Thanksgiving Thoughts 2014

Seeded grapes, marbled purple, had to be sliced in half and the seeds removed. I think this was the most labored part of making the fruit salad. The marshmallows were quartered and soaked in the pineapple juice. Dates were added eventually. I miss the fruit salad. There was more to it. I’ll have to ask my sisters and make some this year.

There was always more to Thanksgiving. Our house sat on a hill at the dead end of Grand Avenue, next to Valley One Dorms of Western Michigan University. One Thursday out of fifty two, set aside, set for more. More people around the table with mix matched chairs.

I remember the foreign students and the varied colors of their skin. Their voices were colorful too. They talked, and I tried  hard to unscramble the words to fit in my brain. My Mom had eyes on a middle-eastern student named Afiff (pronounced Ah-feef) one year. His name would come up each Thanksgiving thereafter.

I sure would like to see the little kitchen again. Same size as the bathroom above it. Two vital rooms of a house with ten children. Calls of nature they were…eating and eliminating, and the rooms for each call weren’t big enough. The electric stove with swirled coils on top, when on, reminded me of the Hitchcock movie Vertigo. In the belly of the stove the bird was basted periodically. Inside the belly of the bird, home-made stuffing, incubating.

Cranberry sauce in a can. I recall the sucking sound as it slurped out onto the serving dish while I tried to suppress a childish red faced smirk. I poked at it like it was the plump little white guy in the Pillsbury dough commercials. Cranberry sauce from a can didn’t giggle when you poked it. It jiggled, but didn’t giggle. The burgundy blob was sliced like hard salami. Each slice would flop over like someone sticking out their tongue.

As I sit here plunking the keys I wish there was a way to pluck up each of my siblings and bring them back to Grand Avenue to sit around the table and eat mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. If sentiments could move mountains, I would tilt the ranges so each brother and sister would roll towards the end of Grand Avenue, next to the valley. I would call my Mom and Dad. They would sit at opposite ends of the fully leafed table. We would hold hands and thank God for the gifts we were about to receive and these our guests.

We would see us, be us, the ten of us before we broke out into lives of our own. We could hold our breath again waiting for Mom to spill something down her front to mumble “fiddlesticks” or something more colorful. Dad would toss in dry jokes and his crooked smile. John would fall out of his chair laughing after Marge spewed a mouthful of milk on the buffet table. We would say “pass this” and “please pass that” over and over like a scratched Beatles White Album.

Then space and time pulled us to our destinies. The good God gave us free wills to choose roads on which to travel. Can’t we double back? Why is there so much separation? The physical distances, the emotional disconnects, while dysfunctions thread in and through us. Time has severed the memories, thinned them out. What once was, shall not forever be, for we aren’t who we once were.

Oh so dramatic!

We have reunions now. Every three years we bring our presents to squint at our pasts. At our reunions a song of thanks and reclamation is sung when we gather to eat. “Oh, the Lord’s been good to me, and so I thank the Lord.” It’s a song that stirs the tanks of remembrance. It’s a song that brings me close to crying the hand-picked tears of reunion, and separation. Hello and goodbye tears brim and roll down and pinch eternity into a single moment. Sometimes that is all we have, moments of eternity sliced and flopped over. Right now, that is all I desire. To be right where I am, squinting in the now, making eye contact, and thanking God.


[My Mom and Dad had ten children. Barb, Ellen, Rob, Pat, Mary and Margaret (twins), John, Jerry, Peter, and Carol.]

Breaking Away. Bike Rides.

When I think about going for a bike ride, sometimes I remember the dirt track in our yard. The path running tight around the skirt of our two story house was worn down. Roots stuck up like varicose veins. On a dry summer day dirt and dust flipped off our tires as we negotiated the corners. My brother and I and some neighborhood boys raced like Mario Karts with the perimeter as close to the house as possible. Stationary objects flew by us as we peddled on the straightaways and leaned on the imaginary banked turns like we saw on Roller Derby.

When I think about going for a bike ride, the time I lost control on our tricycle on our front hill bumps into view. I went from grass to curb to an asphalt body skid. The blood burned through the embedded tar bits and pebbles on my skin. Palms, knees, forearms all became brake pads and I came to rest face down in shock. The first responders, a few of my siblings, stood over me while one was sent to fetch Mom. Mom’s bed settled my crying as I tried to lay still and wait for scabs to form. Her Big Ben wind-up alarm clock beat like a heart in the recovery room.

When I think about going for a bike ride, I remember when I was in the best shape of my life. At the end of high school into summer and fall beyond I saddled up if I wanted to go anywhere. My coccyx had calluses back then. That was when I worked for two weeks at the best paying worst job of my life. A friend had gotten me into Checker Motors loading parts on a assembly line. I rode to work as the sun set behind my downhill coast to drudgery. Then around midnight, relieved of duty, I hopped back on the red fifteen speed to peddle up hill home.

When I think about going for a bike ride, my brother John’s recumbent cycle rides along side me. We entered the Wurst Half Century tour in Ohio thirty years ago. The bratwurst festival got our dogs pedaling. It was the furthest I rode in one day. We rode twenty seven miles from John’s house to the tour, finished the fifty mile tour, and rode back to his house. I imagined being in the movie Breaking Away and tried to talk in an Italian accent all day. If you haven’t seen the movie and you’re a cyclist, find it. The story will encourage you to push through saddle soreness.

When I think about going for a bike ride, my therapist tells me to warm up on the stationary bike right next to Bucky the life size skeleton. She tells me to ride for ten minutes to get my blood flowing. One day I rode at a faster pace thinking I would hit ten minutes sooner. Without coffee my brain cells don’t rub together too nicely. When I closed my eyes I could be riding anywhere. I rode the Tour De France, Kal-Haven Trail, or round and round my childhood house.

I like thinking about going for a bike ride.

Something’s Missing

A few days ago the sun cracked
a half smile like my father did.

The clouds were like eye patches
and I remember his weeping eye.

Partially sewn lids of paralyzed sight
gave him shallow depth perception.

My brother-in-law’s Bell’s Palsy
grinned at me yesterday.

One corner down, one corner up,
his mouth surfaced memories

of my father’s permanent condition.
A tumor stole half of Dad’s face

decades before he died.
I was frustrated I couldn’t find

one of his fifty percent photo’s,
portraits of two faces in one.

I found myself trying to get
Tim to laugh throughout

the day as we worked
just to incite a smirk or laugh.

I wanted to see my Dad’s
look again and again.

By the end of yesterday
I found I missed him.