Simple gifts

You’ll notice we’ve put the lights up here at Blog Villas. It’s a little early; we’re supposed to wait until after Thanksgiving, but we might be wrapped in our sleeping bag outside of Best Buy loading our taser so we wanted to get things taken care of.

“Christmas,” observed our friends’ 13-year-old daughter as we stroll through a seasonal lights display that feels essentially timeless, “gets more commercial every year.”

I’m not sure what changes she has noted over the last decade, but certainly the whole Black Friday/Cyber Monday thing was new to us on our return to this country. These are now observed and talked about as if they are actual holidays, Cyber Monday being a curiously un-American bit of office skivery, where one is reluctantly dragged back to work, away from the sales, a nationally sanctioned act of passive, white collar resistance. Thanksgiving is now a day of virtue that precedes a retail blowout.

When my older daughter was the only American in her primary school, I would visit her class and share the Thanksgiving story through a picture book about the pilgrims. Sometimes I brought mini pecan pies and made cranberry juice and ginger ale punch. Sometimes we would talk about the things we were thankful for. The essential thing about the holiday, I would try to convey, was that it was about sharing a meal with your family and/or friends and giving thanks. One year the class made a card for us and until this year, when, bizarrely, our insurance agent sent us one, a trend I hope doesn’t take off, it was the first Thanksgiving card I’d ever seen.

A local news station ran a story on tips to decommercialize Christmas. I don’t think parents should give “get out of punishment” cards to their children as gifts (extend the message that sends), but the coupon concept is good in theory.

I just got over my fear of my tire pressure gauge—I was convinced I would end up giving myself a flat and be stranded at the gas station—and so, for me, a coupon from my husband for checking the tires or accompanying me would have been a good gift. Or what if you could swap talents with friends, where one person makes a vat of soup and another comes over and helps declutter? You could swap undone tasks like scanning photos and fixing loose towel racks. That might be a good plan for offsetting the tedium of endless housetasks by finding someone whose strength is your weakness and vice versa, kind of like the division of labor in a marriage or cooking a Thanksgiving meal.

After researching Thanksgiving for school presentations, I learned that seafood was a big part of the pilgrim menu. After a couple of years creating the traditional turkey dinner in London, as newlyweds in a strange land, determined to get it right, but a month ahead of turkey season, we reinterpreted: lobster, oyster pan roast, wild salmon. This year, we are back to turkey.

Along the way to the farm, the roads were empty, the fields bare. Empty marquee signs point to former attractions. A black tarp offers “Drive-thru Prayer.” A business or an act of kindness? A euphemism?

We found a small crowd in the farmer’s yard, the birds bagged on trestle tables. We were instructed to brine, rinse and roast overnight. But that has been the only departure from a traditional meal. Our sweet potato casserole is ready to bake, the pie is done. A log crackles in the fire. The dog waits by the window. But our family will arrive by phone. This year, it’s just us.

Our children will not have had the same kind of meal year on end. They will not have those memories of hiding under the coats on the bed or watching Batman with their cousins. One year we took advantage of the long weekend and went to Sicily, another year we were at our friends’ in their flat atop a central London public library; another year, repatriated, in Chicago; last year at our cousins’ Alabama lake house. Ask the girls what they look forward to? Thanksgiving is the day they get ginger ale.


One Reply to “Simple gifts”

  1. variety is the spice of life, as they say!
    I just read someone pepper sprayed (yes, pepper spray, as in the spray making our small town of international fame of late) another to get to the goods today first on black friday. crazy scary. maybe it’s a california thing. since being back, i’ve felt nothing is sacred in this country, target was open yesterday (and old navy opening at midnight?). the endless and confused pursuit of happiness I guess.


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