off all that has attached to our being, and attacked our soul.

There will be no family gathering for us this Thanksgiving. What we have all known for months was made official this week in an email sent by my cousin who has served as our host over the last decade. 

This year we are learning long division. How many times 50 can be divided by 3 or 4 or 6. My mom was one of  five children. She was the last to pass away, in 2017 at age 99. When I was very young, we traveled each year from our northern Jersey home to Morrisville, Pa., where the sibling who had wandered furthest from the family nest in Lodi, NJ had relocated. I laughed every year of my youth as our journey took us past the same sign etched into the same bridge, "Trenton Makes, the World Takes." Familiarity did not breed contempt, but joy.

I remember seeing my first color television set on one of those Thanksgiving day gatherings. It was not at the house of my aunt and uncle, but at the home of their best friend. We made a special trip to see this eighth wonder of the world. It was a very different time.

In later years, the honor of hosting moved among the five siblings. For several years, it resided at the home of my uncle, who definitely had the only bocci court in his hometown. We would patiently await our opportunity to demonstrate our skills. But while I was a pretty good bowler, it never translated to a string of wins on this playing surface.

As my mom's generation aged, my sister, myself and our first cousins  took turns housing the ever expanding numbers. At its largest, we were over 50. It was something to be a part of this spectacle, each year seeming to add another new life into the mix. And then, one by one, we lost the matriarchs and patriarchs. And, apart from one aunt (who happened to be my fifth grade teacher two years before she entered our family as one of the "outlaws") we now have become the elder statesmen and women.

Our family, as so many others, has scattered. While Morrisville was once the furthest tentacle from our north Jersey roots, now we reside in places as far as California, Washington DC, Wisconsin, Massachusetts. There has been some natural attrition as a result, but still we gather as a large contingent, still often close to 40, sometimes even a bit more. And we have started to welcome a new generation, the children of our children, the great grandchildren of the generation that began our Thanksgiving lovefest.

When we got the note from our cousin many of us wrote brief responses, all echoing the feelings we share at what will not be in the coming days. What we have lost as a result of this pandemic. The hole in each of our hearts.

Coronavirus does not understand or respect holidays. It only knows that this day would stand as the perfect setting, a petri dish, for demonstrating how multiplication works. How letting our guard and our masks down might give us an ephemeral sense of euphoria, but would more than likely provide an intimate family portrait in illness and death.  

This has been a year of almost unfathomable pain for this nation. Apart from having to deal with the constant stress of Donald Trump, we have been forced to reside in isolation and fear, frozen in place by a disease we cannot see coming.

If you decide that you are getting your clan together for Thanksgiving, fully understand that there may well be one additional guest in your home this year. And it will not be an unexpected visit from a long lost cousin.

A horrific illness is standing outside your front door, waiting for it to open. Once it comes in, it will be sitting with your family at your table, as you take another helping of stuffing, turkey or cranberry sauce. You will be passing around much more than the gravy.

 I suggest rather that you keep that front door closed this year, as impossibly difficult as it may be. The sadness and emptiness will pass. Death will not.


Eileen said...

Perfectly stated!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Santa. Sorry, wrong holiday. Thanks, Turkey well said!!!


Lawrence Solan said...

I feel the same way. Thanks so much for saying this.

Anonymous said...

Sound advice


Alex said...

Beautiful piece.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Great piece


Anonymous said...

The only good thing about trumps presidency has been all the belly laughter inducing Memes it’s has produced!

Thank GODDESS he’s OUT!
Now really I understand how Hitler came to power....

Hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day – I know what we are all thankful for this year !