I've been thinking "Thanksgiving" all wrong. I’d been thinking “Stuffed Turkey, Stuffed People, Macy’s Day Parade, Football, Pumpkin and Pecan Pie” Thanksgiving. Which makes for—especially as we are in Trinidad, where “American Thanksgiving” is just another Thursday—lonely, lots-of-work-for-only-2-people-so-why-bother thoughts. Sigh . . .
The original “American” Thanksgiving Day may have been a Pilgrims and Indians Thank you for teaching us and helping us survive feast but it’s since morphed into a Feast and Football holiday.
We change and grow; holidays do—can—too. It’s natural. That wasn't the problem, I was.
I was preparing for a Thanksgiving feast just as I had for the last 45 years or so—actually walking down the grocery store aisles, tossing items into my cart and crossing them off my list—without any of the enthusiasm of Thanksgiving past, when it dawned on me that things that traditions that change, can change back. It may well have been the potatoes . . .
I decided to go back to the root of Thanksgiving: Thanks. Giving. Starting now, going forward—whether cooking or not—I am setting aside this day to give thanks. (And wow, do I have soooo much to be grateful for.) To christen my new-old Thanks giving tradition, I’m sharing a schmaltzy-poignant perfect song from my must watch every year holiday move. You’ll have to wait for it. Because first, I need to share a story about a family and how a family—our Tulsa Village—was made.
Back in the before time, due to circumstances and choices, I found myself far from family, friends, the ocean and all things familiar, in the smack dab middle of the United States—Tulsa, Oklahoma—with 2 small children, few friends and too many jobs.
Far far away in the center of the continent...
Max was 3; Lexi was 1; I was 26. Back then, I wasn’t the “fancy free, successful picture book author” I was a sometimes cook-waitron-bartender-bookkeeper of a restaurant my husband and I owned called “The New Harvest.”
And, as it happened (I won’t going into how it happened, now, as that’s a story for other times and a Lifetime movie), a man-boy named John (about 23), at his mother’s urging, answered a “Chef Wanted” ad we’d placed. In short—for it was a quick decision—John sign on as the chef and, along with his younger sister, Rhonda, moved from their hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma.
The red line heading southeast from the pin falls off the page just before Muskogee . . .
Although Muskogee, about an hour southeast of Tulsa, isn’t as far away as California, it may well have been. For the first time, John and Rhonda were away from their family and friends, just as I was away from mine. For whatever reason—maybe because making friend with a chatty toddler and a chubby 1-year-old elbow deep in a jar of baby food plums was easy, and said tots were adorable—John took a shine to Max and Lexi at an all-employee spruce-up the restaurant day. What’s more, Rhonda, not yet 21, so she couldn’t work in or frequent the restaurant bar, could babysit—and did those nights I had to work. Thus, as strangers in this strange new land do, we banded together. Before long, John & Rhonda were more like Unk and Auntie, Brother and Sister—family.
Fast forward to when—I don’t know how or why, exactly—John took Max and Lexi home to Muskogee—for the weekend! Imagine yourself as John and Rhonda’s parents, Don & Bonnie: your 23 year-old son drives up with 2 strange tots in tow??? What must the Briscoes, a traditional two parent, small town family have thought of us? Of me as a mother? Sending her babies off to Muskogee for the weekend? This is pre-cell phones, pre-email, pre-instant info anything. . . (Calling DHS!)...
Whatever Bonnie & Don thought, it’s what they did that matters. On that weekend, and many that came after, they loved those babies up. Bonnie and Granny fed them; “Those babies love to eat! And that Lexi sure loves her mashed potatoes,” Bonnie said—still says—whenever we talk about those visits. Don, and brother Ron, when he was home, played and watched sports with Max, “That Max sure could talk!” Don says of those weekends. It wasn’t babysitting. It was more. The Briscoe family drew a circle and pulled Max and Lexi (Me and Steven by extension), Chelsie and her mom, Barbara—who came with the restaurant and stayed—in like, well, kin: Family.
And now, 30 years later, spouses, children, grands . . . It’s easy to understand how we “kids” in Tulsa became friends. The part others don’t understand is the Muskogee glue. How Bonnie & Don, who knew us only by extension, who had all the family and friends right there in Muskogee they could ever need or want, made room for more. Why bother?
Just looking at Bonnie, anyone could get how she'd pull us all in. She's 100% mama, soft and sweet as marshmallow. Don, however is the "EF Hutton" type: when he speaks, you listen. As patriarch of the family, he could have told John and Rhonda not to bring Max and Lexi to Muskogee anymore. "He could have said "too much of a liability" "What if something happens" "Why the heck should we be fussing over those kids? They aren't ours, aren't blood. Why didn't he?
Maybe because Don knew lonely and homeless and what it feels like not to have family. An orphan and only son, sent to live with a grandmother, who died, then shipped to California to relatives, teen Don, in search of a home, returned to Oklahoma. He met Bonnie, wooed and won her. Together they made their own family. Anywhere they were became “Home." A home filled with love, room for a more, and plenty of mashed potatoes.
Now, today, this Thanksgiving, Don and Bonnie, John, Rhonda, Ron and Sherry, and their 4 grand babies are together in their retirement home on Fort Gibson.
Don isn't well. He has cancer. Hospice volunteers are helping. Our Tulsa Village, while scattered, is with them, too, via text, via email, in spirit. Even as a teen, Don knew what we—with him and Bonnie as our models—learned: There is always room and food and love enough for a few more.
Mashed Potato Playlist:
Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) from “White Christmas,” written by Irving Berlin, sung by Bing Crosby