Thanks and Giving

On this Thanksgiving morning, the splintered morning light streams up and over the Swan Mountains and falls across the log beams that are my house.  In the east, there’s a spillway of clouds over Bad Rock Canyon and to the north, Big Mountain is buried in dark clouds. From my perch on the couch in the living room, I take in the filtered views of the Flathead Valley and my yard — the many Doug Fir and larch trees filtering the landscape of mountains. While I’d rather there be a healthy layer of snow on my deck, this morning is full of sunshine and open sky.

It is, like most days living and playing in the mountains of Northwest Montana, one to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving has always been my most cherished holiday. I’ve always loved food and when I was little, Thanksgiving meant traveling north to my grandmother’s house among the islands and waterways of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My cousins, aunts, and uncles would make a much longer journey to my grandmother and Phil’s house (Phillip Pittman was my grandmother’s fourth husband, a talented writer, a brash conversationalist, an avid salmon fisherman, and the one who told me that I could write books. He passed away in 2007.) and we’d spend the weekend eating, watching the Detroit Lions play football, and toasting to family.

Over the years, the configuration of our family has changed. My father was renowned for his gravy and the first Thanksgiving after my parents separated, his absence was fully actualized in the kitchen when no one else knew quite what to do with the drippings. When my Aunt Darcy died, there was a gaping hole in my family that no holiday, no turkey  or pumpkin pie could repair. And as my cousins and I got older, Thanksgivings weren’t always hosted at my grandmother’s house. My mother remarried and instantly added four sons to the family tree.

What I remember most about those Neal family (Neal is the name of my maternal side of the family: it was my mother’s maiden name and to me, is the best name there is.) holidays is my Uncle Chuck riling up my brother, my cousin Sarah, and me at the kids table so much so that our boisterous  laughter had to be quelled by my grandmother or mother. I loved staying up late with my grandmother and Phil to watch the David Letterman Show and nearly peed my pants in laughter when, one Thanksgiving episode, many years ago, Richard Simmons appeared on stage in a turkey costume and David promptly sprayed Richard with a fire extinguisher. Both my grandmother, M, and Phil laughed so hard they almost spilled their nightcaps. I remember taking my first sips of wine and then, of course, continued to sneak more, hoping my consumption would go unnoticed. My cousin Sarah, who is four years my senior, would give me lessons on how to apply makeup and then we’d walk into the little town of Cedarville to show off our long lashes and bright lipstick. I should point out that there was no one about on Thanksgiving day to witness our painted faces.

This year, Cole and I are hosting Thanksgiving dinner for his family. I’ve been so excited to play host to this day that I had the table set by yesterday morning. Our table reflects the giving of both of our families: the fine china was my grandmother’s and as an engagement present, she parted with her collection and bestowed it to us. The table was Cole’s mother’s and we are also quite thankful that his family not only gave us their old furnishings but also a grand house to put our furniture and build our home together.

I have more things than I can count to be thankful for this year. Essentially, I am healthy, happy and in love. And at the end of the day, I will be well-fed. Besides my basic needs being met in the year 2011, I am so utterly grateful for the year I’ve had. It’s been a damn good one. I have Cole and we have made commitment to further our love and friendship by marrying next September. I have my writing which has continued to flourish on the page and on this blog. I have my friends: old and new who have continued to fill my life with such joy that I can’t imagine how powerful our relationships have come over the years. And I have my family: my Neal family, my Doherty family, my McGuiness family and now my Schneider family.

May your day be filled with thanks and giving.

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