An In-Between Thanksgiving
19 Nov, 2010 - Rebecca Tirrell Talbot
Thanksgiving is a holiday about moving. We know the story. A hounded religious group seeks a home. A leaky, broken ship crosses the Atlantic to a cold and rocky thicket that offers the Pilgrims no reprieve. In William Bradford’s account, the travelers do not give thanks while they are on the Mayflower but fall to their knees as soon as they have “set their feet upon the firm and stable earth, their proper element.” Then, a year after they leave England, the first harvest comes, thanks to their alliance with the native Wampanoags, and their contentment wells over into feasting as they praise God for their new home.
The holiday, thus, seems to be one for the firmly grounded. Wine and L-tryptophan befit those who have arrived; the hiker munches gorp and keeps hoofing it. How does someone keep this feast if her way of life feels temporary? I mean, where does this leave the feast-goer who is, in a less scurvied way, still on the ship?
My husband and I have been living in my parents’ house in rural Pennsylvania for the past six months. It’s beautiful here. I’d forgotten how the fields glow green this late into autumn. It’s temporary here, too. Many of our belongings are a glimmer on an Excel sheet.
I feel uprooted yet fortunate. We have far more elbow room than the 17th century wayfarers did, yet I do feel like we’re on a ship whose immediate destination is not quite known. We’ve come to this makeshift apartment to consider what’s next in life. Being project-oriented, part of me wants to check this stage off the list and move on to whatever is next. It’s difficult to see that six months of sitting still, working, saving on rent, and pondering is, in itself, a worthy project.
I am among many in my age bracket who are living with parents this year. For the horde of us in temporary digs, what should Thanksgiving look like? Thanksgiving is not a holiday to be celebrated thinly. Whether the cranberry sauce is from Cooks Illustrated or from a can, the holiday is a warm and rosy-cheeked one. Sharing the year’s blessings makes it so.
Living in flux is a difficult gift, yet Thanksgiving draws us to realize the gifts we’ve been given. Abandoning that “vast and furious ocean” was the Pilgrims’ cause for praise. Those still in search of a home or destination of our own, feast and celebrate for different reasons.
We celebrate, perhaps, because living in transit sparks creativity. In her excellent essay “Moving,” Anne Fadiman quotes an article that praises a pioneer for risking a cross-country move: “Traveling in self-satisfied ruts, seeking sameness, and courting inaction, are conditions to be avoided.” If we have moved, we are not seeing the same old view anymore, and this changes us. If the move is temporary, inhabiting a temporary space can free us to test out short term ventures. This is a perk the Pilgrims didn’t get. They couldn’t exactly “try out” New England. For the contemporary nomad, this phase lets one investigate new geographic regions without a down payment and this brings valuable input for the next phase.
Or maybe we celebrate because the temporary space pushes us toward the future, urging us to plan and try and dream in ways we wouldn’t if we felt too comfortably rooted.
We find joy, perhaps, in spending time with a larger family, sharing meals, recipes, short stories, housework, anecdotes, YouTube finds, and favorite films.
Or maybe it’s joy in the routines one establishes in new places. Anne Fadiman writes that after moving from Manhattan to rural Massachusetts,
Henry and I bicycled to the corner store, which, unlike its SoHo analogue, had signs in the window offering night crawlers and chewing tobacco — but it also had seven brands of ice cream and a luxuriant hawthorn tree out front. On our fourth visit, Henry settled himself under the hawthorn and said, with a five-year-old’s easily acquired sense of permanency, “This is where we always sit.”
I am thankful for the moments when I feel like “this is what we always do.” I always wake up early to write on the Saturdays my husband works. I always see the sunrise over the SEPTA tracks while I drive down the Turnpike to class. I always walk to the post office. We always go to Weaver’s Orchard and buy produce that’s nearly the platonic form of a strawberry, apple, or butterhead lettuce leaf.
So, yes, we are still on the ship. But even though we aren’t yet at our own home, we truly have a feast.