This is a snippet from Coming Apart, both because it’s the perfect time of year to re-share and because I’m up to my eyebrows in Thanksgiving preparations and so I'll leave you with Ava’s meal instead.
It is Thanksgiving, 1931, early in the Depression but there didn't need to be a crash for poverty to be felt in Pennsylvania's coal country. Ava's mother has just died and the family is still reeling from her loss and the unexpected return of her sister Claire. They share the meal with their next-door neighbors so that everyone has enough food.
Trudy and I combine forces for Thanksgiving. Her son has not returned, and for a few days, my smiling friend is replaced by a sad-eyed woman who looks ten years older. She pulls herself together because Fritz and Hetty, her remaining grandchildren, need her.
In addition to the moral support, a joint dinner means more food for all. One of Daniel’s friends managed to shoot a couple of turkeys in the woods north of town, and he brought one home in exchange for helping to fix a roof. The house is perfumed with its rich scent.
Carrying the platter across the back porch to Trudy’s kitchen, I think about how this was always Mama’s favorite holiday. She was big on gratitude, giving loud thanks for blessings other people might not have recognized as such. I want to be more like her, but I can’t help but see that we have a turkey only because Daniel gave up his day off, and a meal meant for family must be shared with others for there to be enough.
I hear Mama’s voice, as I often do these days. Family is whoever you choose to bring under your roof. Trudy is family, in that sense, as was Dora, her daughter-in-law.
There are thirteen around the table, which is two tables put together and dragged into the front room: Trudy and Hermann, Fritz and Hetty, Daniel and me and our five, and two of Trudy’s boarders who were invited at the last minute, soft-spoken men whose contributions are a pie and a packet of tea.
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, Our Lord, amen.”
The room falls silent but for “please pass the potatoes” and “may I have more beans?” For once no one worries about holding back for the next day.
One of the men says something to Hermann, and he repeats it to Trudy. She turns to me. “Hans says at such a meal, his family would go around the table and each person says what they are grateful for. Do you think this is good?”
“It sounds like something Mama would have liked.”
Her eyes crinkle. “Then we shall do it for Lillie.” She explains the idea to everyone and points to the man who suggested it. “Hans, is your idea, so you go first.”
Hans blushes and stammers, but manages—with Trudy’s translation—to say, “I am thankful to be surrounded by kind people when I am missing my family.”
His friend, whose name I didn’t catch, echoes him, word for word.
“I’m thankful for turkey!” Toby waves his fork.
“And pie!” George, not to be outdone, points toward the kitchen.
“I’m grateful for my family,” Dandy says, ducking his head.
Trudy looks around. “I am thankful for my family that is here, and my family that is not here.”
Fritz, his chin quivering, gulps and says, “I am thankful Mama didn’t live to see us separated.” His grandmother says something sharp in German and the boy shakes his head.
“I’m grateful for Granny,” Pearl says, smoothing things over. “I’m grateful we had her as long as we did.”
“So am I, honey.” I put my hand over hers. “And I’m grateful for everyone at this table today.”
“Thelma?” Daniel asks. “What about you?”
She looks up through tousled curls and points at my belly. “I’ll be grateful not to be the baby anymore.”
There is no night shift on Thanksgiving. Daniel and I huddle together under the quilts, listening to the murmur of the kids’ conversation on the other side of the wall. It quiets down soon enough; their bellies are too full for them to stay awake for long.
“You never said what you were thankful for.” I roll on my left side, the only position in which I am comfortable.
He curls around me and nuzzles my neck. “Like you have to ask,” he says. “I’m thankful for you, and our family. I’m the luckiest man in the goddamn world.”